As mentioned in my review of the book, I found between the covers of Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper’s Populatti a story that created a safe environment for a conversation on social media’s role in our relationships. The story delves into the increasingly complex maze of interactions that defines high school in the age of social media. The secret social media platform Populatti was created by a high schooler to allow a select, deserving members to plan get-togethers. But although sixteen year-old Livi Stanley co-founded Populatti, her social socially enviable high school years become the very nightmare she had thought to avoid, as rumors started chipping away at the safe pedestal she thought herself on.
Livi’s story underlines how social media platforms are able to affect our lives very positively or very negatively, depending on how they are used. I reached out to Jackie through her wonderful publicist to share her thoughts on the positive and negative effects of social networks on the well-being of those who, like her character, are in their teens, framing the question within my interest in writing as a source of inspiration to readers to refine their choices so as to lead life of positive contributions to the betterment of society. This is what she had to say.
A Look at Social Media – Why It’s So Easy to Love and Hate, by Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper
When I was a teen, I dated a guy with a wide smile and a tendency not to pick up the phone on Friday nights. The first time it happened I was dumbfounded, listening to the phone ring over and over, and ready to call things off right then and there. But then came the excuses, mostly related to his parents turning off the ringer. So I relaxed. Let my naiveté take over. And only learned months later from a friend that all those nights when the phone just rang, he was really out at parties. That I never knew existed.
Ever since diving into Populatti, I have thought of this experience and wondered what would have happened if I’d been a teen in the age of social media. Would I have seen postings as to his whereabouts that would have let me dump him sooner? Or would an even wider circle of “friends” have known about what was happening behind my back? How much greater would the humiliation have been if there’d been online evidence of his betrayal? And how much more support would I have received if all my friends had seen it happen and been there to give me a virtual hug?
Today’s high school landscape is definitely different from the one I navigated almost fifteen years ago. Social media has changed the way teens interact with their peers, family members, and friends in a way I couldn’t imagine back when I was cursing that ringing (landline) phone. And while for the most part this is an amazing thing – I mean, I would have killed to have greater access to my friends for homework questions, gossip sessions, and the occasional venting – there are definitely pitfalls that teens need to be aware of when communicating online.
But first to the good stuff. Social media is an amazing tool that really does allow teens to communicate and grow in ways that were never before available. Sites like my fictional Populatti or Facebook or even SnapChat allow teens to create a strong network of friends where someone is almost always available to talk. This alone can be a lifeline as teens may be less likely to open up to a parent, and hesitant to call up a friend. But being able to scan through a list and see who is available makes it easy to ask for advice.
In addition, social media can help teens combat traits like shyness (I was so shy back then) and allow them to create a wider social network. Texting and posting online can help solidify friendships that might otherwise never have developed in the classroom. Also, those with unique interests can find others who share their tastes, allowing like-minded individuals to build friendships with those with whom that are most compatible – even if from the outside they seem completely different. Outside the social realm, social media can be a huge plus for academics as questions on homework can be discussed with a group of students, or even teachers themselves as more and more schools create media-rich sites with chat capabilities, databases of recorded lectures, and tutorials that can really help develop students’ skills. And that’s not even mentioning how social media can help families stay in touch, as well as friendships separated by multiple towns, states, or time zones.
Social media has the potential to enhance teens’ lives tremendously. So why does it get such a bad rap? Well, like any technology, it’s all in how it’s used. And social media, if not used properly, can definitely lead to a lot of hurt.
Like when teens post pictures from parties where not everyone was included. Or use the feeling of anonymity that comes from hiding behind a screen to post hurtful comments about friends or classmates. I actually know a number of people who have left social networks for these reasons. Because viewing their newsfeeds always made them feel like they didn’t quite belong.
And then there are those problems that come when teens use that 24/7 access to their friends as a replacement for discussions with parents – a slippery slope, especially when friends’ values don’t match your own. Or the problem of teens feeling so imprisoned by these sites that their lives begin to revolve around creating the perfect online image.
Which is why I really hate all that FOMO and YOLO (fear of missing out and you only live once) business. I swear, now that teens can log onto a social network and see what’s happening with their friends, it can seem like they’re always missing out on something or not living life to the “fullest.” This can definitely lead to feelings of depression and loneliness as well as competition as friends compare who has cooler photos and status messages and videos. Talk about unhealthy competition. I mean, who wants to be worrying about getting the perfect concert pic – with cool lighting, a perfect Instagram filter, and awesome background – when your favorite band is playing your favorite song? It takes away from the real-world enjoyment of the event while perpetuating a dangerous cycle where those very friends who “like” your post could actually feel pretty lousy that all they did that night was sit at home.
So what is the solution? I think the first step is to be aware that social media is a tool – not a replacement for real life. And just because something is posted online, does not mean it is true. Most people don’t post when they are upset or depressed so you only see the positives. It’s important for teens to realize that behind those facades, most of their peers probably struggle with the same feelings of insecurity and doubt that they do. This is especially apparent in those derogatory posts targeted at other students. All that lashing out really means one thing – that the ones posting aren’t happy with themselves.
So remember, social media can be great, but so are face-to-face conversations with friends and family. And activities where you leave your computer and phone and tablet behind. My husband and I call this “going off the grid.” It’s not always easy, but after a few days of vacation or hours at a park with our daughter, we both begin to relax a little more. Take in more of our surroundings. And really lose ourselves in the moment. And that’s where the real memories are made. When you’re out living your life. Away from the computer screen, with those you love best.
More information about the author is available on her official website.
Originally published on Sahar’s Blog on 14 November 2014.