Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Socially Interactive Technology Connects the Online World with Reality

In today's blog, I do some research of my own and cover youth relationships and technology, cyberbullying in the news, and the main issues we have with diffusing the problem. 

I became interested in this topic after hearing my eleven year old sister talk about interacting with her friends via their iPhones. Research and experts show that virtual play is impacting physical adolescent interaction- in both good and bad ways. While the social groups that adolescents are forming may be becoming closer, this also increases the ability for being “left out”. Gone are the days of being left out on the playground, and in is being left out of an iPhone group message. Either because they don't have the latest technology, or if they do, the misuse of social media and applications are increasing the rate of cyberbullying. 

Socially Interactive Technologies are making social groups more tight-knit.
Much research has been done in order to identify the impact that growing up in an age of technology has one the younger generations, specifically with personal relationships. Communication has been studied to see if people hold conversations differently in person than they do online. 

What are identified as SITs (Socially Interactive Technologies), such as texting, IMing, etc. are used among social groups as a platform to form relationships and make plans. A 2006 study found that 48% of youth felt that they use the internet to “improve” their relationships with friends. 

Even with such statistics, it is still questioned about how strong these social ties are. The study concludes with the question: “Are adolescents creating more, but weaker, ties using SITs?” An interesting discussion point made by the study for statistic variation is that the possibility of someone finding out who they listed as their “friends” (for instant messaging) may have discouraged people to participate. It is instances like this that are on the premises of peer pressure.

Jason Farman, assistant professor of American Studies and Digital Cultures and Creativity, explains that these SIT platforms bridge a gap between something mental and physical. Farman says that though the relationships are cyber-based, that does not mean they do not impact the person in reality. 

Online personas crossover to reality.
It’s the connection to reality that begins to cause problems when someone gets emotionally abused on this cyber-platform. The issue being that not only is the online persona being attacked, the human psyche is also affected.

Over the past two or so years, it has become prevalent that cyberbullying is advancing with technology. Originally, it began under the preconceptions of social networking (MySpace, Facebook, blogs, etc.), as identified by a 2010 article by NBC about Louisiana’s bill to ban cyberbullying. (The bill was passed). However, Representative Gary Smith makes a valid point- we have to be cautious of those who don’t mean to be “malicious”.  With the increase in smart phones being obtained by younger generations, technological harassment is becoming more of an issue.

Farman gives his insight on the matter, referring to the reality and online platforms as "spaces". He brings up the concern about how these social media sites are being used and in our discussion off camera, we also explored this issue further. Since kids are growing up with this technology, on occasion, they don't know the correct use of it.

"There isn't a separation between a distinct physical world and this world of online social media"

A reporter for The South End writes about how “Bullying leaves school halls [and] goes digital”. The main point of her article is to expand awareness on the outbreak of cyberbullying- the more modern version of getting shoved into a locker. Since communicating over the internet has become possible, it has been a liability, but the problem stands with this new term, “digital natives”. Children are “growing up in the age of rapidly advancing technology” which just fuels the technological harrassment.

Bridging the gap and staying informed.
A main concern about the harassment is that there is such a large technological gap between children and parents, so many parents are unaware that this is even an issue.

Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age is one of the many research books that have been published in order to raise awareness. It’s authors preface that the book is not only for prevention, but to “empower” parents to talk with their kids so that the enjoyable experience of technology is not ruined by such a malicious thing. Since cyberbullying is so different from school bullying, many studies have been done examining the actual “bullies” themselves. A recent 2012 study distinguishes different characteristics between bullies and victims, proving that it is not just a silent issue, but one that is psychologically lasting. 

So to decrease the threat of cyberbullying that can lead to drastic manners such as even suicide, parents are advised to keep note of these attitude changes, but to also inform their kids- not only of cyberbullying as an issue, but also of the appropriate use of these applications.

What do you think?
Not only is technological threat taking away the enjoyment of something so innocent, but it blurs the lines of our First Amendment.

How do you think cyberbullying can be regulated, if at all?

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