I came across a little nugget of delightfullness this morning while sipping coffee and reading through some of my favorite blogs....
Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, apparently feels that social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace are not only undermining our communities, but are also driving teenagers to suicide.
sigh. where to begin...
Let's first examine his second claim, which was in response to a 15 year old school girl who took her own life after being the victim cyber bullying on a networking site. This is absolutely awful and heart wrenching and I cannot imagine the pain her family and the families of her abusers are suffering through. Whenever violence affects children, there is a tendency to lash out at what might be the cause: Marylin Manson, video games and violent movies were the scapegoats of the Columbine shootings, and in this case the Archbishop places the blame on the prevalence of social networking sites in popular culture.
The unfortunate thing is that bullying has always existed and will always exist, whether on the school yard or on-line. Instead of searching for blame we should ensure that the proper avenues for children (and adults) to express and understand their emotions. Which, of course, is a very, very difficult task.
Now, as far as social networking undermining our communities....
The Archbishop obviously hasn't been inside of a library recently. Every time I go to the library to use the internet, there is usually a minimum of a half an hour to forty-five minute wait, as folks varying in age from twelve to sixty-two are updating their myspace and facebook profiles. Social networking is ubiquitous, and there is no going back.
We are now living in the age of Web 2.0, when folks aren't just using the web as a resource but also as way to connect with others. Most of the time you are connecting with folks you already know; childhood friends, classmates, coworkers, family. Its a way to stay in touch, to reconnect, to catch up. Maybe our increased consumption of electronic communication has increased the frequency of ADD diagnoses, but I hardly see the same "dehumanizing" of society that the Archbishop sees. True, sometimes it can be annoying and overwhelming, but it also allows for exchange of ideas and beliefs.
Look at the effect that social networking had on the popular uprising in Iran. While most of the organizing within the nation was face to face and over the phone, amidst intense state and media oppression, the organizers and protesters where able use social networking as a tool to show the world what they were fighting against.
Facbook, Myspace, Twitter, LindedIn. They're not undermining out communities but they certainly are changing things. As they become cultural staples, it will be our personal ethics and morality to decide how they affect the interwoven threads of our social fabric.