Sunday, March 13, 2011

The New (and Ancient) Social Network

The Social Network (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]You’re punished! Go to your room!!

For those of us who grew up during the Leave-It-To-Beaver or Brady-Bunch generations, these words resonate as an all-too familiar admonishment for the wrong doings of Theodore Cleaver,
 Jan Brady, and millions of other kids in America. It was the common penalty for the common misdeeds of the day. And being banished to the lonely solitude of one’s bedroom, isolated from one’s friends and family, was a powerful and effective consequence. Yet for today’s youth, being sent to one’s room would be met with no more than a shrug of the shoulders. In fact, most kids would probably be confused by their parents’ punishment choice of sentencing them to the most comfortable,
pleasurable, and socially connected place in their entire world – their own bedrooms.

By now it’s cliché to state that today’s youth is the most socially connected and culturally aware generation in mankind’s history. The statistics bear out what we already intuitively know: these kids are wired in. Over 85% of teens have their own cell phones. Even for kids between ages 10 and 14, cell phone ownership exceeds two-thirds. Three-quarters of kids between the ages of 8 and 18 have TV’s in their rooms, and the rate of bedroom TV’s for kids under 12 is 55%, and growing fast. As for computers, we know that (at least) one-third of kids have their own desk-tops or laptops with Internet access. And that doesn’t count the “smart phones,” or “X-Box Live” systems (where you can merrily engage in simulated mortal warfare with a fellow teenager somewhere in, say, Europe).

Now, lest you think this article is about to offer some preachy lecture on poor parenting skills in the modern cyber era, let me reassure you, it’s not. After all, that would be a fantastic hypocrisy for someone like me since there may be no greater example of the trend towards electronic overkill than the bedrooms of my very own three teenage sons. In fact, our kids’ digital excesses are so daunting that I’m less worried about the common concerns of cyber bullying, lack of sleep and sedentary lifestyle issues than I am about merely entering their rooms without becoming entangled and electrocuted. To be honest, the last time I saw such overburdened electrical outlets was in Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation.

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