Why don’t young people blog?

Today I came across a post by the famous Bora Zivkovic, whose sense of Internet omnisciency makes my own pale in comparison. Bora has been following an experiment of sorts by Mason Posner, a professor of biology at Ashland University in Ohio, in which Posner had his students create science blogs as part of the curriculum.

Bora writes:

…take a look at last year’s (2009) student blogs – wonderful writing on all of them, good stuff. But! One of them is already deleted. There are four other blogs that stopped posting around early May of last year, probably at the time the course ended. Only one of the blogs is still running today. Why did they stop?

Now, you may remember a similar experiment at Duke – see this and this and especially experiences of Erica Tsai who ran the program. Why did all the Duke student blogs end once the class was over? There is always a lot of chatter online (see the most recent commentary about a Pew study hereherehere and here) about teens and college students not blogging…

Bora notes that members of this younger demographic use social networking sites like Twitter and the facebook, sometimes more than their elders, but they are more likely to keep private accounts. His main question is, why do these Web savvy kids fall off with blogging?

My hunch is that a lot of it has to do with visibility. For some perspective, my class (graduating college in 2008), was the first to  have access to the facebook, and to have it all four years of college. I remember the day I got the invitation the August before I left for school, and how it shaped my interactions throughout college. We voluntarily exposed our personal lives in a time that was the height of our debauchery. We navigated our social worlds knowing people before we actually met them, and, more commonly, we learned way too much about people after only meeting them once, shaping our decisions for future meetings.

We saw our peers become examples of what not to do on the facebook. Their drunk party pictures became grounds for expulsion, job termination, and removal from athletic teams. Public embarrassment became easier than ever. One guy I (unfortunately) knew in college created a group called “The 100 Hottest Ladies at University of Michigan.” After reaching quota, he changed the group name to “MICHIGAN’S DIRTIEST WHORES,” and had a good laugh. Some people remained in that group for weeks without realizing.

With job scarcity what it is, and the aspect of Internet permanence introduced by companies like Google, kids are instilled with the advice to not post anything they wouldn’t want a potential employer to see with the fervor of sex ed campaigns promoting condom use: You don’t want to do something impulsive that will fuck up your life forever. One of my colleagues at The Michigan Daily published this article with some pretty compelling examples of how this could happen (which prompted me to make a facebook album called “This’ll fuck up your political career” and tag him in it. PWND!). We even had a policy at The Daily that editors couldn’t be in certain groups, as they might put a dent in The Daily’s credibility if someone cried “Conflict of Interest” on a news article. And of course, we all watched the defamation (not to mention contract terminations and loss of incredible amounts of revenue) of our classmate Michael Phelps.

So you see, the paranoia about putting yourself out there on the Web in an unedited form is a rampant inhibitory factor in young individuals. Hence, the locked twitter accounts and private facebook pages. Even though science blogging seems like a tame enough activity, and one that would promote one’s job acquisition instead of jeopardizing it, I think the overall skepticism about Web publicity could have something to do with young people’s hesitancy to maintain blogs. Also, young people want to talk about young people things sometimes. If they’re blogging on a platform where they can’t fully express themselves, then yeah, it does start to feel like a job or a chore.

Personally, I think the social networking paranoia is way overblown for the same reasons I think people worried about the Internet turning into Big Brother and enslaving us all need to relax: People just don’t care that much, and don’t have enough time to dig through all the content a kid can generate. I still keep my facebook page private with five different privacy filters for my friends, and have a locked Twitter account in addition to a public one, but I also have a lot of publicly available references to my debauchery too. My current employer Google stalked me pretty thoroughly before he offered me a job, but I’d like to think he hired me because of my quirky Web remnants, not in spite of them. Now he has full access to my facebook page, and doesn’t think any less of me or my ability to get the job done.

In the words of Bora Z himself, “20 years from now, a person who does NOT have drunk Facebook pictures online will be suspicious… ‘Drunk at a party’ is just a shorthand for having a normal, relaxed human online presence and not just something on LinkedIn that looks like a Resume.” People are people, and even if a person is your potential boss, they should understand that you’re just a person too. Maybe if we didn’t set extreme standards about people’s personal lives for admittance into certain professions, kids wouldn’t be so discouraged from sharing on the Web. And our politicians might be a little less fucked up.

