Networking is anything but social today

14th August 2009 at 01:00

When I was at school, notes were the preferred choice of clandestine communication. Passed furtively around the classroom while the dominie was spouting forth, seemingly unaware of our attempt to spice up the boredom of the lesson, with offers of illicit meetings behind the bike shed, arrangements scribbled hastily on crumpled pieces of paper promising delights at 7pm. O the halcyon days of yore!

I was reminded of those heady days of innocence when I had occasion to reprimand a pupil in my school for threatening to vilify an older girl on Bebo. She had come to me, terrified that the younger boy was going to "get her on Bebo". The diminutive miscreant had postulated that he would tell everyone about her on Bebo that night and then she would be without friends. Whatever happened to simply "falling out"?

Social networking is now the norm for many young people in particular. No more notes passed around in school. Arrangements are made and shared via text messages, instant messaging and social networking sites. However, I feel that the term "social networking" is inapt. To some of their young users, sites such as Bebo offer a platform to ridicule and offend, the modern-day equivalent of the stocks. In such cases, "antisocial networking" would be appropriate.

I know of friends whose teenage offspring were intimidated and bullied by text messages, and of shared photos forwarded to inboxes and mobile phones, in order that as many young people as possible would be party to the teenager's indiscretion. What can be "social" about that?

The majority of young people still choose to communicate clandestinely with their peers, but now it is in the form of an abbreviated language which has metamorphosed into something that anyone a day over 25 would have difficulty comprehending.

Now too, the birth and demise of many fledgling romances is simply a mouse click away, in the form of instant messaging. LOL! Not for the youth of today the note or letter intimating a romantic interest, to be read and re-read and filed away, perhaps to be unearthed 10 or 20 years later, physical evidence of a mis-spent, or misguided youth. Instead, words and messages are deleted at the press of a button, instantly acquired and easily removed.

Not so the stain of public humiliation and disgrace. Many a public figure has been hoisted ignominiously on the petard that is Facebook, with drunken antics for the cyber-viewing public to see, to comment on and, above all, to remember. There is no real privacy in cyberspace, a fact known to the youngsters in many of our primary schools, which explains why this was used as a real threat to the older girl in my school.

How did I ensure that the comment was not posted? I hinted that I, too, might have had a Bebo account, enabling me to intercept any such comments and alert both families to their presence. Needless to say, I have not availed myself of such a facility.

Those of us over 30 would never have heard such a threat within our educational establishments. For us, passing notes around was the way to network and being sociable was indeed our aim. I wonder what the next 20 years or so will bring and how the next generation will communicate with each other. Thoughts on a USB-drive please?

Sharon McLellan is headteacher of Hoddom Primary in Dumfries and Galloway.

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