Monday, March 31, 2014

Harbinger of change in the digital metropolis?

How does this threadlet reveal a glimmer of social change? This ask reddit thread asks teens of reddit what is cool nowadays?   User Pseudologiac notes that a cool thing about teenagers today is how open minded they are, in contrast to what the kids of the 80's and 90's might have experienced.  

Now, lets take this observation as an anecdotal harbinger, and just accept, for the point of argument that this is a legitimate observation of a form of social change taking place now.  What is it about contemporary life that is causing some populations of teenagers to move beyond the narrow-minded, balkanized subgroup mentality?  I and Simmel would argue that the experience of interacting in crosscutting social circles changes our mentality, makes us more cosmopolitan.  The city, and by extension, the even larger and more interactive digital metropolis has the potential to change us, and makes the intergroup hostility captured by movies like the Breakfast Club seem old and out of touch.   

Of course, there are also stories of bullying and dark sides of the teenage experience related to social computing.   So the change, if real, is not automatic, but it may have to do with the ways that people use social media and how they interact.  This brings us back to Rheingolds argument about the social importance of digital literacies, and the specific literacies that he recommends (managing attention, critical evaluation skills, sharing, collaboration, and network smarts).   Thesis:  populations where these digital literacies are more fully developed and universally distributed will be those where increased levels of participation in social media will be more likely to cause higher levels of movement towards a cosmopolitan mentality.