So I think that if we want kids to get engaged with blogging, even science blogging at an early age, they have to hear messages from their elders that their any future employer who would judge them for expressing themselves isn’t someone they really want to work for anyway. And then we, as their potential future employers, need to follow through.

While we’re at it, I want to see older people post the remnants of their college debauchery on the facebook. I mean it, bust out the photo albums, scan those pics and post em. You all have job security! You really have no excuse to deny your students this joy.

13 thoughts on “Why don’t young people blog?

  1. Angela

    Great, according to Bora, I guess I’ll be suspicious in 20 years since I’ve never been drunk. I can’t even finish one glass of wine, never mind be drunk.

  2. Dr Becca

    My grad school debauchery is on facebook, in an album called “your tax dollars at work.” That is more than enough debauchery…no need to bring college into the picture.

    Also, what John said about job security.

    Finally, I’m not sure if I see how the visibility issues one might have on something like facebook would translate to something like writing a science blog. If you’re presumably writing about cool sciencey things, I’d guess the overlap with embarrassing/job-threatening material would be pretty small. I mean, maybe if you’re blogging about touchy subjects like abortion or animal rights or creationism…but even then, there are plenty of people who do that and still have jobs. It takes a certain amount of focus and dedication to maintain a blog, and I think most college and high school students just might not have the drive to get those things to the necessary level.

    1. Arikia Post author

      Point taken about the small overlap, but in my experience, it’s sometimes difficult to have duality online. I’ve been gradually swayed by the Internet studies that suggest people’s online personas tend to mirror their IRL ones. That said, science is not anyone’s whole life. I think it’s the aspect of having to write about the science without being able to write about the other compelling stuff in life is deterring. I throw lots of things into the pot with this blog, but I don’t post that frequently, partially because the stuff I want to write about most at any given point in time isn’t appropriate.

      Writers want to write. It’s just my suspicion that the negative emotions related to posting things on the Web bleeds over from the facebook to the blogosphere. I know I pause and panic while my cursor hovers over the publish button, and then I close my eyes and push it.

      1. Arikia Post author

        PS: That’s an awesome name for a facebook album. If I was spending people’s tax dollars right now I would totally use that.

  3. FrauTech

    I suspect the quick reward isn’t there for blogging so it’s not as common. Social/networking requires little to no effort and results in immediate gratification. Science is not “cool”. I don’t think college kids care/are worried about how future employers will view them and don’t factor that into their facebook exploits OR possible blogging. People who were on the internet when it was first getting started and were building all those horrible flash pages are probably more likely to see an appeal in a blog that “kids” nowadays with their tweets, texts and facebooks wouldn’t. It’s a strange dichotomy where they come out of college being extremely “internet-literate” and yet unable to get by on basic use of MS Office programs. As social networking sites and the interet became more accessible to the average user, basic computer use being less of a required skill to access these things.

  4. FrauTech

    Oh I also think that quote about looking with suspicion upon those who DON’T have drunken photos is crap. Most facebook users don’t have embarassing/get-you-fired type photos on their pages. Maybe it will be more acceptable in the way that doing drugs in the 60s was more acceptable than it is for today’s youth or early trouble with the law for drugs or protesting might be overlooked then in a way it wouldn’t for today’s users. However, there were also plenty of “responsible” people in the 60s who weren’t hippies and weren’t out there protesting and using drugs every second of the day. Nobody looks down on them with derision.

  5. Arikia Post author

    I don’t think the quote was meant to be taken literally. I think it was just meant to illustrate that in 20 years, there will be such an abundance of personal information out there about everyone that one would need to make a great effort in order to have little.

  6. Pingback: What’s the matter with young science bloggers? « Homologous Legs

  7. kevin Z

    ZOMG!! Where did you find that picture of me!?

    I have a similar folder on facebook as Dr. Becca called ‘Social’ Scientists. But its not that bad strangely. The way I look at it is if you can’t handle having a drunk work for you, I probably don’t WANT the job then. Hence, I’m still poor…

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  9. Pingback: Where is the “open web” now? | The Millikan Daily

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