Today, somewhere between the fifth and fiftieth time I check my Facebook profile, I know the inevitable will arrive. I no longer have the "You've Got Mail" interjection of my AOL-obsessed youth to alert me of it's arrival, and yet I know it's bound to be there eventually. Sometime today my mother is going to email me an article about how Facebook and the Internet are out to destroy my love life, eyesight, job possibilities, or muscle tone. A dutiful daughter, I always scan the articles, but usually reach the final period angry. Unlike my mother, I grew up with the Internet. I know there was a time in my life when we did not have a computer but I do not remember it nor do I care to. I have always been taught to respect my elders, but having a middle-aged stranger tell me Facebook is out to get me feels a lot like having a car salesman drill my teeth. It's not that I don't value the articles' opinions. But, I hold my own internet truths to be self-evident.
My Generation Y Mini-Manifesto
1. I know I spend too much time online. Between Facebook (the internet's version of crack cocaine) and the wonders of Google/Gmail, I am the queen of procrastination. I believe it even says so under "Jobs" on my Facebook profile.
2. Everyone in Generation Y (or however we are labeled) knows the dangers of the Internet. We grew up constantly reminded there is a pedophile in every chatroom (though we all visited them anyhow.) We, unlike the previous generations, can spot credit card frauds, MySpace hackers, and diseased audio files from miles away. We surf smart.
3. Most of us know when to say “when.” I do however, recognize, the validity of the following widely circulated tips (revamped a bit here, for sake of realism). If you're applying for college or a job, don't have "smoking blunts" as a MySpace interest. If you're on a sports team, don't call your coach a "fat fascist" in your blog. And, for the love of Pete (literally, for us daughters of Petes), nobody needs to see those pictures of you passed out in the bathtub surrounded by beer cans. The video should probably stay off YouTube as well.
Middle School Myspace and Other Fears
I do worry about the next generation (which makes me feel incredibly old). The tragic story of thirteen year old Megan Meier was discussed at length in the bars and coffee shops I frequent. In case you missed it on Anderson Cooper, Megan hung herself after supposed intense bullying by a MySpace Romeo gone sour. The "boyfriend" turned out to be a hoax created by a family down the street. Cyberbullying is very real and has the exact same painful effects as repeated public humiliation in school. Yet, I try to focus on the big picture. On the flipside, many children who feel completely isolated are making friends online that actually do exist and are not pedophiles in disguise. If no one will listen to them, they can write in a blog. If they have questions they can't ask Dad, they can get advice in a forum. If their best friend moves to the other side of the world, good old Facebook is there to keep you up-to-the-second updated. I know what my friend in London ate for lunch today. It's not important, but it's nice to feel connected. The statistics speak for themselves. According to studies by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the Harris Interactive YouthQuery survey, 25% of girls 15-17 blog, 26% think the Internet helps them deal with serious life issues, and 86% believe the Internet improves the quality of their schoolwork.
I love the Internet. I say it proudly. I will shout it from the rooftops, or at least in my Blogspot. It's only flaw is it doesn't self-promote well. But does it really need to? I scoured the Internet for an article about positive ways the Internet is changing the world and I could not find a single one. Ghandi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Good advice. So, I began by compiling a list for all to see. I cannot hope to show you the whole truth of the Internet, it is far too broad, but I can try to open your eyes to some wonderful possibilities.
Half-truth: Facebook, MySpace and other networking sites are dangerous wastes of time.
Yes, you can lose a job or some self-respect over pictures put on Facebook. Yes MySpace has hackers galore. But, the social interaction is invaluable. Most college students would rather spend their last quarter on a packet of Ramen Noodles than a stamp. This way you can have your Ramen and blog about it too. These sites also keep users up to date and involved in current issues and events. Yes, there are several user groups devoted to beer but there are others focused on everything from supporting political candidates to ending the crisis in Darfur, to spreading tips to combat global warming. Many of these groups boast 20,000 members and are constantly growing.
Half truth: The internet is killing small business.
Yes, certain astronomically large websites and web services have caused local bookstores and record shops financial ruin. But, there are other sites that provide small businesses and artists with ways to reach far bigger product markets than ever before. For example, my personal favorite, www.etsy.com. In their own words, Etsy is "an online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade." When they say "all things" they aren't kidding. Browsing etsy.com is like having your own private craft fair/art gallery. I highly recommend visiting on a day you are convinced everything has been done before. The creativity and craftsmanship you'll find there is astounding, and mostly cost-effective!
Half truth: Nothing good ever came of hours of web browsing.
Today, the search engine is a vital piece of everyday life. Now, there is a way to make your clicks count. www.GoodSearch.com is making giving to charity easier than ever. Every time you search through the Yahoo!-powered engine, a penny is donated to the charity of your choice (around 24,000 at last tally.) According to Fortune Magazine, "if 500 supporters pledge to raise money for a school and each searches the web five times a day, that comes to ,125 a year." All at no cost to the person browsing. Never before has a popular procrastination tool done so much good.Half truth: The internet breeds creates lazy couch potatoes.
It is true that you won't burn any calories playing Snood or taking those annoying online quizzes. The internet, however, just might be able to provide the information and support you need to reach your fitness goals. A relatively new mega-trend, www.sparkpeople.com is doing just that. Basically, SparkPeople is like MySpace for dieters. Everyone gets a profile where they state their fitness goals. Members are put into teams (think: support groups) and can opt to receive daily emails with exercises, recipes, and words of encouragement. The site also features a calorie counter and fitness tracker. And, it works! According to the website, members have lost almost 4 million pounds to date.
The digital divide does not have to break your family in two. As in most family matters, a compromise is usually best. Educate your children about the dangers of the Internet. Ask them what sorts of online activities they enjoy and who their cyber friends are. Then, in turn, let them educate you. Watch their favorite YouTube videos, read their favorite e-zines, learn a thing or two. If you need a place to begin, I highly recommend the sites mentioned above. You’ll find the Internet is a wonderland for people of all ages. I could recommend a lot more, but my 13 year old cousin just sent me a video on YouTube. I know it won’t by my style, but it keeps me feeling “hip.”Happy Browsing!
© 2008 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted as long as the authors are notified and the following information is included:
Annie Passanisi is the daughter of a motivational speaker (see above) who occasionally co-presents with her mother at women’s events. If that does not tell you enough about her, she is also a Chicago-based actor, singer, freelance writer and editor, 1950s pop culture enthusiast, and swingset champion. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.