What adults need to know about youth and Social Media?

The myths about the Google generation

We are all afraid of what’s new. When I say we, I mean we who are not so young anymore. It is in the human nature to be afraid of the new, especially when it comes to new ICT technologies. Young people are not. They embrace the new technologies and especially web services in seconds. They discover, modify and adopt their use and live with them. But this doesn’t mean that they fully understand or master them.

The hypothesis of a Google Generation that has distinctive and more advanced information technology literacy than older generations, dominantly presented in the popular media, fail to stack up fully against the evidence. What was apparent was that the Internet emerged as an important tool through which to obtain education-related information. In the past years numerous research studies have been done trying to find out how really young people use the information on the Internet. They have also discovered one more thing: We are all becoming part of the Google generation. The gap between different generations, when it comes to Internet and the use of Web 2.0 services, becomes smaller and smaller every day.

Listen, listen, listen

Despite the decreasing gap, still, there is a gap. So, when trying to communicate online with young people first of all, we the older ones, have to learn to listen. We have to take in consideration all available data on how young people use the Social Media today, and we have to update ourselves continuously. Every different social network has its own characteristics. It has its history, ups and downs, A-lists, fresh, old and top discussions. We are guests there, at least at the beginning. Patronizing is not a way to start a communication, behaving like a parent is not a way, too. One has to get to know the players/users, learn the talk, listen to the discussions and see how they evolve and only then take part in it.

Choose the right channel

What young people really want is to communicate. They are not really crazy about the almighty fancy mashups that can be of use for some school project. They don’t want to create too much content of their own. They adore their IM. According to surveys conducted among young people in EU the use of IM holds the second place, just after the use of search engines. Instant messaging is mainly used to keep in touch with friends, rather than with family. One of the big jumps in the amount of time spent using Facebook, the most known global social network, happened just after they introduced their chat feature.

Regardless of the fact what is the most used channel, when trying to establish direct communication with young people we have to find and choose the right channel. Not the one that suits us best, but the one where young people would expect and accept us to communicate with them.

Every region, every country has it own blogosphere, social networks and local or regional services where young Internet users spend their time. Each of these services has at least several different internal, public or private channels for communication. Conducting a small research before defining which channel is best for certain type of communication is highly important. Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that all users can fit into the same strategy. Therefore an open approach is strongly needed, approach that will allow free development of personal communication driven by both communication ends.

Be a real person

Building presence in MySpace, Facebook or similar social networking sites by creating profiles can clearly bring dangers in trying to appear cool to the younger audience. But this does not mean that one should avoid it. As the word building says, it is a process and it needs time. Most of all it is a process in which you have to prove that you are a real person. That means that you have to respect the rules of the game and avoid talking in the name of institutions or in the name of all parents, teachers and educators.
However, online social networks are not only used to sustain friendships. They are also used for educational purposes with online communications being used to discuss school or college work, as part of both formal and non-formal education. Both parties (youngsters and adults) may have a creative role in finding and constructing content.
Therefore, building the individual presence transparently and with clear representation of positions and aims will bring far more positive results in the long run.

What can we expect?

Surely it is not easy to predict the future use of technology and the development of Social Media, but some thoughts can be noted without much hesitation.

  • We, all together, need to work on decreasing the gap between generations.
  • The speed and instantaneousness of the new ways of communication using the Social Media tools will get even faster and we need to expect and adopt them.
  • There will always be something new, this process never ends, we all have to accept that and work and learn, and learn and work.

Food for thoughts

Google Generation – The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
Communications Market Reports – Ofcom
Mediappro Final Report (pdf document) – Mediappro
Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What? – danah boyd
Young People and Emerging Digital Services: An Exploratory… – European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC)

Author: Darko Buldioski
Darko is blogging on media related topics more than 4 years at komunikacii.net (in Macedonian). He is the founder of the Non profit New Media Center and a visiting lecturer at New York University Skopje.

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1 Comment What adults need to know about youth and Social Media?

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