Friday, October 31, 2008

Morality, media and generational worldviews.

It appears from, where I swim, that the world has gone a bit mad this week and it all revolves around the individuals pictured here. I am sure enough words have been penned about the actually commotion without me adding to it. There were one or two things that caught my attention and may be worthy of futher ponderance, however.

As the world was informed how they should react to this by the tabloid media as usual, even the BBC seemed to give it unwarranted attention in a week when horrible things are happening around our world - there was little attention given to the situation in Congo until the weekend which is very hard to understand. Who decides what gets in the news and what gets left to the back pages of the broadsheets? Who gives the media the right to tell us what we should be outraged about anyway?

Also, what I am about to say is unjustifiably generalised and ageist but has been presented in some of the debate over the issue. Various reports are suggesting that the older generation seemed to express outrage and disgust, while Younger views inteviewed seemd to be less conerned; of couse that is a bit of a media hype "contrast for effect" in itself, but Torin Douglas, not prone to hysteria, also reports that younger Radio 1 listeners are less concerned about what Mr Brand and Mr Ross did.

If there is any truth in this, it causes me to ask the question - is this about young peope having more of a sense of humour as they suggest? Or is it about the younger generation being steeped in post-modern relative morality which means they are less likely to be "ouraged of Epping" and more likely to expect people to be allowed to "live and live"? Perhaps it is more likely that younger people just tend to be more balanced about something that, while it was unacceptable, shouldn't cause an over reaction? Maybe trying to generalise by age is just a waste of time in itself....

Dr Sharky is more concerned that this week has shown, yet again, how the media can dominate the agenda, work hard to manipulate priorities and even create it's own news.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A new way of community?

Maybe as good a place to start with this den of sporadic and unresonable thoughts is with some reflections on articles I came accross in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology about how young people use Facebook and other social networking sites. These relate to "Emerging Adults" (young people from about 18 to about 25, or whenever they consider themselves adults!) and look at how online social networking relates to their development at a key time for their formation of identity. Manago et al present findings on "Self-Presentation and gender on MySpace" and found that college students use MySpace to explore their identity, compare themselves with others socially and express idealised parts of the selves they wish to become. Positively, they suggest this is a place they can "try out" identity as they seek who they are and who they want to be; negatively however, there is a lot of social comparison (is it any more than "real life"?) and increased pressure for female sexual objectification.
Another article in the same journal by Subrahmanyam et al looks at socal networking by the same agegroup and found that emerging adults used online networks to strengthen different aspects of their offline connections - not an earthshattering discovery, but a reassuring one it seems to me, if this is the emphasis compared to relationships not extended to the "real world". Additionally, Steinfield et al found that Facebook users with low self-esteem gained more in bridging social capital than peers with higher self-esteem; they suggest that the online nature of the network can help to reduce barriers in social engagement.

Subrahmanyam writes in the issue's editorial (quote edited by me):
"Young people are living life online and in public via these sites...Our reasoning is that because users are creating and co-creating their online environments through processes of social interaction, one would also expect to see them constructing the same developmental issues online as they do in their offline contexts. Research...confirms that important adolescent issues such as sexuality, identity, peer relations, partner selection, and self-worth are played out in a variety of online contexts frequented by teens such as chat rooms instant messaging and bulletin boards...the studies together show how young people are constructing important developmental processes online, in some ways transforming them and in other ways leaving them unchanged."

It is good that researchers are beginning to look into this area, even if it changes so fast that it is very difficult to research, as it has huge implications for youth workers and for the church. Even in the headlines of these research findings, the negative side of online social networking is hard to miss. But, like any aspect of today's culture, we can't pretend it will go away or that we can "protect" young people from it. Perhaps we should be thinking harder about how to do what we should do with any other aspect of culture:
1. equip them to make good decisions in their engagement in this medium
2. harness what is good and postive as a help to them personally and an aid to good ministry and community building.

Easy to say in broad terms like that, but how to do it exactly...?