Social networks– a boon or a bane?


Mike Rana
Creative Head & Founder, eFingertip Consultant Social Networking

When we talk about social network, a phenomenon that we all love and hate, we refer to a methodology that connects people even when they are not in visual sight. The focus on SocialNets should be to get the student and parent a part of the SocialNet. So, adopting a middle path would make it a reality.

In the early days of 2nd generation at IIT Bombay, we were constrained due to the unavailability of giga and terabytes of disk storage, screen monitors, mouse and fingertip inputs that today are in laps of school children. Thanks to IBM, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung for ushering in technology by leaps and bound, slowly but surely. While we fiddled with toggle switches to enter a binary machine language program those days, today’s generation has the luxury of high-level languages.

Did you know that a computer uses a stored program to drive the logic inside the machine? It’s the single most amazing thing that happened to computers. Take out the stored program and lo, you are left with just some idiotic hardware. Everything comes to life in digital devices when stored programs, now we call them applications, are made to reside inside them. John von Neumann and Alfred Boole may be turning in their graves seeing what all could be done by stored programs.

Why is a SocialNet different from the others

When researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) designed the first ever network of computers, it only meant connecting the computers together, on wires and later on Wi-Fi. It was much later that we saw the management folks using the fancy word ‘networking’ for a collection of people, talking face to face in conferences.

And now when we talk about social network, a phenomenon that we all love and hate, we refer to a methodology that connects people even when they are not in visual sight. All they need is a hand-held device and wi-fi or a broadband network, available these days everywhere, even on trains and flights. What this form of communication achieves is connecting individuals at both its ends; unhindered, unsolicited and sometimes irritating. And this connection is irrespective of caste, creed, color or gender of the user. The trend today is the use of voice, language, and text language for communicating.

Little did we realize how quickly the SocialNets became popular due to the doings of HI-5, Facebook and WhatsApp, and many others. And further, we might be moving towards a community that operates in a virtual workplace loaded on the clouds. In other words, the SocialNets are here to stay.

The social networking trends

Obscenity, profanity, blasphemy, sacrilege and many other words are used by the older generation to describe the behavior of children towards SocialNets. This is unfortunately totally unfounded.

Haven’t we seen umpteen photos on the internet depicting three or four people sitting on the same bench, each glued to his own phone, doing practically nothing? The one who is away is perhaps more important than the one who is sitting next. We, the old-timers, question why the hell they had to assemble if they were not communicating with each other? Both, the students and the elders have their own reasons for cursing and welcoming SocialNets, not the generation gap but because of it. Both are justified in their own ways.

Just watch what the trend is. When a child approaches the parent, the parents find enough excuses to put him away to television, mobile phones, tablets or even Nets.

So, the SocialNet is first introduced and promoted by parents and when children become obsessed with it, they blame the children for this mania.

If we continue treading on this path, there is a chance that the child will start seeking advice, love, or simple mentoring from their peers rather from the parents. The matter could be worse if the family makes it a habit of ignoring the child and the child proceeds to get into a social or physical problem; that might ultimately need devoted attention from the parents. How many people you know spend time, simply time, with their offsprings and play with them indoors, watch the same cartoon networks, or give them the company they need?

Building a network of reliable friends – what children should be taught

Children, you can’t be adding a friend on your list just because somebody sent you a request. Both accepting and sending requests pushes you into a hard-felt heavy responsibility.

If you want your virtual friends to be as honest, truthful and deceit-proof as your real friends are, you must examine the requests from the angle of how the new friend’s existing posts and photographs currently are. This will not only give you a good idea of the person’s mentality but save you from getting locked on to a worthless person. And further, if the individual’s new posts don’t subscribe to your liking, the person has no right to be on your site. Just throw the person out of your network. You could use the Facebook feature, which converts a friend to an acquaintance, blocks him or even deletes him.

The reverse also applies. Your own site should pass the inviter’s examinations. You both can’t be keeping your connection alive unless you depict to each other, your like-mindedness.

Use the Facebook Help

Facebook creates stories from the photos you post. Such stories have a telling effect on your psyche. You modify your behavior and attitudes according to what the Facebook says in your story.

If your posts are only selfies or your photographs that depict you as a fashion-conscious person, the stories will highlight the outer side of you. If they refer to arts, science or technology your attitude could be branded by Facebook as a serious professional. So, beware, how you want to project yourself in front of your peers and the world at large.

If Facebook can make that distinction, automatically by looking at your posted pictures, you could do the same for your friends. Be aware every good-looking girl or a smart looking guy could also be a potential hacker, terrorist or sexual offender. The software companies have done a yeoman’s service by bringing together friends, lost friends, and communities together, so make use of it but don’t be a prey to pranksters.

One-upmanship on peers and on leadership

The biggest pressure on children is getting accepted by their peers, and if possible, as leaders. It was always a problem we all suffered but now it assumes an alarming dimension. So, while we gather and build our network, this desire of excelling in one-upmanship will delve into our psyches dangerously. Instead of becoming a part of the whole, the SocialNets will plunge you into a network that is mutually detrimental to cohesivity. By sticking on or around phone or computer for a long time, you will become secluded and aloof, instead of the leadership you want to gain on the social network.

