Last week, I did a workshop for a board of a secondary school interested in taking the first steps into social media. While I was there, I got a tour, visited some classrooms, and talked to a few students. In one classroom, I queried the students about their social media use. Now, admittedly the sample size is small, so this doesn't necessarily project to all digital natives, but I was surprised about a few things.
They were all on Facebook (turned their noses up at Myspace), watch YouTube videos, and use IM applications, with more 20 people on their IM lists. No surprise there. But, none used RSS readers or knew what they were. (Not sure if this matches demographic studies of RSS users or not because this group was under 18) They were aware of tagging, but in the sense of how it is used on Facebook - to tag your friends in photographs or notes, etc. None of them had heard of Twitter, let alone used it.
In this recent New York Times article, "If You Can't Let Go, Twitter" the writer talks about the difficulty of getting her three digital natives and early adopter users to switch from mobile phone texting to using Twitter and without success.
These criticisms confounded me. I thought it would have been a cinch to get my wired family twittering like parakeets. After all, my daughters are “supercommunicators,” according to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study, because every day they interact with friends through multiple channels of communication — including cellphones, text messages, instant messages, e-mail and face-to-face conversations.
“You want to use these tools to keep up on others, in a good way, of course, and to let them keep up on you,” said Professor Carl, whose research focuses on social media. “But their perception is it’s surveillance.” One of the main reasons people embrace social media — Facebook, for instance — is to create identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them.
“Maybe Twitter isn’t the right tool for that job,” he said. “The people who I see using it are an older demographic, people in marketing or P.R. or advertising, who use it for work, to present themselves as particular types of people. They’ll twitter, ‘I’m traveling,’ or ‘I’m going to interesting restaurants.’ They’re using it to do identity work.”
These comments suggest that Twitter may not replace group SMS by digital natives. Rather, it comes in between the more popular programs for the younger online users (FB, IM) and the services that attract the older folks. While Stowe Boyd says not to slice social networks by age demographics, can we slice by Internet communications tool preference? So, if email is for old folks, while is twitter is for middle-aged?
Amy Sample Ward has a post here.