- 15 March 2014
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Hailing from the deep south of Sri Lanka, born and raised in a closely-knit family of five and educated at a strict boys' school, I was taught the valuable lesson of team play, sharing is caring and the importance of fraternizing with classmates, neighbours, and teammates, at an early age. Although I was a part of Gen Y (born between 1975 and 1995), a generation of youth known to being incredibly sophisticated, technologically advanced, more racially and ethnically diverse and classified as a much more segmented audience aided by the rapid expansion in Cable TV channels, satellite radio, the Internet and E-zines, my childhood revolved around the great outdoors. From playing multiple sports in school, to hanging out on the beach with friends over weekends in Tangalle, or cycling around paddy fields with my brothers, I often reflect on my childhood with the fondest of memories, for it was spent in the real world and not the virtual world, crouched in front of a computer.
From MSN Chat to Hi5 and eventually Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – I, like those in my generation have all (evolved?) been captured in a virtual world of Social Media. From iPhones, Blackberrys and Laptops and iPads, the world is now literally at our fingertips. Gone are the days where we had to courageously venture out to make a new friend or two, quarrel with the boys over a game of cricket or rugby, or even sit down and write a postcard or email to a pen-pal. We now live in a world where the youth are engrossed in Social Media. Friendships and relationships start and end online, fights between individuals are virtual wars, break-ups are publicly posted for the world to see and relationships become official once a status update via a Twitter or Facebook post has been made public. Social Media has become immensely popular in recent years and for a variety of reasons both good and questionable. One can argue that there are lots of benefits of using Social Media, although, not everybody will agree that it is a good thing, and there are certainly some disadvantages to it. However, on the whole, it would be fair to say that the benefits outweigh the negatives, and this is a contributory factor towards its growing popularity.
Increase in computerliteracy
The growth of Social Media networking in Sri Lanka has largely been due to the increase in computer literacy rates in the island. The youth today, more than ever before, have access to computers and the internet in almost all Provinces in the country. This rapid advancement in the access to technology and technological devices has primarily been due to the rapid growth of development in the education system in the country. Literacy rates have increased and improvements in the education system have also led to a sharp increase in the number of educated youth joining the workforce.
Social Media enables individuals to network with one another on a virtual space. They communicate and express themselves in a more coherent manner with the aid of a keyboard; the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword proves to be the case with today's youth. Social networking can provide opportunities for new relationships, as well as strengthening existing relationships; whether friends are close to home or across the world, they can always be in touch, thanks to social media.
Although it promotes anti-social behaviour when in public and often leads to superficial relationships with friends (best example being friends wishing each other for their birthdays with a simple wall post on Facebook!), it nevertheless makes individuals share their lives with those nearest and dearest to them, regardless of what part of the world they live in. High school friends can remain in touch all throughout college and university, family near or far can be a part of a newborn niece's or nephew's life through pictures, regular updates and videos, parents can be up-to-date on their child's college adventures when living away from home for the first time. Social Media connects us in more ways than one.
However, parents of young children should be more vigilant of its use, and it is important to note that Social Media should not be accessible to those below 16 years of age. Although the legal age for Facebook today is 13, one must always remember it was 18 when young Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard University back in 2004, first launched it.
Expansion of Facebook
Facebook was initially meant to be a social networking site for college students. For them to exchange pictures, keep in touch and communicate even after their days at university had come to an end. An individual was required to have a valid student email account, in order to be eligible to qualify for an account on Facebook. However, with its growing popularity, growth in the financial opportunities that arose as a direct result of its popularity, eventually led to the social networking site being allowed to be accessed by 16-year-olds and subsequently 13-year-olds. To me, age plays a key role in social networking sites. Parents with young children below the age of 16 need to be more vigilant and need to discourage the use of Social Media by pre and early teens. Children need to grow in an environment where they can interact face to face with fellow students, cousins and friends on a social basis, as opposed to on a virtual space. Parents need to encourage their children to engage in activities that will enable them to develop their social skills, habits of sharing and caring, team play and be more adaptable in the real world. Children need to be taught the art of problem solving on their own using their own skills and intellect as opposed to Googling for answers or solutions or resolving personal issues with friends via a status update war or series of updates and posts.
On the other hand, however, children may to an extent gain social confidence from interacting with other people online, which may help them feel more secure in new situations, such as going to college, joining a sports team, or even meeting new friends. Because social networking, like everything else online, is constantly evolving, kids can become more familiar with new and emerging technologies, as well as increase their media literacy through exposure to many different types of online media that are shared by their friends. Many kids today, who are often raised in dual-income or single parent households, find support in online communities; especially kids who have unique interests or feel isolated. It also encourages a child to find other kids who are interested in the same thing or may be dealing with similar issues. Online communities can be very diverse and expose a child to many new viewpoints, ideas, and opinions that he/she may not be familiar with.
Youth can further explore topics that they are interested in through online social networking. By making connections with other people who have the same interest, kids also can learn and exchange knowledge with others they may not have had the opportunity to interact with.
Social media allows you to interact with far more people than you would otherwise be able to. This means that you can be exposed to a much wider array of opinions than you would otherwise. In addition, you will be able to share your opinion with a lot more people. These interactions have certainly made the world smaller since you can interact with people from anywhere. That being said, most people do tend to limit who they interact with, to people who have similar beliefs as theirs.
Advertising and marketing tool
Furthermore, Social Media is a great advertising and marketing tool for businesses, brands, and charitable and social causes. Advertisers can target specific groups of people through social media. Products and brands are often targeted at segmented audiences and social media enables companies to do so effectively. Market research companies can effectively collect data by analyzing personal information shared by users online and this in turn can be used as effective data by advertisers. People's behavioural patterns, likes and dislikes, images and much more can be collected for analytical purposes via social media. Companies have started to immensely benefit with the growth of networking sites; they can engage directly with their target audiences. Social networking is just a way to network; everybody knows that networking is critical for things like finding a job. This is why we are starting to see sites appear that are designed specifically for networking for professional reasons, such as LinkedIn. Again the advantage is that you can network with a lot more people than you would be able to, if you had to do it in person.
For a generation of youth obsessed with film, art, music and sports networking sites like Twitter and Instagram, these provide them with an opportunity to directly engage with their favourite artists, sporting heroes or idols. A world that once seemed many miles away and a distant dream all seem so small and accessible thanks to social media. Sites like SmallWorld enable like-minded youth and young adults to engage in activities that are of interest to just them.
Perhaps the best reason for social networking is that it is fun. People can and do spend hours a day on social networking sites interacting with their friends. It is a good way to stay in touch and to find out what is going on in their lives. In addition, there are all kinds of games and similar things that you can do on these sites.
There does not have to be a specific or a useful purpose for using social media, you can use it simply because you enjoy using it. Ultimately this is why most people do it and it can be seen as an alternative method to relieving stress and relaxing one's mind after a hectic day of work.
Therefore, in conclusion, I personally think if Social Media is utilized in a positive engaging manner and youngsters below a certain age are monitored closely by their parents on their online activities and behavioural patterns, social media is a useful tool that truly makes this planet a small world, and a more connected world. Hopefully in the future, with the free flow of information, and accessibility to network and form relationships with people from all across the globe, and the creation of more awareness of global cultures and traditions via the free exchange of information both personal and commercial, we may well be walking on a journey leading towards a more ethnic and racially tolerant world.