Mind your language

Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter encourage you to use cryptic or textual language. Our survey gave us quite a good list of shortcuts, people use today like LOL, BRB, GTG, ILU, OMG, WTF, Pls etc. This is an enhancement – not a perversion – of language. For writing the structured language, it might be textual but it better be structured according to the rules of grammar with punctuations and paragraphing.

While no one has objections to these textual forms, yet teachers expect students to be familiar with the standard English language, namely spelling, punctuations, paragraphing, composition writing. They shouldn’t complain that literacy levels are dropping, or students are not able to write at the desired speed by hand.

Yet another trend worries us. Young people are increasingly prone to texting and shying away from making calls, which leads them to place on record whatever they communicate. This is more dangerous for your privacy and can be misused. Ironically, the speed at which instant messaging or texting takes place means that mistakes and shorthand are common, but that’s ok. We can understand what you mean.

Further, the SocialNets promote writing skills against the reading skills. You don’t obviously read and understand what someone is writing but you expect him or her to read whatever you are writing.

Grow slowly but certainly

Live life at leisure, not at the blazing speed with which everybody seems to be attempting currently. Remember one can’t get a ripened fruit from a tree just because it was heavily manured or watered. Just as the fruit needs time and season to grow, life too needs time. Living life at a faster pace pushes many other tensions on your already tensed up mind. So, keep the pace of learning slow. Otherwise, one will lose the charm of growing in life, one will lose childhood and become a mechanized robot. Sooner or later, one will be depressed because one has lived it all. A day has only 24 hours and one needs at least 8 hours to sleep.

Consider for example, should the span of acquired knowledge be wide or deep? It depends on how close the student is to his preferred profession. If undecided so far, the scope of learning should be wide enough to cover different options but if you have chosen the profession, then delve into the subject deeply.

Prepare yourself for today

There is some virtue in promoting your interests on the SocialNets by posting and receiving posts related to your own sphere of interest. It could vary between writing, art forms, science and technology, jokes that entertain you, the news that interests you, music and sharing of photographs etc. Also, there are interesting sites that make you learn great things for management, do’s and don’ts on the internet, giving views of the learned celebrities all over the world.

All of them cannot be listed here but a few are for:

  • Promoting book reading and writing by going to Blogger, WordPress, ezine sites where you can achieve the desired creativity in writing. Ezine enforces good writing by making you stick to grammar rules, and you could boast of a number of articles published therein.
  • On the Facebook, itself you could write notes and choose the best videos for sharing.
  • WhatsApp is a great place to share meaningful jokes.
  • WordPress and Blogger allow you to create a webpage and understand progressively the structure of web sites beautifully created by the great others.
  • Avoid money transactions on the internet because you could make mistakes and lose a lot of money by frauds.

Prepare yourselves for the future

Facebook is coming out with interesting things in near future. Their focus is on creating communities, as an extension of families and friends. Things like augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence applied, will enable to interact with each other in real time, irrespective of which country you are currently located. You could see virtually, and in motion, friends or colleagues performing interesting things together. It will use cameras for converting a 2D into a 3D image and give you the experience of space and 3D around you. We are talking of reality, as seen and extrapolated by the cameras, not just the virtual reality that thinks of a real situation depicted by pictures.

They made a start by introducing ‘messenger’ with ‘frames put on the photographs’. Watch for ‘F8’ and ‘Workplaces’. Augmented reality (AR), is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

We don’t talk about the abundance of knowledge on Wikipedia or the search engines by Google, we talk about productivity, employability, in different arenas from art to science. You learn a lot by connecting with the right people. Examine your contacts and cull out the unnecessary ones.

Remember when you prepare your CV, Microsoft asks you for details on your handle on Twitter, LinkedIn, and email other than the erstwhile telephones and addresses. Addresses and phone numbers have lost all their meanings with global connectivity and Facebook can be blamed for ignoring the telephone numbers on your address book in favor of its messenger.

What a school should do?

The schools need to take an active part in this evolution and revolution. You can’t be sitting twitching your fingers while the others leave you far behind. You must participate and let your students become part of this revolution. Don’t discourage them.

  • Create a solid network for teachers and students using Facebook, Google and Microsoft Outlook.
  • Create awards for the best social network created by an individual.
  • Create competitions for entertainment on the networks (fashion, sports, IQ tests and travel essays).
  • Remember privacy of everyone is prime here.
  • Protect and block websites by firewalls and provide access only through a common platform, for example, Microsoft Outlook.
  • Social networking is similar to real networking by the students. So, whatever cultural activities you do in real do that on the school social network.
  • Create cases where students have suffered on money matters, psychological trauma and depression or drugs with sufficient advice.
  • Selected teachers should have a blog that pulls the students towards it.

The focus on SocialNets should be to get the student and parent a part of the SocialNet. So, adopting a middle path would make it a reality.

Remember overindulgence in SocialNet makes everyone lonely, isolated, depressed, leading to drugs and badly formed characters, something that your family doesn’t want to see in you, in spite they may be right now busy in their own networks. They care for you is many shades more than any friend on the SocialNets.

Parents and teacher to remember, the students know much more than you and I can ever dream of knowing on the network. Therefore, prudence lies in seeing the SocialNet a boon and not a bane, for parents, students and teachers alike.

Mike Rana is the creative head of efingertip digital magazine and has published three books. He worked with computers of the 2nd generation and continues to work today when networking and clouds have appeared on the scene. This article is written by him for the school children, parents and the teachers.