A year ago Queen Margaret surprised us all by talking about young people and Facebook in her New Year’s speech. One should have bet on that subject. It would probably have given serious money, said commentators. The queen was worried. Especially about the young people’s group dynamics and their identity work on the social networks:
“I think the young people are especially vulnerable. The modern ways of communication with Internet and Facebook have tremendous potential, but there are also dangers associated with it. The very young ones can be so occupied with it that they, so to say, live in cyberspace, that reality, on the other hand, is lived in a kind of showcase, where it’s more about to keep up an appearance than to be yourself. But young people have to be themselves, not only as a group but as the individuals, they are.”

I look back at a year with a whole lot of presentations for kids, young people and professionals of different kinds and I think: What has characterized the year of 2013? And do the young people think Queen Margaret is right, when she thinks they are living in a showcase? Should she express same concern this year?

The visual youth

I have just finished a minor presentation tour for 5-600 students from Hornslet, Tilst, Malling, Knebel and Nykøbing Sj. What’s most obvious is that today’s youth is more visual than ever before. With the combination of SnapChat and Instagram it is easier to define yourself and others through images and the comments and likes, you get on them.

In a thought-provoking story from an 8th grade, a girl tells me that her friend has several times offered prizes (lipstick, tanktop etc.) on Instagram to those who likes and comments on her photos. A private person without any commercial interest offering gifts for likes.
When I openly problematize this and ask what value does a like have, if it’s only given to receive a gift, another girl says, “well, that were only things she no longer needed”.

It is useless that I as a moral-guarding adult apply words like prostitution here, when young people see it as a sweet and harmless way to get rid of things they don’t need anymore. However, I think you can speak of a further shift in this direction this year. The approving likes have become a very important part of especially being on Instagram. As a girl from 9th grade said to me: “I hate when there are only 10 likes beneath the picture ‘cause then all the names are visible beneath it. It’s best when there are so many, that Instagram won’t show all the names.” I do not recall quite same honesty about this last year.

Privacy and reciprocity

In my experience, the core group of youth has improved at changing their privacy settings – but perhaps not enough. Even though many young people according to new studies have experience with making lists and blocking people on Facebook, there are negligibly few who practice changing and reviewing settings.

A general view seems to be that there is reciprocity in sharing of material. It is almost considered dishonest to limit information because one also receives trivial (and inappropriately much) information about others.

It is probably disingenuous when the Queen called youth “particularly vulnerable”. The vast majority of young people navigate well on social platforms. But for the young people who really ARE vulnerable and lonely, it may be difficult to participate in the modern “like”-economy that requires willingness to put oneself on display. As a teacher, I have the enormous challenge of communicating to the vulnerable ones, that you do not necessarily have to participate in this process. But of course nobody wants to be an outsider, right?

And to the question whether the young people get provoked by the Queen stating they live in a showcase, the answer is usually: No! Still they are willing to agree with her. That’s how it is, they say. Why would one be provoked by that?

 

 

 

 

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