Last night I watched this Frontline TV program investigating ‘just how radically the Internet is transforming the experience of childhood’. If you go to this link you can watch the whole show online and you can also read background information on the Frontline website:
Rachel Dretzin one of the program’s makers said her interest in making this show stems from how she finds ‘the interplay between online identity and actual identity increasingly interesting’ and she ‘wondered how it played out in adolescence, a time when identity is profoundly in flux’.
The kids in the show were communicating with each other using IMs or text messages, they did not care for email ‘They described e-mail as a slow, archaic way to keep in touch with your aunt halfway across the country or apply for a summer internship.’
The teenagers use the social networking sites to explore identity trying on different personas and looks. The most astonishing aspect of the program is the way these kids reveal their most private thoughts and feelings online. They simply don’t care about the strangers who might read their posts; they aim their disclosures at their online friends.
The most disturbing part of the program addresses ‘cyberbullying’. A heartbroken father whose son committed suicide talks about discovering his son was a victim of cyberbullying. The boy was accused of being gay and then hounded by other kids in IM. It is interesting to consider that the internet is a place where kids can express themselves online as long as they ‘fit in’ to the values of their group.
Clearly anyone who is a little different is ruthlessly attacked if they fail to conform to the adolescent code. Kids are attacked by other kids just as they were attacked back in the dark ages before the internet. The internet is simply a reflection showing us to ourselves. Adolescents have created a perfect mirror to see themselves with their social networking sites MySpace and Facebook. Perhaps they are simply sites where norms can be mass produced and studied?
With ‘Cyberloom’ I am trying to work out whether the specific means of communication we use might change us? If we write a letter with a pen, make a phone call, send an email or an IM do we alter our self concept in some fashion? That is, does the mode of communication also define us? Certainly relationships shape us and define us but does the method of communication also shape who we are? Are the kids using social networking sites shaping themselves or being shaped by the medium they are using?