A Virtual Audience 24/7

Peggy Orenstein’s recent NY Times Magazine piece on Twittering brings to the forefront many of the issues that psychologists at the CDMC@LA are concerned about.   Due to the myriad of self-presentation tools that digital media such as YouTube, twittering and social networking sites provide, people are often hyper aware of their audience.  How will this kind of thinking affect children, or the digital natives, as they grow up in a world where they can so easily access a community well beyond their immediate face-to-face network?

In the past, children primarily interacted with friends on the schoolyard, family and neighbors.  Now, they can present themselves to hundreds, sometimes several hundred, of “friends” in the click of a mouse, thus at times performing for a virtual audience, waiting for the virtual applause of comments or “likes”.  This is a concern not only because children are still learning social skills and developing impulse control and may not always think before they click, but also because, as Orenstein’s article points out, they may end up being focused on how they are presenting themselves, rather than on just enjoying themselves.

Lest one thinks that I am a naysayer about media, know that I check my email compulsively, post on my blog and Facebook, own an Iphone and Kindle and love, love love my DVR.   In my opinion, digital media are wonderful tools and have brought the world much more than they have taken away. But I do believe science MUST examine all sides of the question.  And children should be taught how to effectively use these tools.   It’s an exciting time in the world and media have brought the possibility for real change, let’s hope that in the end… it’s mainly positive.

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