Some years ago, John Batelle (author of
The Search: How Google and its Rivals rewrote the Rules of Business
and Transformed Our Culture
, 2005) defined Internet as the “database of dreams”. Another author,
Marc Prensky ( Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, 2010)
compared it to a territory shared by two types of “inhabitants”:
natives and digital immigrants.
Today, we know that Internet is a public space which does not belong to
just a certain type of person but to all and that it pervades through
all moments of life, through individuals and institutions too. This
public space is structured around certain types of “platforms”: “social
media” (social networking sites, videogames, blogs, etc.) which can be
defined as “non – places”, i.e. spaces without a definite identity
(airports, railway stations, etc). Their efficacy, potential and risks
do not only depend on their structure but mainly on who and how users
participate in them. Just as there is a high level of safety and
security in a soccer stadium where spectators are mainly families,
social networking sites with high IT skilled users, with positive
lifestyles will have a low level of risk independently of how old net
Problems like bullying, paedophilia, pornography, etc. are not caused
by social media (which are only technological tools) but by their
users. These are not situations which can be solved by age verification
systems , social awareness campaigns and other strategies focused on
the “process” and not on the “inputs” of the relational system, which
it is at the basement of the “Internet” universe. “Virtual life” is
different to “real life” but both are part of unique identity (personal
or corporate). In a Research we conducted in Guatemala in 2012 among
university students, we confirmed that “real” and “digital” dimensions
of an individual identity have the same key factors which influence
individual behaviours regardless of the kind of space they are acting
in. “Real” identity impacts significantly the “digital” one. And the
virtual choices are closely associated with real life.
Such findings have been verified by the study
4GY – Adolescents and Social Media: the 4 Millennials Generations
which was presented in Madrid and Turin in January 2013. The report was
focused on the lifestyles of adolescents in Spain and in Italy as a
part of the final publication of a European project called Safe Social Media, an
international programme financed by the European Commission through the
Daphne III programme, which seeks to reduce exposition, consumption and
the impact of the main types of violence channelled by social media.
The study was carried out through an online, anonymous survey and was
conducted on a sample of 6.782 students in 57 schools in 2012. The
results confirm the abovementioned points. In response to questions on
violence, bullying, sexting and pornography the results showed: 55% of
adolescents thought that violence would be justified by a personal
goal, 25% declared they would accept working in companies where violent
material was distributed, 27% were interested in using weapons, 27%
would insult friends or school companions if provoked by them, 17% had
consumed pornographic materials, 19% had threatened friends or
acquaintances, 12% would sign a petition for the legalisation of
firearms, 8% thought that violence is necessary, useful and pleasant,
only 30% would support legislation to limit violent content in the
media and 56% should sign a petition against violence.
But this is not all: 72% stated that they had a profile on a social
networking site and 42% connected to their own profile for three hours
a day. Only 14% had a blog or uploaded videos on YouTube and 4% had
participated in a social campaign through Internet. In short: online
activity is prevalently passive consumption.
On questions regarding family relationships and parental control, 60%
of adolescents declared that they had never or hardly ever spoken about
what they did or experienced on the Internet, whereas 42% of parents do
not control at all what their kids watch on TV, videogames or Internet,
48% do not receive any advice on how to use social media and 73% had
never played a videogame with their parents before.
Finally, regarding their group of friends, 27% claim they lack the
necessary freedom to express their opinions, only 8% consider their
friends as a privileged source of information to discuss religion and
politics and 28% sought help from their friends in order to deal with
important issues for which they lacked parental assistance. Adolescent
friendships do not generate social capital: only 30% engaged in sport
or went on excursions with their friends, and 5% took part in voluntary
work. Only 30% of those interviewed have a group of friends with whom
they undertook specific projects.
Once the results were analysed and classified, we have been able to
identify four types of generations.
The two most important are described below:
Generation GPS: it represents the 39% of the sample. They have a clear
orientation towards virtual relationships, and practice active
interactions online. They have high self-esteem and strong values. The
consumption of violent media and the risk of bullying is low.
Generation GTA: Here we find 32% of the sample. They are high consumers
of violent contents through the media. They are usually part of a large
group of friends but have an opportunist concept of friendship. They
spend little time studying and there is a high tendency to bullying.
Overall, what are the main factors related to a positive online
lifestyle? A high level of values, parental control, high self-esteem,
positive interpersonal relationships and dialogue within the family.
In conclusion: violence and negative “offline” lifestyles, lack of
intergenerational dialogue and cohesion are what hinder a genuine
development of social networking sites and social media in general.
Only fairly intelligent people, free to express their thoughts (despite
being different from mainstream culture), who undertake projects for
the common good, with other individuals or organisations, will be able
to transform the “new digital spaces” into sustainable and positive
*Reynaldo Rivera is CEO of Intermedia Consulting