Friday, April 25, 2008

"Facebook and MySpace sell electronic crack."

Now, is that line quotable, or what?
Below is the context from which it is taken.
I read the article (from
today's International Herald Tribune)
during my lunch break, and I felt compelled to post it.
And so, here it is:

The buzz of today's youth
By Perry Glasser

Friday, April 25, 2008

SALEM, Massachusetts: Two of my students appeared at my college office door just as I was leaving to meet them. In the hurry of ordinary business, I had been ambiguous as to when and where we'd chat. But a third student, their classmate, was missing. "Where's Steph?" I asked.

Chelsea and Samantha shrugged.

I found Stephanie downstairs waiting at a classroom seminar table. I explained my mix-up. She dropped her cellphone into her pocketbook. "I was expecting a call from Sam or Chel," she said.

I wondered, why had I walked?

My reflexes no longer fit the times. My students assume constant electronic proximity. They call; I schlep. Like the dance of the bees, they share a hive mentality: the reflexive, instinctive, communication of everything about everybody to everyone at every moment.

Is the ubiquity of cellphones and the Internet fundamentally changing a generation's sense of self?

Those of us older than 40 worry about privacy: My Millennial Generation students entering their 20s have little appreciation for that concept. Identities blurring at the edges, they have become a great "us."

The hive mentality is not only ordinary adolescent conformity - it's a corporate necessity. The electronic network flatters every yuppie wannabe with the same delusional lie: You are the hub of a great, ever-changing network. The heavens may wheel, but we remain fixed at the center.

What mid-level exec dares vacation without a Blackberry? Suppose the home office reached a decision while you were beyond reach? Suppose a crucial e-mail was sent while you foolishly wasted time with your kids, sat in the sun, or read a book? People need lives, but business requires productivity.

For my students, the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace are corporate training grounds. How different is being a knowledge worker in a felt-lined cube from having 1,000 globally dispersed "friends" whose every mood, taste, and activity is instantly broadcast and made public?

Facebook and MySpace sell electronic crack. What normal, peer-dependent kid wouldn't rather have 1,000 electronic friends than three people they actually had to (gulp) talk to? Why reveal your heart, choose words, take risks, or share ambitions when, with a mouse click, you can appear witty, clever, and wise? More than half of these kids have divorced parents - what did risk, trust and intimacy get them?

This most photographed generation in history is by many measures the most narcissistic. Social networking sites present a huge, electronic refrigerator door with no judgmental parent exerting critical judgment.

My fiercely independent college students post photographs that are numbingly the same. Arms looped drunkenly around each other at parties, longneck beers in hand; stacked like cordwood and laughing on dorm beds; girls wetly lick each other's faces; and - gender-free and almost universal - they flip the bird into the camera.

I've become accustomed to my college students rarely going on dates. For one thing, they are far too busy to gradually learn about anyone. Courting is conducted in packs, and they unashamedly hook up, meaning a quick, probably meaningless, sexual liaison. The original mission of Facebook was to discover eligible "friends" on one's own campus without the risk of, say, an awkward meeting over coffee. I survived the '70s so can't raise an eyebrow at hooking up, but the convergence of cellphones and the Internet has given finding companionship all the flavor of a hunting wolf pack. Individuals are never alone; meet a potential partner, snap a quick surreptitious cellphone photo, and seek advice: "Definite babe!" "Dump him!" "Go 4 it!" "Does he have a brother?"

Every advance in technology has raised yellow caution flags waved by old fogies like me. Autos changed the sex life of youth and made the Roaring Twenties roar, and, when I was a lad, rock and roll music eroded moral restraint while fomenting communism, acne and juvenile delinquency. But the social networking sites and cellphone culture aren't just changing habits or style; they are changing the nature of identity.

Buzz, buzz, buzz. All is well in the hive. Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Perry Glasser coordinates the professional writing program at Salem State College in Massachusetts.

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