I saw an interesting piece on Frontline (PBS) last night called Growing Up Online. I was interested in watching the program because of all the social networking talk that has been at the forefront of academic librarianship in the last year or so; it’s also been mentioned several times on this blog. The Frontline piece talked about how teens are basically growing up virtually; submerged in the online worlds of sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Youtube. The piece revealed several interesting, but perhaps not surprising, “facts” about this new generation of online teens: kids and teens spend almost all of their free time (in school and out) online, virtual networking is the number one way this group communicates with one another (it even tops email), and incidences of “cyber-bullying” are on the rise (disturbing, but true).
The piece also talked about how cheating is a source of struggle in high schools due to the ease of use and the accessibility of materials on the Internet. Several high schools students interviewed claimed to use SparkNotes, a set of free online study guides, almost exclusively while doing homework. One boy announced that he never looks at the actual books assigned, and instead was able to “read” Romeo and Juliet via SparkNotes in just 9 pages. He said that if there were 27 hours in the day, he would gladly read Romeo and Juliet, but unfortunately there are only 24 hours. The sad thing was, he actually seemed sincere. I found this especially interesting considering the recent uproar about Steve Jobs’s comment that people don’t read anymore. I don’t think this one teenage boy can speak for an entire generation, but it’s a little disconcerting to find out that many teens consider “reading” to be the consultation of a study guide.
Since libraries started creating Facebook and MySpace pages, I have felt rather conflicted about the whole idea. I understand the theory of wanting to connect with students where they are (because, obviously, Facebook is where they spend most of their time), but I’ve always wondered if it can be truly affective. I’ll be honest: I’m 25, I use Facebook to stay connected with friends, and if I were still in college, I wouldn’t be “friending” my professors and librarians. Hearing the interviews on Frontline only confirmed my suspicions that teens and young adults don’t want authorities online. They’re very secretive and protective of their niche, and they just don’t want the adults intruding. I believe this is true of any adult: parents, teachers, etc.
The title of this post is in reference to a comment in the Frontline piece that “the Internet has created the greatest generation gap since rock ‘n’ roll.” Associate producer Caitlin McNally, who is in her 20s, noted that even she felt somewhat out of touch with the students she interviewed:
Maybe even more striking to me was how social networking sites have become fully integrated into kids’ lives. I didn’t build my first profile until after college; it felt underground and novel, like being in on a joke. I’d never even heard the term “social networking.” Having a profile on the Internet was ancillary to my “real” life, while for the kids we met, it has become a fundamental element of what they do each day and how they represent who they are.
I’m with Ms. McNally on this one. I am surprised at times to feel a disconnect with the students I’m teaching, when many of them are less than a decade younger than I am. When I think about it, though, I doubt many of the students would want to hang out with me in real life; why would they want to hang out with me virtually? Thus, I’ve come to this conclusion: instead of “joining” students in their virtual space, I think we should try to focus on catering to their virtual learning styles. Whether this means offering more online workshops, or virtual reference services, or blogs and podcasts, I’m not sure. I’m just not convinced that implanting our libraries into Facebook and MySpace is making quite the splash we think it’s making. But, hey, I’m just a new librarian!