If, in the year 2000, you were to have told me that in 19 years that 67 percent of human beings would walk around with access to all the world’s knowledge in their pocket or purse? Need to know how to prepare lobster bisque? Pull out your web-enabled device, input a brief search phrase, and, voila! You have countless recipes from which to choose to impress your dinner guests. Need to settle an argument about who won the 1976 World Series? The answer is a few clicks away. Can’t figure out how to replace the windshield wipers on your specific make and model automobile? Guess what. You can pull up a video that provides step-by-step instructions. Access to information is just the beginning of how the world has changed so profoundly within the last 20 years. Who fully appreciated that banking, mapping destinations, viewing, creating, and sharing video content, calculators, flashlights, file storage, music players, social networks, ride-hailing services, and on and on would all be contained within a device that virtually everyone uses? It’s mind boggling. I feel like how my grandparents must have felt seeing automobiles revolutionize the world.
Yet with all this magnificent technology, I worry about the impact on young people of being constantly connected through such a device. I’m the father of an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old. Their phones are their lifelines to their friends, their entertainment and in some cases, their academic lives. It’s the social implements of the phone that concern me. I worry what the constant bombardment of peers posting glimpses of their “best lives” does to all members of their social network. The pressure kids must feel to project happiness—even when you’re not feeling especially happy—must be unrelenting. As an old codger, if I’m honest with myself, I feel hints of these pressures, and I don’t have a tenth of the social pressures a high schooler has these days.
Another way our attachment to our devices is could be construed as negative is that our reliance on them can result in minimizing real face-to-face interactions with people in the physical world as opposed to interactions that occur on a digital screen. Have you observed a group of teenagers lately? It is not uncommon to see them all sitting in close proximity to one another not saying a word and completely engrossed with what is on their devices. This situation is so common it’s a cliché image today. In 2011, CNN reported that one third of Americans prefer texts to voice calls. That percentage is certain to have increased drastically since then. We can speculate why texting would be preferred—it doesn’t require an immediate reply; you can formulate your thoughts before replying—but whatever the reason, it is indicative of a diminishment of real-time human interaction.
For these reasons and myriad others, strong digital citizenship education is so crucial. And the time to implement this education with young people about what it means to be a good digital citizen and to be mindful of their digital footprint is now. We need to instill in our children and our students that what we post online is with us forever. Now, when they are young and the slate is clean, is the time for them to appreciate the implications of their online activity—to be intentional about their digital footprint.
We must encourage thought-provoking, kind, goal-oriented, helpful posts that add value to their social networks. Posts that contribute to the knowledge base and extend comfort to their group, all the while encouraging them that it is still fun and appropriate to communicate in person.
Lenhart, A. (2015). Teen, social media and technology overview 2015. The Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/