Wednesday, September 26, 2007
'The Naked Generation'?
"We are the Naked Generation," writes Caroline McCarthy of herself and her peers born in "1980-something." She blogs at CNET that - unlike Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie - "we didn't have 'socialite' already on our resumes, so we turned to the Web." It is "more than just our stage; it's our dressing room, our cocktail lounge and, most notably, our PR department." The Naked Generation, she adds, is smart and knows it, "so they think they can use online exhibition as an advantage rather than an embarrassment. The word to highlight there is 'think'." A lot of adults reflexively believe her - adults who don't understand the full scope of what's going on in MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Bebo, and so many other blogging and social-networking sites. The problem with McCarthy's view and that expressed in a more academic article on online self-exposure - "Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism" - is that they generalize way too much, and they fuel parents' fears because they continue to fix our attention on only one aspect of the social Web. Despite her eye-catching phrase, McCarthy's not actually talking about a whole generation. She's talking about one group of social networkers and bloggers - those who, for whatever reason, are into self-exposure - and one aspect of Web 2.0. So is researcher Christine Rosen, when she asserts that "the creation and conspicuous consumption of intimate details and images of one’s own and others’ lives is the main activity in the online social networking world." Certainly there is over-self-exposure in social sites. Some users do use them as popularity contests, for self-marketing, and toying with lightweight "relationships." But to say those are basically what social networking's all about is a massive generalization. Social networking is whatever any user wants it to be. A profile or blog is a reflection of oneself, or whatever persona a user is projecting in a given moment. That can be good, bad, or anything in between, but it's very individual. For the bigger picture, see "25 perspectives on social networking," by Malene Charlotte Larsen, a PhD student in psychology and communications at Aalborg University in Denmark. [Readers, unlike most bloggers, I usually post stories as I find them without editorializing - I hope you don't mind that I was really being a blogger with this post - Anne.]