By Alan Chen
“Get off your smartphone.”
Nowadays, teens hear this all the time. The youth of today are bombarded with criticism of their tendency to talk, text, and communicate online. Whether it’s social media like Instagram or Facebook, games like Overwatch, or even if it’s just an email or a text, we are constantly scrutinized for our apparent addiction to our devices. Those belonging to older generations, often not used to the rapid development in technology, berate us for letting electronics take over our supposedly nonexistent social lives. And yet, they miss the hidden advantages talking behind a screen gives us.
First, it allows us to connect with people far away. In the past, people who go out with friends must live in the same area, or even be a walking distance away from each other. Often, these are people who grew up in the same area with similar people. Critically, in places such as the Silicon Valley, teens grow up in culture bubbles that are difficult to burst without exposure to other cultures. For example, growing up in a relatively left leaning, Asian, and middle to high class community can foster certain perspectives about the world that may be extremely ignorant. Being online, however, provides important access to other lifestyles and cultures with a few clicks or texts. Maybe you meet someone through a game, a chat room, or an activity forum. Even someone from just the other side of the country can bring surprising realizations to one growing up in a bubble. Not everyone is taking 10 APs. There are places where guns in the house are normal. A 98% Asian community isn’t a proper representation of America’s race demographics. Realizing that there are differences and knowing where they lie is important to the well-roundedness of a person. Consequently, having the easy access to new perspectives and lifestyles is an intrinsic benefit of the Web.
Second, it gives people the opportunity to connect and socialize. Though many adults perceive technology and online texting as the bane of a social life, the opposite is often true. Especially for those that are naturally shy, talking to people online removes the awkwardness and risk of talking to someone face to face. And yet, it still requires some of the same skills needed to start and maintain a conversation. Think of it like training wheels before riding a real bike. Online texting gives those that are nervous and naturally reserved a step up towards making friends and getting to know people.
However, people often interpret this advantage in the wrong way. Many believe that online friends aren’t “real” and “don’t count”, but this is easily disproved. By belonging to an online forum or group, it is easy to meet others that are maybe friends of friends or are just interesting people participating in the same activity. This provides a strong advantage for making connections in real life. When meeting an individual one has already met online, it is much easier to make a connection because of previous conversations, thus creating a massive head start compared to those who come in fresh and new.
To conclude, online communication is often underrated and seen unfairly in a bad light. Though it is often perceived as the activity that kills social lives, it can actually be strategic when utilized in the right way. Teens only need to realize how and when to use it to maximize the perks and to eliminate unnecessary harms.