Ria, a class 10 student in Delhi, just back from a party is busy uploading pictures on Flickr, alternating between her MySpace account and Facebook “Wall” and sharing a joke with her best friend in Australia on her Orkut scrapbook. It’s only 2:30 AM, and of course there is school tomorrow.
Himani, a class 8 student in a government school in Ujjain is bored and quite irritated. None of her ‘top’ friends are online, no one has uploaded any new videos and not one boy has visited her profile in the last one week. So what if she is on a dial up connection and the phone bill is high?
If language is an indicator of popularity, consider being poked, pinged, scrapped, and walled or even having secret crushes. Cashing in on the flood of users registering everyday, these sites have become a mirror image of the culture they sustain – young, hep and smart. According to an Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC) report, “There is no MySpace without the individual contributions of millions with their personal home pages and walls of messages, photos and personal profiles. There is no YouTube without users’ contributed videos.”
“In some sense, people have more control online – they are able to carefully choose what information to put forward”, says Danah Boyd, a social networking researcher in her 2007 paper on social networking and the youth. Yet social networking also poses certain threats to the youth using it. A Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) report on the same subject asserts that unwanted sexual advances, indecent exposure, offline meetings between people as well as impersonation of identity are common on these sites.
Rina Ramdev, mother of 13-year-old Raag is not unlike other mothers whose kids are on these networking sites. “The amount of time spent on the computer has definitely increased but I have no problems with my son using these sites”, she says. P.K. Narang, Principal Primary School at Pathways World School, Gurgaon says, “Besides dangers of exploitation social networking does not allow children to learn the social skills they would ideally develop in real life interactions. However, responsible social networking in moderation can serve a required function.”
Since mobile phones are the constant companions of the youth today, social networking too is headed the mobile way (see box). If latest trends are any indicators of the future, the mobile phone will be the next social networking device.So, until the next fad hits town, happy poking and carry on scrapping!