E-Socialization: Gift or Threat

Article excerpt

A new digital democracy is emerging and expanding with quantum leaps and our students are the primary citizens

Three times a semester I meet with 12 to 15 of the 40 students participating in the Forum for Young Catechetical Leaders for our semester Catechist "Vocare" Dinner. As we waited for students to arrive, I shared with those gathered my attempts to compose this article.

There was immediate enthusiasm. One student indicated that he had just finished writing a paper on his Facebook experience, comparing his entries with others. He was interested in the transparency, authenticity, vulnerability and focus of each site. One student indicated that before he arrived for dinner he had checked in with the MySpace, YouTube, CNN and NBC Web sites. He couldn't imagine not linking into these sites at least four to seven times a day. As each student entered the conversation, I realized that students find these online "places" or "spaces" an interesting if not significant location to connect with people all over the world.

These are really e-socialization places! As Catholic educators, we cannot ignore this reality in our students' lives. We even may consider that this is a place or space that we need to incorporate into our learning environments. Teachers are beginning to have attention-grabbing success in this regard.

Educational theorist Marc Prensky says that students are "digital natives" well versed in the uses and etiquette of computers, digital cameras, cell phones, text messaging, Weblogs and the like. These students were born into a world filled with gadgets and online community and to most of them it's a way of life.

Digital Democracy

We need to face the fact that a new digital democracy is emerging and expanding with quantum leaps and our students are the primary citizens. In Time magazine's person of the year issue, James Poniewozik states, "On the Web, anyone with a digital camera has the power to change history" (2006, p. 63). While some educators continue to question whether the Internet offers any real socialization experiences or opportunities, chatrooms, Instant Messaging, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and similar spaces are nurturing a new media culture for self-expression and relationships. User-generated content is revolutionizing the media landscape. It is reported that users upload approximately 65,000 new videos to the YouTube site every day. A year ago, they watched 10 million videos a day; now they watch 100 million (Poniewozik, p. 63).

Video-sharing sites are changing the flow of information. It is so simple. All one needs is a combination of a digital camera and a Web site and one is contributing to the new media landscape. It is easy, cheap and offers free distribution. That makes it both potent and complex. The March 2, 2007, Washington Post (Jose Antonio Vargos) in its online lead story stated: "Yesterday, as part of what the video-sharing site described as a voter education initiative, it (YouTube) launched 'You Choose '08' where voters can find the official Web videos from Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama et al. listed on one page. Here the viewers are encouraged to post text comments and video responses and rate candidatecreated videos."

Where is the action for the upcoming election? In Cyberspace.

YouTube became a phenomenon in 2006. Another Time magazine article indicated, "YouTube is to video browsing what a Wal-Mart Supercenter is to shopping; everything is there and all you have to do is walk in the door." We now are seeing that YouTube is a media outlet and a social force-a place where ideas and images can spread instantly, cheaply, democratically and anarchically (Tumulty, December 26, 2006, p. 69).

YouTube, MySpace and the like are the fastest growing sites for e-socialization. Here we discover people from all walks of life sharing dimensions of their life in an open forum. Of course, there is always the factor of authenticity or reality with their entries; however, whether the profiles are true or not, individuals are engaging in online conversation and finding meaning and a sense of belonging. …