I look forward every fall to the first editorial columns in the student newspaper. They're interesting because the ideas have built up across an entire summer when students haven't had a venue for expressing their opinions. In addition, nothing much has happened at school to write about and they aren't tuned in yet to watching the news for ideas.
So I find something fresh about their ideas every fall. Usually their ideas are a little bit more personal. It’s a chance to glimpse the student mind.
Two student columns this year caught my attention. Two of the columns were about social networking. One was about Twitter. This student talked about not “getting” Twitter at first, then discovering some of its more powerful elements. For example, the student talked about the ability to follow international events through Twitter, how it was infinitely faster and more deeply local than CNN. I experienced some of those advantages myself following the terrorist attacks in
The other student wrote about Facebook. His column was more troubled. He looked at Facebook as an activity which drew him away from other people. He talked about the difference between getting to know someone on Facebook then trying to get to know them in real life. He said he had taken a Facebook vacation during the summer turning his Facebook page off for two months, and he talked about how refreshing it was. But his Facebook is back on now.
Both columns were smart and worth reading. Both provided significant insight into the social networking world. But I saw something else in those two columns and it disturbs me to some degree. If you read those two columns carefully you might actually see a plea for help.
I'm sure neither of those students thought of their writing as a plea for anything. But it's there nonetheless. They're enjoying, and utilizing, this brave new world of social networking, a world where MySpace is so over already, but they’re uncomfortable with it. They're uncomfortable with the amount of time they spend doing it. They're uncomfortable with the anonymity of it. They're uncomfortable with the way it removes them from what they know is real social interaction, and puts them into a realm of social interaction that is social only in the broadest definition of the word.
Sure, a century ago people wrote voluminous letters to each other and thought of letter writing warmly as social interaction. But they could hardly write more than one or two good letters a day and they couldn't expect to get more than a few letters back on the best day. But modern students -- I'm not saying this is true of these two columnists -- Facebook for hours, and Twitter constantly. If they're in class for 50 minutes with their Twitter untwittered and their Facebook closed they begin to look like pack-a-day smokers stuck at a family dinner in a smoke-free restaurant.
I also caught a glimpse of frustration and, perhaps, fear, in their words. They seemed a bit weary about social networking. I wondered if deep down they wanted to get out of the chase to be right on time for the next big thing and not stuck in the last big thing when all else who are hip have moved on.
I could be wrong about this. These are two bright students who certainly know their own minds. But somehow I can't help thinking their columns, while praising the virtual life, reveal serious trepidation about it. Of their praise, you might say, the lady doth protest too much.