Facebook and MySpace now allow users to connect through both social networking sites with one login.Last month, the two social network giants MySpace and Facebook announced what they call a “mashup.” This allows those with profiles on both networks to import their lists of “likes” and “interests” from Facebook to MySpace with one click of the mouse.
For parents of digitally connected teens—and most of them are—the new mashup is just one more way young people can become engulfed in the medium of social networks. The mashup is another landmark in the history of Internet communication, serving as a reminder to parents that children need the wise guidance of parents to help them balance online and offline life.
What the Mashup Means
“We are no longer competing,” says MySpace CEO Mike Jones. “MySpace is focused specifically on social entertaining.”
MySpace was launched in 2003, and in July 2005, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation purchased the site for $580 million. By that time, Facebook was still relatively small, open only to university students. In five years time, the trends were reversed. Today, MySpace has lost much of its initial momentum. Facebook boasts over 500 million active users and is gaining more every day.
The mashup demonstrates MySpace’s desire to go in a different direction: they are no longer competing with Facebook as the greatest social network but are now specializing in connecting teens to music, celebrities, TV, movies and games. “Myspace is very committed to this new strategy of social entertainment,” said Mike Jones. “We feel that this is a complimentary offering to Facebook and other social platforms.”
JR Rachael of PC World does not believe the mashup will attract many new MySpace users. “Does anyone really think this is going to convince hoards of people to head back to the dusty, cobwebbed halls of the social network they abandoned years ago?”
The million dollar question for parents is how to discern between social networking that is helpful vs. that which is harmful. There are some obvious black-and-white cases. (No parents want their 14-year-old daughter flirting with 40-year-old men. No parents want their 16-year-old son to be suspended from school for repeatedly checking Facebook during class.) But what about the gray areas?
Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal calls the young generation “hyper-socialized.” A quarter of today’s teens check Facebook more than 10 times a day. Teens will also carry on constant, multiple text-message communications simultaneously. Zaslow reports some believe “these hyper-socializers are serial time-wasters, that the bonds between them are shallow, and that their face-to-face interpersonal skills are poor.”
Some researchers are concerned that being constantly connected on sites like Facebook can actually rewire our brains. Leading neuroscientist Nora Volkow compares digital stimulation to that of food and sex: essential but counterproductive in excess. Some scientists believe our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of constant digital information. Steven Yantis, a professor of brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University says, “There’s no question that rewiring goes on all the time,” but added that it is too early to say whether the changes caused by modern technology are different from others in the past.
New York Times reporter Matt Richtel talks at length about this:
Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.
Connor’s troubles started late last year. He could not focus on homework. No wonder, perhaps. On his bedroom desk sit two monitors, one with his music collection, one with Facebook and Reddit, a social site with news links that he and his father love. His iPhone availed him to relentless texting with his girlfriend.
When he studied, “a little voice would be saying, ‘Look up’ at the computer, and I’d look up,” Connor said. “Normally, I’d say I want to only read for a few minutes, but I’d search every corner of Reddit and then check Facebook.”
His Web browsing informs him. “He’s a fact hound,” Mr. Campbell [Connor’s father] brags. “Connor is, other than programming, extremely technical. He’s 100% Internet savvy.”
But the parents worry too. “Connor is obsessed,” his mother said. “[His father] says we have to teach him balance.”
So in January, they held a family meeting. Study time now takes place in a group setting at the dinner table after everyone has finished eating. It feels, Mr. Campbell says, like togetherness.
Watching for Attitude
As with many things, parents must handle how much social networks are used on a case-by-case basis. Some teens use Facebook well: casually checking in on friends and posting relevant information with little impact on their family life or time management. Other teens have an altogether challenging attitude. Dr. P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, says, “The unspoken attitude is, ‘I don’t need you. I have the Internet.’”
While the MySpace-Facebook mashup may not change the landscape of online social engagement, it reminds parents that there are always new mediums being created to enhance a teen’s online experiences. As more and more of their time is taken up with social networking, teens need the wise oversight of parents who can help them balance online community and face-to-face relationships.