let’s play nice, kids

Liscensed from 123rf.com

Kids and young adults are becoming more civilized. This is great news, and all it took was a little more social media.

You can be civilized and unscrupulous, of course. But new studies claim to lead to the surprising conclusion that digital communication results in more and better friendships, greater honesty and faster intimacy.

I work with college students, so I’m not sure “faster intimacy” is a worthwhile goal, at least not if you want to sleep with strangers. And character is still more about transforming our desires than it is about our deeds. I’ve argued elsewhere that real change comes from the inside out.

But as it turns out young people tend to use online communication primarily with people we already know off-line, reinforcing exisiting relationships rather than forming new ones. And the extent to which dysfunctional people are in a dark basement somewhere living a virtual life may be no greater than the extent to which there are dysfunctional people hiding in dark basements anyway.

Other research indicates shy people are less shy online, and learn to be less shy offline because of it. In one study college students who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to express empathy both on and offline than those who didn’t. College students at Michigan State University reported they were more than twice as likely to be bullied in person (39%) than online (17%).

And in an emerging peer-to-peer economy, where services like Task-Rabbit and Airbnb are targeting young adults, reputation travels quickly, forcing people who might not have otherwise thought of it to make their bed, say please and thank you, and be true to their word.

Task-Rabbit allows you to find someone to do your laundry or to sell your special skills like IKEA pick-up or IKEA assembly. You can borrow or loan a car at Get Around and find financing for you start-up at KickStarter.

Airbnb has booked over two-million nights on someone else’s couch or spare bed, with little mayhem at all. (But there is a $50,000 guarantee for renters if someone trashes your place.) For the most part, people are buying new sheets for their guests rather than burning holes in each other’s sofas.

So be nice.

A negative rating is only a click away.

And “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1).”

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

7 Responses to “let’s play nice, kids”

  1. The anonymity of online presence has also given rise to freedom of foul speech and/or minimal courtesy. Setting aside typing in all caps or using the digital-ese such as cula8r (see you later) the rudiments of common courtesy may be adhered to, but I have seen people who profess Jesus act like Gestapo atheists because a person doesn’t agree with their doctrine (read that dogma).

    I have a group on LinkedIn called Christian Authors, Editors, Publishers, and Bloggers where Christians truly act like Christians. The only rule is: Just remember Who your Father is and that you have the Mind of Christ. And the members do. On the other hand, I have been a member of several Christian forums (even owned one myself) and have been appalled by the lashing out, spiked shrapnel, and biblical sword play of some Christians. I’ve even been guilty of it myself.

    We seem to act better in a professional environment than we do when we can make up a screen name and pretend to love Jesus.

  2. I think the results indicated by these studies is largely due to the fact that these are environments where you are NOT anonymous. Young people are at least beginning to be a little more sensitive to the permanence of the online identity and its implication for their reputation.

    This happens naturally off line as we mature, but I wonder if the web speeds it up. Every technology brings its own weaknesses and ultimately magnifies ours.

    Thanks for your response, and the reminder that anonymity brings out the worst in us.

  3. I have been very intrigued myself with the social media. I have found it to be extremely good for long distance communications. Whether it is time or physical distance, I have found a plethora of opportunities to reconnect with old friends and family. These are with people who would not have thought they had the time to communicate. Many of the connections are from people I have not heard from since childhood. Of those, I am finding important networking situations that will further my goals in life. Just yesterday I made connection with someone that I missed communicating with for over two decades. The dialog has begun again right where we left off. The depth of knowledge from this person has just blown me away, again.

    I have also participated in discussions that started out questionable and inappropriate. I have been able to interject thoughts that have brought a more in-depth debate to the topic. As the dialog developed I have seen correcting adjustments to the original false statements and bad behaviors. It is pleasant then to have reprimanded someone and see them apologize as a part of the same string of discussions. It is also a reminder to me that I need to be very aware of what I am presenting too, as I can be reprimanded the same way.

    From the physical distance of where I live now, the social media also provides the opportunity of having regular personal connections. Although my daughter lives an ocean away, daily we call with video conferencing. It is so easy to tell if everything is going well, or if there are some real needs that need to be addressed and taken care of.

    Of course we have all encountered situations where someone has interrupted things with garbage that no person should have to deal with, but that is life. The most important thing is that we know that they are out there. They will do whatever it takes to frustrate us without concern of the consequences.

    • i think the issue of reprimand is interesting in social media. are we more or less likely to do it? I think less likely. Social media is a great way/place to avoid conflict. the studies above, indicating young people are being nicer is not the same as saying they are being more honest.

  4. I agree with you. These studies seem to emphasize the potential harm we do ourselves when we “let it all hang out” as we used to say back in my day.

    It took Rep. Anthony Weiner several years and 6 inappropriate electronic relationships to finally understand it. He wasn’t anonymous. Even the supposed confidentiality WikiLeaks has leaks as the young CPL discovered. This exposes a penchant for notoriety, and quite possibly a trend towards narcissism which advertising trends expose as well. “Have it your way.” “Just do it”, and so on.

    “But as it turns out young people tend to use online communication primarily with people we already know off-line, reinforcing exisiting relationships rather than forming new ones.”

    This one I’ve been thinking about all morning. It seems like I know a lot more people online than I do in person. On the other hand, the online acquaintances are more superficial and in person friendships are deep to a degree. There are a couple of exceptions, though. Plus, the electronic age has made it much easier to reopen old friendships. It is an interesting age we in which we live.

    • For older adults it may be great to reconnect with old friends, but young people have generally been connected both ways all their life‚ so online may be more an extension of F2F relationships.

      If they are reading, maybe they will tell us. 🙂

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