Monday, August 07, 2017

The Social Media Diet

Wonderful fellow researcher Lone writes about how she does bring her phone with her on vacation, and she argues well for why, as she describes the phone as a vital part of how she experiences and shares her life. At the same time current media are packed with warnings and "social media diets". The article that triggered this blog post is from yesterday's Daily Mail, but if you google the term, you'll see that this pops up every year, in different media. It is clearly one of those topics, that like bikini bodies and barbeque accidents return regularly to our attention. So let's look at it a bit.

First, the issue of "social media diets" tend to pop up when parents have to spend time with their kids, and discover what they are actually doing. In this case, it's summer, they go on vacation, the phones may not be as easily charged or the roaming costs go through the roof, and not only do the kids rebel, but the parents can't use their own phones as a distraction, and so it's clear that there has been a change of behaviour. Social media have become extremely important in our lives, from an early age on.

Lone Koefoed Hansen connects to the tradition of the cyborg body, envisioned among other places in Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, where she describes humanity as a hybrid between flesh and machine. The machine, in this understanding, is not a monstrous alienating force, but an extension of our bodies. As long as this extension is relatively simple and recognisable, perhaps even traditional, an axe, for instance, or a needle, we don't really question whether it ruins society as we know it. It is when this extension becomes unfamiliar that we, as a society, question its value. Do we really need to be able to fly, or will it end horribly if we try? Are souls captured by photography? Is a sun-centric model of the universe heretic? Can women play games? Change is always scary, and change in how our children act, think, speak, and in the choices they make, is perhaps the scariest of all. Hence, the reassuring, calming, idea of the healthy and controlled media diet.

Most media diets offer time restrictions. I am rather in favour of those. Kids need to do a variety of things - run, climb, be cold and warm, fall down and get back up, be stung by a wasp and get wet in a puddle - they need all of the experiences, and they need to do quite a few of them on their own, outside. This takes time. Same does reading, drawing, playing an instrument, helping with cooking, having a conversation with a friend or an adult, doing chores and playing a board-game with the family. If kids are glued to the screens, they won't get any of this very important stuff done. However. And this is where I disagree with the strict restrictions. However, by making the social media time something which is not part of all the rest, they don't need to control it, use it and take advantage of it. 

Social media today isn't something you do in isolation, it is part of everything. It's sending a snap to a friend when you're hanging upside down from a tree. It's asking when you can meet while you're stuck in your parents' car and really want to make sure you can see your friend that night. It's demonstrating your instrument skills to a proud grandma on Skype. It's the picture of the one successful cupcake, the joke shared among friends that makes you laugh while you should be doing homework, it's the reminder from your sister that you need to plan a present, it's the argument you got into that escalated when you used the wrong emoticon because you were walking to the bus while typing. 

This can't be quantified. It has to be learned in order for our kids to understand the restrictions and the possibilities. And we are the ones who need to support that learning, just like we need to support our kids as they learn how to get to school, how to choose a boyfriend, how to drink responsibly, how to have safe sex, how to go for a hike, how to drive a car, how to travel the world. And, since we are talking of diets, yes, we also need to teach our kids how to eat healthy and well. And we know very well that this isn't only about quantity. Food is both good and bad for you. So are social media. Teach your kids to be sceptical, critical and a little cautious, just like they should be about modern, processed food. Because good use of social media is as hard as smart food choices. And it's can't all be cupcakes, even if they sometimes are just what you need.

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