Published, The Scotsman, 15 October 2011 (as an abbreviated interview)
Is it just me or are there others out there who believe that social networking sites are the most divisive, most abhorrent, least useful innovation of all time? I find myself worrying that I’m just becoming an old fogey who isn’t in touch with today’s ‘yoof’ and that ‘networking’ through various forms of social media is actually a vital cog in society’s wheel. Then I pinch myself and realise that I’m worrying needlessly.
When you find two youngsters texting each other whilst sitting on the same school bus, you begin to see that the world is changing and not for the better. Too many youngsters inhabit their bedrooms for long periods of time ‘communicating’ with others by text, instant messaging or via something called ‘a wall’. It terrifies the living daylights out of me that we have allowed ourselves to come to this.
When I was wee, I used to communicate with my friends by actually meeting up with them and talking to them. If we were going to insult one another we did it face to face, fall out with each other, perhaps indulge in a skirmish, make up and then get on with being friends again. Now, youngsters engage in ‘cyber bullying’ where they can ensure maximum exposure of their taunting to everyone that’s logged on.
We have social network web pages where individuals display all of their talents to a faceless and nameless audience – photographs of nights out, where it is clear that the purpose of the night has been simply about taking photographs that can be uploaded, so that others can marvel at the excitement of the publisher’s life.
Youngsters have become so engulfed in the age of celebrity that they truly believe that they are celebrities themselves, inhabiting a virtual world where one’s personal remarks, ‘likes’ and photographs actually ‘matter’, when the truth is that they don’t and not a soul is interested in your night out a week ago on Friday.
They seem to compete with each other gleefully with regard to the number of ‘friends’ they each have. I know youngsters who are proud to relate that they have “347 friends”. I always reply, instantaneously, “No, you don’t, you have three.”
How sad, too, that adults, often parents themselves, indulge in mocking each other; publishing material that could, quite reasonably, be deemed offensive or inappropriate.
We seem to have lost our sense of balance, our innate humility giving way to a dark desire to be noticed and celebrated. Too many of us clutch at any medium that gives us airspace. I know I’m out of sync with the majority but I really wish social networking sites had never become a reality. I am aware, of course, that now that they are here, they are here forever. My only hope is that they eventually become the domain of the few and that the majority see them for the waste of time they actually are.
People constantly tell me that it is a great way to regain lost friendships but I can’t understand why such friendships should become lost in the first place. The people I want in my life are in my life and those that are not are not for a reason (if you get my drift). The thought of opening the door to any past acquaintance fills me with utter dread and horror. Maybe I’m just a selective hermit or maybe I’m secretly worried I’d end up with no ‘friends’ – whatever the reason, I just can’t see such sites as a force for good when, nearly every day as a Headmaster, I deal with the consequences of their misuse by students not yet mature enough to see the damage their words and pictures can wreak.
Of course, such sites are a massive blessing to the police, University and College Admissions officers, prospective employers and of course, last but not least, to predators of questionable morality. It’s time we all woke up to the reality that such sites promote the very worst of human characteristics.
As I tell my students, don’t publish anything on a website that you wouldn’t let your granny see, because once published it is potentially there forever.