Friday, 20 February 2009

The temptations of social networking

I was extremely fortunate to have attended an “open-concept alternative” school for “self-motivated” students from 7th to 12th grades. This was a publicly funded school which drew students from all over the school district who wanted to take active control of their own educations. We students were responsible for selecting our own classes, showing up to them on time without any bells to remind us, and participating in the school government—including serving on committees to interview prospective new students and teachers. Yes, even the students had to pass an interview before being admitted—they needed to understand that not only did we have a greater degree of freedom than the “traditional” schools, we also had much higher levels of responsibility, and anyone seeking to avoid responsibility was encouraged to stay within the traditional system. Because of the unique environment of our school, we had a very high percentage of “weird” kids. Avid readers, D&D players, actors, artists, students who were “gifted” in any number of categories, from science to literature and everything in-between. We came from every neighbourhood and every economic class in the community, and we chose our friends freely amongst them without regard to age, gender or social standing.

I remember one of my teachers telling us during a lecture (he was a psychology teacher) that we should all enjoy and appreciate this phase in our lives, for we would never again have so many and such varied friends. That it is “normal” for adults to settle into their working lives with only a small handful of people they see socially outside of work. I was actually very, very sad when it was time for me to graduate and leave school behind—not only was I concerned about his warning with respect to the potential bleakness of our future social lives, but I truly loved my time there, despite the complications associated with adolescence. However, what that teacher didn’t know was that in just a few short decades after I left high school behind me the Internet would provide everyone with the potential of surrounding themselves with friends and acquaintances on a daily basis, all without leaving the comfort of their own home or office. There is literally something for everyone on line to help us connect with one another. The GeoBlog sphere keeps geologists in many diverse sub-disciplines connected and informed of the latest news. Some of my friends choose a very artistic form of expression on MySpace, others swear by the intimate, coffee shop feel sharing their deepest thoughts on LiveJournal, and I’ve re-discovered the many of the joys of being a High School student again through our little reunion on FaceBook, where the people whose company I so enjoyed when I was young have proven to still be entertaining, witty, thoughtful, and considerate in the casual banter which is exchanged “wall to wall” or in “comments”.

Someone recently commented to me that I shouldn’t feel guilty about taking a break from my thesis work to reply to e-mail, as it “doesn’t take very long”. Yes, he is correct; any one reply doesn’t take very long. However, for those of us who move often and make a whole new bunch of friends each time we do, and who wish to keep in regular contact with our old friends, it all adds up. I suspect that were I to let myself, I could spend many more hours a week than I already do, just hanging out with my friends on line. However, it is also important to have a life—one needs to do interesting things away from the computer if one wishes to continue to hold the attention of others via the computer!


Becca said...

Where was this amazing-sounding school?!

A Life Long Scholar said...

Anchorage, Alaska :-)

Becca said...

Oh wow. I am so jealous :)