Social Media

by guest blogger, Jenny Schwanke

If my grandfather Pop were alive today, he would shake his head, deeply upset, at the words that have cropped up in recent years to define how we interact with one another. In his highly intelligent, educated, and literate mind, he would envision these baffling words in quotes: “Facebook.” “Texting.” “Instagram.” “LinkedIn.” He would bemoan the loss of human contact and interaction. He would grieve the new social norms. He would take his large, wrinkled, knuckly hands and rub them on his forehead in despair. “We’re doomed,” he would say. “Utterly doomed.”

Sorry, Pop. I disagree.

For one thing, social media is here to stay. It might change names—remember IM? Remember MySpace?—but the main premise of social media is now part of our lives. It will evolve and grow as the years pass.

Because anything that persistent, stubborn, and successful–? Well, it is clearly filling some sort of need.

These technological platforms, when used appropriately, can enrich and fulfill our lives. They can update our loved ones so they know we’re happy and healthy. They can promote good thinking. They can connect us with people with whom we would not otherwise connect. It has happened to me: A group of friends who had lived through middle and high school with me, women I had not seen in twenty years, found one another a few years back. Now, once every few months, we meet for a drink and a simple meal. We confide in one another, share the struggles we have beyond the brief, look-at-my-happy-life! Facebook posts, and ultimately end up laughing until our bellies ache. They are lovely women—women I would have never heard from again without connecting through social media. Yet, now, I am thrilled I can see them six months after our last meeting and say, “TELL me about the new puppy!” I’ve read about the new puppy online, so I know the puppy exists, and I have seen adorable pictures, and I know my friend loves her new puppy, and she is thrilled that I care.

Pop would still argue with me. “We are going to lose our skills that make us literate!” he’d moan. “What about sentence structure? And being articulate? And grammar? And proofreading? And careful paragraphing?”

Ahhh, Pop. Oddly enough, I think people care more about their written literate-ness when they know hundreds of people might read it. Words that have been carefully chosen. Sentences that are careful, precise, and capture thought in a simple, beautiful way. We want to appear to our friends, family, and acquaintances as if we can formulate a decent sentence and share it with the world. So we do.

Look: there’s a lot wrong with social media. There are nasty people prowling out there. It can be a terrible suck of time, energy, and focus. People send out things that are cruel and hurtful. Politics become so convoluted on social media sites that

it seems overwhelming at best, apocalyptic at worse. There are times it promotes hateful ugliness.

But that’s where the teaching comes in.

As teachers and parents, we need to guide our young learners through the reality of social media. We need to use its restraints—word count limitation, unique audience, and the dangers within—and teach them that it can be a beautiful thing when used correctly. It can be something that connects us to people we love. People we admire. People we want to meet. People who can write beautifully. (There are so many blogs out there that offer stunning, heartfelt, point-on prose that can inspire us to be our best selves! What a delight!) It connects us with people who read with gusto. (Goodreads, anyone?) This, of course, is social media at its best.

So: love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Let us make it part of our students’ learning, conversation, and real-life choices in a meaningful, safe, and thoughtful way.

Written by Jenny Schwanke.

Read more on her blog at http://mymemorycafe.blogspot.com/.

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