According to Julie

Social media makes digital natives more social – not less


When I hear adults worry about the distraction smart phones represent to them, I wonder if this is because they associate smart phones with work and obligations, rather than fun and friendship.


I’m reading danah boyd’s new book “It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens” – and you should too.

Start with this description of teenagers at a high school football game in 2010:

(M)any were texting frantically while trying to find one another in the crowd. Once they connected, the texting often stopped. (…) And even though teens are frequent texters, the teens were not directing most of their attention to their devices. When they did look at their phones, they were often sharing the screen with the person sitting next to them, reading or viewing something together.

The parents in the stands were paying much more attention to their devices. They were even more universally equipped with smartphones than their children, and those devices dominated their focus. I couldn’t tell whether they were checking email or simply supplementing the football game with other content, being either bored or distracted. But many adults were staring into their devices intently, barely looking up when a touchdown was scored. And unlike the teens, they weren’t sharing their devices with others or taking photos of the event.

It’s an anecdote, but given how much research boyd has worked on about kids’ use of cell phones and digital media, I trust that it illustrates a general tendency: Digital natives use social media and smart phones for actual socializing. Or as danah boyd puts it: "Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other."

I was long out of high school in 2010, but I am still young enough to be labeled a digital native. Last Friday night, I hung out in a friend’s apartment with Indian take-out, wine and a group of other 20-something girls. We all used our phones, as well as the host’s laptop, throughout the evening. One of us posted an image of the Indian take-out menu on Facebook, tagged the whole group, and thanked the girl who recommended the restaurant to us. We video-chatted – together – with a friend who lives far away and couldn’t be there. We all took Buzzfeed’s privilege quiz (separately – it has some very personal questions) and discussed the questions and our results. And of course we listened to playlists on Spotify (including automatically generated hit lists based on what other people listen to) and texted with another friend about which bar we would go to later. But we didn’t sit next to each other and stare at our individual screens – why would we do that?

The people I hang out with who actually turn away from me to scroll through Twitter, like a bunch of random photos on Instagram or write a comment on a recently-posted Facebook photo, are always older than me.

7370505166_805e8d1909_zWith friends my own age or younger, our screens are more likely to be complimentary to what is going on around us, not distractions away from it. If it’s not part of the current social activity, I’ll just check my phone every half hour or so, to see if anyone has tried to get in touch with me.

My dad used to say to me: "You’ll know you’re an adult when having no new e-mail is a relief."

When I hear adults worry about the distraction smart phones represent to them, I wonder if this is because they associate smart phones with work and obligations, rather than fun and friendship.

If you’re in your 40s or above now, maybe the first significant change your smart phone brought to your life was getting work emails when you were away from your computer. No wonder adults see using a smart phone at a party as an inherently bad thing. It’s like excusing yourself to go into your host’s home office and use their computer to work – something that cuts you off from the party completely.

For me, getting a smart phone mainly meant that I had a complete personal entertainment system that could be charged with one adaptor when I went on vacation. And going further back: getting my first cell phone and having a computer in my own room, meant I could communicate with my friends in private. Skype (and RyanAir) kept my long-distance relationship alive. The work emails came much later.

I am used to having my library, music collection, and thousands of newspapers and magazines all combined in one device I carry always. I am also used to being available – theoretically to anyone who knows my name – at all times. It’s been this way my entire (short) adult life. But just because something is technically possible, doesn’t mean I have to use that possibility all the time.

When I hang out with my teenage sister, we watch Vine or Youtube videos together on her phone. Then she tells me I need to post more on Instagram.

Related posts about digital natives and/or technology habits:

2 thoughts on “Social media makes digital natives more social – not less

  1. Pingback: How to own a smart phone and still behave like a decent human | According to Julie

  2. Pingback: Gjesteblogger hos NRK Beta | According to Julie

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