Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Origin of Social Networks: My take

Hypothesis: Online social networks were created because of the structure and constraints put on children today.

A few years ago nearly every kid was on MySpace creating profiles, making new friends, socializing, and occasionally getting in trouble. Parents are more and more getting frustrated with their kids being seemingly locked in front of their computer. These kids spend hours each day checking out what other people are doing, talking in short phrases, and posting pictures. Their parents don't understand the "why", so they yell at the kids to get off the computer for fear that they are going to become anti-social.

The question is why do kids use these social networks? What is fulfilling that other generations didn't have? These Web sites are not a fad or a cult movement; they are real, and have the majority of the youth involved. This is not a mistake and the kids never even asked for these technologies.

When the parents were kids and generations prior, their lives were surprisingly similar. They were expected to go to school, help out with the family and that is about it. After their work was done they were thirsty and tired and went down to the local country store or restaurant to relax. While they were there they met other kids, talked about what they did that day, and complained about how difficult their life was. Occasionally, kids would get into an argument and a fight would break out. They would end up in trouble by either the law or their parents, and like any good parental figure, they would get grounded.

So what changed? The answer is nothing. The context is different, but the sociological purpose is exactly the same. What kids are getting out these social networks is almost exactly what they are getting from previous generations. The same negative possible outcomes of these social situations still exist in both worlds.

Why such a dramatic change? Why did they go from face to face to keyboard to keyboard? I believe the answer lies in society and parents themselves. Most people over 45 today believe the world is much more unsafe then it was 20 years ago. They believe that terrorists are right around the corner and kids are doing much more dangerous things today. In their mind, it is only a matter of time before a Columbine tragedy strikes too close for comfort.

What do parents do from this sense of fear? They protect their kids and create a very structured life. They make sure they are busy with sports and activities that take up their time. Plus parents are now busy with their own careers and most families are often dual income. The media is also making sure everyone knows every negative problem in the world so it gives the impression that the world is getting worse. The point is that if you use a bigger bucket, you’ll scoop up more mud. If you didn’t realize that your bucket just got bigger you would think there is more much mud now.

So the parents keep their kids at home and busy with sports. The places where kids used to hang out couldn’t make money without any customers so they all closed up. The parents are afraid that their kids could get in hurt without supervision and that predators are lurking.  These kids were are not gaining the social skills and are not able to interact with their peers as they did in previous generations.

These pressures on kids today unbalanced the equation and just like nature, something had to give. The rise of the social networks gave kids the outlet that didn’t exist to the masses and thus MySpace and Facebook were born.  This same thing happens in nature and if there is a will there is a way. The only problem is that the change is happening so fast that only the previous generation seeing the differences. The kids in this brave new world embrace it as it is all they know.

Animals grow hair to stay warm in cold climates. They will have long necks if the food is high up on the tree. They will have incredible vision if their prey is a mile away. So the next time that you get on the youth for being addicted to social networks just understand that it is evolution baby!


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