The past few weeks I’ve been chatting to a handful of UTS uni students about their ‘Facebook’ lives and the pressures they face to constantly ‘craft the right update for their social networks.
As we know FB and other social platforms have brought youth closer together and turbo charged their connections. However, I believe teens & 20 somethings in Australia (and no doubt in other countries) are becomingly increasingly anxious about their status updates and the need to ‘perform’. The need for peer approval on social networks is a major pressure for teens. Forget sexual performance anxiety, how you interact and update on Facebook/Twitter is far more critical. Teens are now judged by what and how often they share content, ideas and opinions.
Teens today aren’t sitting by the phone waiting for an admirer to ring, they’re constantly refreshing Facebook on their mobile waiting for someone to ‘like’ a post or pic or better still ‘tag me in a cool pic, cos then I don’t look vain’.
Whilst FB and other social networking platforms have fuelled their self expression, given them a voice and grown their friendship base so to speak, there’s always a shadow to a new behaviour.
Youth today have begun to suffer from ‘status update stress’ or SUS. On Facebook and now Google + their lives are on show and it is an extremely competitive space where every status update is scrutinised, judged. As these teens put it:
“Constantly trying to make your status update interesting is really hard work..I just want to tell people what I’m up to but now I feel this pressure to always write something cool or witty…”
“Facebook used to be just about checking out party pics, tagging and all that..now you’ve got to be constantly posting cool stuff, otherwise people will think you’re boring and got nothing to say…”
“I often spend 5 minutes thinking about a clever or cool post that will get me noticed on my friends news feed..it’s like trying to stand out at school…you gotta stand out on FB by what you say or share…you gotta be ahead of the game…”
There is clearly an undercurrent of anxiousness as teens go about their day thinking about their status updates. Crafting your online identity is hard work, harder work than looking cool it would seem. If they don’t make the right update they can be cyber bullied or even chastised by their peers. Worse still some teens are reverting to lying on Facebook to try and fit in. This is called the ‘facebook fake’ (lying about checking in at a party and getting found out) and if found out can be social suicide.
I believe many teens are now becoming anxious about how they interact with their social graph, and in some instances (for more introverted kids) fleeing social networking platforms altogether. It will be interesting to see if Google + ‘circles’ overcomes these issues as teens may feel they have less pressure on them as they update within certain ‘circles’ or communities.
The flow on effect of SUS is that many teens may start fleeing social networking platforms and this is an even bigger fear for teens as it means being ‘out of circulation’ and losing their social standing within their tribes.
It will be interesting to see the psychological effect the need for teens to constantly share their lives with the world and the resulting pressures and competitiveness that comes with that, especially as their friendship groups spread beyond their proximity based school, uni or neighbourhood friends.