To describe my relationship with social media is to outline a story of ups and downs. For me, my earliest memories are with email and MSN Messenger. These are really quite minimal as I truly only used them for faster communication with those who I was no longer close to in proximity. Slowly this expanded to include texting – the good ol’ T9 kind. Wow did this make life easier! How quickly actual phone conversations disappeared though. Facebook came next and from there, the social media world seemed to explode.
I remember when I first saw Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and I thought, why? Why do we need so many different platforms? Well, as much as I personally felt I didn’t need to have all these things on the go, along came my 13 year old daughter. Suddenly I was completely thrown into a NEED to be more aware of what existed and how to use it. At the same time, I was teaching Grade 5 and in my first year at a school where half the children of that age already had phones (today I would say that is more like 75%). Two-thirds of the way through that first year, I became aware of social media concerns with my students. I had students sending messages from other students devices, saying hurtful things about their peers in group chats, and posting unkind things about their peers in public domains like Musicl.ly (which would later become TikTok). By the end of that year it became very clear to me that:
- I needed to increase my own awareness of social media platforms.
- Parents and educators in general needed to increase their awareness of the social media platforms that exist, safety concerns and ways to monitor and keep their own children safe.
- Digital Citizenship instruction should be a part of school from an early age.
After many discussions with my administrators, my husband and a few other teachers who were seeing similar things, I started on a journey to find resources to support students, teachers and parents. This became part of my work in Learning Improvement Teams (LITs) for the next two years.
While there were many wonderful websites out there including Media Smarts and Common Sense Media, we found that teachers needed help to see where Digital Citizenship fit in their curriculum. Not everyone felt as strongly as I did that this was something that should be addressed in schools. For this reason we turned to the guide Digital Citizenship in Education.
The layout of this Saskatchewan guide, written by Dr. Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt, breaks down Digital Citizenship into nine elements found within three different categories. What we most appreciated about this as a team, was that it was not just focussed on all the bad things about social media. It helped to provide a framework for instruction meant to increase student’s digital literacy. We used this guide to pull together a sequence of lessons addressing each of the nine elements at each grade level, using numerous resources, including those mentioned previously. We then connected the specific lessons to their curriculum correlations for students in K-8, in order to provide teachers with concrete evidence of how digital citizenship education fit within their instruction.
This has been a big part of my social media journey and helped me to develop as a more digitally literate adult. It improved my own instruction in how to conduct research, the use of online educational tools and my attitude towards technology. However, it also made me increasingly more aware of the need to maintain a healthy balance. While I do not boycott social media all together, I find it to be a huge time sucker. I also see the effects of it on my mood very quickly and find it generally makes me unhappy. For this reason, I personally limit myself, try very hard to be present in the moment and avoid this ever present distraction in our world.
This leads to my current stop on the technology journey which is a feeling of it taking over my life no matter how much I don’t want it to (this is something I will discuss more later)! In fact, I kind of feeling like I am drowning it at the moment! Is anyone else feeling this way?
Have you ever thought back to your very first email address?
Were you one of those people who were all business and just had “firstname.lastname”? Or were you one of those people, like me, who are still embarrassed to bring it up to this day? I still shudder when I think back to how cool I felt when I created the email “mandi_muffin1”.
Since I’d rather not sit in that embarrassment alone, I decided to ask some other people what their first email address was. Here are some good ones:
- “regis_philbin”(not to be confused with the real Regis Philbin, just a big fan)
- and my personal favourite… “cutiepatootie94”
For me, my first email address was like a key to the digital world. I used it to get my very first social networking platform- MSN Messenger. I remember when MSN first became popular. There was such excitement of meeting your friends in a vastly different way- on the computer instead of face to face. The new platform grew like wild-fire and soon all my friends were a part of this new community. This was often the case with online trends. First a few people would get hooked, and then soon it would be the only thing people talked about or took part in. Some social network trends only lasted for a little while, but some are still thriving to this day.
