Another class of freshmen begins their St. Thomas adventure, thrust onto an unfamiliar campus surrounded by strangers. Fortunately, today’s first-year collegians have a remedy for their pangs of loneliness: social networking Web sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
EDUCAUSE, a higher education and technology non-profit, studied student online social networking usage at 44 American colleges for three years, and found that in 2008, 89 percent of college students who used the Internet used some kind of social networking site, compared to 75 percent in 2005.
Placing social vehicles online offers a way for people to express themselves, and psychologists are curious what role computer-mediated communications will play in the development of the first digital generations’ personalities.
Some predicted widespread social anxiety in our generation, because time online would be inhibiting their interactions with people in real life. Today, some think that the egotistical urge for self-promotion is turning today’s online generation into a bunch of narcissists.
Many of us can think of a friend who’s Facebook profile is a vanity avalanche of self-portraits and status updates. But our staff consensus, supported by recent research, suggests these monuments of egotism seem to serve a pro-social purpose.
So long as the person successfully interacts face-to-face, social networking is just another communication tool, maintaining a healthy face-to-face social life and using online networking as a convenient way to reach faraway friends or family.
According to John Grohol, early results from psychological studies of self-disclosure via computer-mediated communications suggest that the more teenagers and young adults disclose online, the more likely they are to report higher-quality friendships and friendship-forming behaviors. He also notes that socially well-adjusted young people get more social satisfaction from online networking than their socially anxious or awkward peers.
Collaborating with a Youth Trends’ study of how today’s college students use social networking sites, a South Dakota State University survey found 56 percent of students agreed with the statement “People in my generation use social networking sites for self-promotion, narcissism and attention-seeking.”
But in the same sample of students, 39 percent agreed that “being self-promoting, narcissistic, overconfident and attention-seeking is helpful for succeeding in a competitive world.” So our generations’ self-love may have some positive merit, particularly at an institution famous for competitive pursuits like athletics and business.
St. Thomas students are also avid service volunteers, aiding communities around the globe for thousands of combined hours each year, or pursuing jobs that emphasize selfless involvement rather than material gain. This suggests that perhaps narcissism isn’t bad, so long as we can balance our ego with love for the rest of humanity.
While many students have found it liberating to break their Facebook habits and close their account or not log in during Lent, the benefits of social networking online should not be discounted. After all, the story of Narcissus is much older than the Internet, even though to today’s high-speed technology students, the Cold War might as well be ancient history.