Now how about that: There's little me, addicted to all things internet, and social networking. Still finding my feet around stuff like social bookmarking which I don't quite get. A definite convert to Twitter although I'm sure I'm not using it to it's full potential yet. And then work sends me to a conference on social networking in the youth work context. Bliss! Official endorsement of my geeky side.
If we forget about the rather rubbish start to the day (early childminder drop off, two trains and a 20 min walk and then having to walk around a rugby stadium twice in the pouring rain to find the flipping entrance, because the conference organisers had not managed to include information on which stand/gate to use, only to arrive late and have missed the chance to sign up to the workshop that I was most interested in. Rant over.), it was all good. I have a list of social networking sites that I want to try out: Friendfeed where you can integrate all your facebooks/bebo's of the world. Ning, ning and ning again (that's for my work context mind you). The massive increase of video blogging and microblogging this very year 2009. Statistics which boggle the mind.
Did you know that Bebo is particularly popular amongst young people in Scotland? It's the no. 1 social networking site in the 16-24 age bracket.
Then I found out how social networking on the go, i.e. with your iphone or equivalent is the taste of things to come. How particularly young people tend to use their mobiles for social networking. How MSM and Instant Messaging, and chat rooms, are still very popular among the young. How scarily easy it is to find out a lot of info on young people through their social networking profiles and what we need to do to protect them from those risks.
Above all, there was lots of food for thought. Youth workers and organisations working with young people are scared of social networking. And yes, there are risks. However, you don't avoid them by putting on blinkers and signalling three crosses. You can't make social networking sites go away, they are THE most used parts of the internet. And they do rock, to be fair. So in my view it's all about knowing the medium and working with young people to make them aware of risks and enable them to protect themselves. They're not daft, they can use that stuff better than middle aged me, so they can learn how to do it safely.
Another biggie for me was the fact how much it is assumed that because social networking is so prevalent, that everyone is using it. Well people, they're not. The young people I meet through my work often don't have a landline, never mind a broadband connection or an iphone. A phone that costs £30 a month? You must be joking. So social networking is all good and well but does also contribute to another social, digital divide. Another facet of a society tainted by deep running inequalities. You may say, well, they can do it on school or library computers. Hm, nice try, however, you can't access social networking sites from libraries, schools and many other public computers because of the restrictions put on such computers (see previous paragraph on the fear of the social network amongst youth workers/teachers).
There's a massive piece of work where we would like to use lots of social networking tools and we'll have to get our heads around the fact that we won't be able to create online communities amongst young people and their families who live in poverty, simply because they don't have the access to the internet that is needed for this. Of course, in our work we can offer, facilitate and provide such access, but that also means it's on our terms, and not entirely owned by the participants in our programme. Compromise is written all over it.
Not ideal, but at the same time I'm excited about all the stuff that's out there. To link in with my post on child protection and blogging, there was also a draft document on best practice of using social networking in the youth work context which also gave lots of food for thought. Specifically I've learned that young people should not disclose full name, name of their families, the name of their school (or show photos with school uniform), their address and that such disclosure may go through their friends. Add to that to only post photos of yourself that you would show your mum and you're on the right track.
I did go away with a strong urge to own an iphone. Ideal for feeding the habit. Oh dear, how far have I fallen.
Some interesting links on the topic:
And if I figure out SU and digg, maybe I even stand a chance of bookmarking it online.