This got me thinking- what social networks actually impacted me? How was I affected by them? I decided to give a brief timeline called:
“Social Media & Me- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
I was in grade 7 when I first signed up for Facebook. It was a different world than it is now. “Food fights”, writing on “walls”, “Amanda is…” status updates. It was a fun way for me to connect with friends, show pictures, and update the world on what was new with my life. It was also a way for me to gain “friends” online. I felt a strange sense of accomplishment when I had a friend request or if I had another post on my “wall”. With this new territory came this new idea that I needed my life to look a certain way. This is still often the case with social media. A subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) competition on who has the most likes, and in turn, who has the most exciting life. The need for online validation through likes and comments, which started soon after the Facebook world made an appearance, is still something that many people battle with today, including myself.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t sign up for Twitter until I had more mature things to say, but we all have regrets in life. In order to give you context, I searched back to my old tweets from 2013 to show you some of the brilliant things I had to say about life.
For example: “I love fireworks” and “Jake Owen marry me”. Clearly I didn’t have any troubles fitting my riveting content into 140 characters.
After soon realizing there was more of a purpose for Twitter, I started using it for educational reasons and connected with other educators online. I soon grew my PLN (Personal Learning Network) through twitter chats, blogging, and “Tweet Ups”. I felt like I had a teaching community outside of my school, and it helped me feel less alone in my teaching woes and endeavours. However, with every good social networking platform, there comes concerns. With me, I had (and still have) a hard time not comparing myself to other teachers. When I see all of the creative, thought provoking, and engaging things that other teachers are doing in their classroom, it’s hard not to compare myself to them. I’m sure that there are several of you out there who struggle with the same thing. How do we get past comparing and move to confidence? That’s still the journey I find myself on and work towards to this day.
Instagram is still one of my favourite social media platforms to this day. I am a visual learner, so I love seeing quick snap shots of other people’s lives. When I first got Instagram, I would post any picture, write a short caption, and think it was Instagram gold.
There came a point though, when Instagram became about gaining followers and likes, which was difficult to keep up with. I’m embarrassed to say, but there used to be times when I would take down a photo if I didn’t get at least 100 likes. I know. Don’t judge me. It’s a crazy standard to set for oneself. A couple of years ago I had a change of heart. I turned my account to private, stopped following people who were not “giving me joy”, and set a new standard for myself. My continued desire is that it would be less about likes and followers for me, and more about connecting with my community through photos. And not to mention, tagging my friends in endless memes.
4. Vine & Tik Tok:
Oh how I loved Vine. A creative outlet to make people laugh through short 7 second videos. As Rebecca Jennings says in the article “Tiktok, Explained”, Vine was “brutally murdered before its time”. The app truly died too soon. If I ever wanted a “pick-me-up”, I would search through the feed of Vine and find the latest, laughable video by the newest Vine sensation. The app didn’t last nearly long enough, but there is something that is seen as, according to Rebecca Jennings, the “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine”. Tiktok- the latest fad in the online world. An app that, similarly to Vine, allows users to upload short clips of themselves dancing, singing, or following the latest viral trends. Seems like all fun and games, right? Unfortunately, every social media platform has its downfalls. Even though I’m not on Tiktok enough to know every latest trend, I do know that the youth who use this app encounter similar issues as I did as a teen, and still do today.
Comparison. The need for validation. Fear of rejection.
Are there enough benefits to outweigh the negative impacts of social media though? In my opinion, yes.
Social media has brought me a lot of positivity in my years of using it. Laughter, connectivity, knowledge, community, encouragement, and support. The list goes on. Yes, there have been many regrets and disappointments through the years of using these social networking platforms, but the same goes with my life outside of social media. So will I continue to interact with others online through social media? Absolutely.
Besides, everyone is in need of a good laugh every now and then by looking back at posts from the early days, browsing the latest memes, and of course, reminiscing on our first cringe-worthy email addresses.