Soma for the Teenage Soul

Barry Bachenheimer at A Plethora of Technology has conducted his own version of the popular television show (and a great one, by the way) 30 Days. Barry decided to venture onto and into Facebook for one month to see a little social networking reality for himself. Read Barry’s observations – they’re poignant and drove me to leave a comment and produce this post. I especially liked his point that,

It sucks you in. Because of all the non-important information, I felt the need to check in frequently to see what everyone was doing, if anyone else wanted to be my friend, and if there was anyone else from my past who was out there.

How true. It’s like soma for the teenage soul. Sadly, like Barry, I understand it.

I had a MySpace account awhile back. I admit it was interesting to locate old friends and to search for people to see if they had amounted to anything more than what I thought they would. I’m still amazed by how much we are like we were in high school. (Sidebar: I used to tell my students that what they see in high school is about as evolved as people get – the only real difference between high school and the adult world is a paycheck.). But like all things that are discovered to be a waste of time, I let it go and deleted my MySpace. But I was recently intrigued to go to Facebook and see what that platform had to offer and to see if the network and users had evolved in any way. And yes, I was interested to see if anyone from my elementary schools had become something other than the goons they were back then.

I was inspired to check out Facebook when my wife told me that one of our family members (a teenager) had an active Facebook and had recently posted something that peeked her interest. I took a look at his Facebook and realized that who he is portraying is not who he is. It’s as if he has reinvented himself out here; become someone whom he wishes to be, but isn’t really. He’s not lying on his site… but the aesthetic of his site smacks of a personal ad in the back of the NY Post or Village Voice that might read:

SWM into the avante garde, seeks SWF for intellectual debate, curio shopping, and Star Wars marathons. Let’s be rebels.

I don’t know this kid to be these. But if I didn’t know him, this is what his Facebook would have shown me. It’s was like looking at a super model knowing it had been airbrushed and run through Photoshop for more than few edits.

And I suppose that is my issue with Facebook – it falsifies the truth. It cheapens the possibilties of networking. And what’s worse is that most of our adolescents see that as Web 2.0 in its entirety. Facebook’s flash and zazz, ease of friend making, and other addictive qualities do suck us in. And how does a class wiki, teacher blog, or Blackboard forum compete with that? I know we can. But the struggle is hard.

I offer an analogy…
Facebook : Wiki :: MTV : PBS

As an educator who desires to bring the wonders of Web 2.0 technology to my high school, it hurts to admit that most of my students will need to unlearn how to use networking technologies as they learn how and why they are effective and useful for their education, ideas sharing, and project creation and collaboration. I would hate to think that the Facebook and MySpace experience will be about as Web 2.0 as most students will ever be. But in many schools and much of America, it will be.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

3 thoughts on “Soma for the Teenage Soul”

  1. Mike-

    Thanks for the positive feedback.. I love the “soma” literary analogy.

    I agree with you; no matter how “creative” we try to be, a wiki isn;t facebook. However, it can be used to teach ethical use of technology, good modeling, and discussions of proper and improper.

    I'm sure you've seen the specs on the new HS redesign for NJ. Interesting that nowhere in this “preparing kids fo the 21sr century” is anything about technology and preparing kids to use it effectively.

    Nice post.



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