I would consider myself an ‘early-adopter’ of technology, especially with the Internet and social media. As a millennial (born between 1981 and 1996), I grew up in a time when using the Internet was a new way of life as I learned alongside new developments. E-mailing, peer-to-peer music sharing websites (like Napster and Limewire) and instant messaging (MSN Messenger) were all part of my elementary school years. I remember coming home from school, connecting to the dial-up internet (who can forget that connection sound?) and beginning a series of online chats with my friends over MSN. This was the beginning of my social media ritual that would continue and evolve over the next 20 years.
Since I was figuring out these sites at the same time (or before) my parents, they didn’t have a lot of control or understanding of what I was doing on the Internet. An example: Yahoo Chat Rooms. One of my best friends growing up has a brother (who now makes his living creating video games like this one) who was very computer savvy. He helped us create Yahoo accounts so we could join large Yahoo chat rooms with strangers from all over the world. We even figured out how to participate in audio chat, usually with adults. Keep in mind we were young – in grades 4 and 5. All of this took place with our parents oblivious to what we were doing and before conversations about cyber safety existed. Did we tell them where we lived? Did we give out other identifying info? I don’t remember and I shudder to think of the potential dangers we could have encountered. Long story short, if there was something new on the Internet, we tried it.
Fast forward through high school (Hi5, MySpace and eventually Facebook) and I began to see the negative or bullying effects of social media. Does anyone remember the “Top Friends” feature on MySpace?
Then you add in the “relationship status” feature on Facebook…sigh. It wasn’t all terrible though, as it was a really cool way to connect with people from around the world. In grade 12 I went on a school trip to Europe, and our group joined with another group from a small school in southern California. A decade later, I am still connected with some people from this trip and we keep in touch sharing photos of our growing families and professional endeavours. Heading to university, I was able to join ‘Class of 2011’ groups on Facebook and ‘meet’ other students before starting classes. This was extremely helpful to discuss everything from textbooks to the first social gatherings of the semester.
I have spent the last decade exploring successful and failed social media including Google +, YouTube, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Vine, Weebly/Blogger/Wordpress, Tumblr and Snapchat. Some have held my interest longer than others as I feel they add value to my life. Other apps are cool ideas, and should be really successful, but they don’t seem to have the same staying power as more popular apps (like TikTok or Vine [in it’s prime]). For example, I used the app “Mazu” with my younger nieces, and I thought it was a really positive experience. It was created to help teach digital citizenship and the positive power of social media. But then they just stopped using it one day. (Possibly a reflection on the short attention spans of this new generation?)
I am now at the point with social media that I feel “too old” to learn about some new networks, like TikTok. All I know about TikTok is my nieces and nephews had it for about 5 minutes and became WAY too obsessed that my sister (their mother) made them delete the app. As an arts education teacher, I feel like TikTok could be useful for ‘research’ and to reach my students, because we could learn some of the dance crazes like “The Git Up” or “Hey Julie”, but that’s why I use YouTube.
Even dating apps like Tinder and Bumble came after I met my husband, so although I understand the ‘swipe right/left’, it is something I will never experience in my social media journey.
When I consider how social media has affected my personal and professional life, I have a lot of positives but a growing list of negatives. Here is an example:
Snapchat: The only way that I communicate with my 16-year old niece. We have a great relationship and tell each other everything, but if it’s not face-to-face, it’s through Snapchat. According to my niece, it is the only way she communicates with her friends (not through texting or other messaging). Why? Because the chats are not saved unless you want to save them and also through snapstreaks. The stress of snapstreaks is something I know all too well, as I send and receive a picture of the wall every day to my niece to maintain our streak. We have been doing this for 910 days. NINE-HUNDRED AND TEN DAYS. I even have a reminder in my phone – “Snap!!!!! Streak!!!!”. What is the point of this?! It actually causes stress in my life because I am afraid of losing the streak and how it would affect our relationship. Before I gave birth to my baby, I gave my niece my Snapchat login info so she could maintain the streak when I went into labour (turns out my baby came quick and we didn’t have to worry about losing the streak). Is this the world we live in now? I was about to give birth, but one of my concerns was maintaining the streak as I felt like it is part of my relationship with my niece. That being said, I still do it every single day with no end in sight. (Insert shoulder shrug emoji here).
On a positive note, social media allows me to share milestones, travel and important events with friends and family. I can stay connected with people wherever they are in the world and maintain important relationships. In my professional life, I used Twitter, a personal website and LinkedIn to create a following that led to a full teaching studio of piano students within a few weeks. These positive networking experiences helped me grow and maintain my business. I also enjoy using Twitter to connect with other educators and sharing what we are doing in the classroom. LinkedIn has allowed me to interact with people in other industries that share common activities (like same universities and volunteer commitments).
But with these positives, there are also negatives like #fomo and feeling left out when not included in social activities. I think this is something that is an even bigger issue with our students and something I look forward to exploring further in this course. Also, as a new mom, I have spent A LOT of time on my phone perusing Facebook and Instagram while holding a sleeping baby. It is hard not to compare your baby to other babies and get wrapped up in the “Instagram vs. Reality” world. And then there are sponsored posts/ads (are they listening to our conversations??) that make me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Finally, as a teacher, I find that I get a lot of student follow/friend requests that I must decline. This is not necessarily a negative, but it does require having a conversation about privacy with my students.
In a recent conversation with my sister (mother of 4 of my nieces and nephews), I said “I hate the internet! I hate social media!”. I could see how it was affecting my sister and her kids and the daily struggles she is having with them and access to social media. She wondered if she should unplug the wi-fi? Move to a deserted island? How can we turn this around? What has to change to make it a positive part of our daily lives? What can teachers do to help our students navigate the constantly changing world of social media?
On that note, I have to go take a blurry picture of my face or the wall and write the letter ‘S’ to maintain a daily ritual.
Until next time,