Tue | Jun 22, 2021

Digital natives vs digital immigrants

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2012 | 12:00 AM

STREAMING: Volume 1; #Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles, written by Dr Marcia Forbes, artfully combines relevant and often- humorous short stories to explain and support her research findings about what youths do online. Here, 'online' refers to the Internet and cellphones. Hundreds of 17 to 30-year-olds from across four countries describe how they use Facebook and Twitter and what their mobile phone means to them. Dr Forbes' book gives a deep insight into youth culture, the concept of mobility and the social ecologies of virtual spaces. It is available in hard copy format in Jamaica and as eBook. Kindle version: http://amzn.to/ILciaf. ePub version: http://bit.ly/LlsmKk.

The language of new media can be exclusionary, creating not just gender and generational divides, but also in and out groups, independent of age or gender. This use of language to include or exclude is nothing new. We have seen it at work by professional and other groups, including gangs, with jargon and slangs created and understood only by their members. Old words are coded with new meanings and new words are created as a way for groups to communicate in plain sight but hidden from outsiders.

Moment of triumph

My moment of triumph over the exclusionary language of social networks like Twitter and, less so, Facebook, came over Christmas 2010 in Atlanta when my under-30, very computer-savvy god-daughter said, "Auntie, what does FML mean?" Her even more tech-savvy younger brother in his mid-20s chirped in, "Yes, Auntie, what's that?" The Twitter guru I had become in less than a year of digital ethnography via this social network proudly responded, "Ooh, that's fmy life!" I was as nonchalant as Kamla when she had educated me months earlier on the meanings of DWL and WTF.

It suddenly dawned on me that young people did not automatically know the language of social media, these web-based and frequently mobile technologies that allow us to communicate with each other online via cellphones and other types of computers. Like me, they had to take the time to learn it and, while some words are phonetic or easily deciphered, like the abbreviations for words such as 'u' for 'you' and 'r' for 'are', others, such as 'w' in lieu of 'with', are often not so easy to grasp. One learns them over time while engaging in conversations via social networks or just by "lurking", that is reading, looking at or listening to what others post, but not posting one's own content. Based on the context of its use, thankfully, I was able to decipher STFU (shut the fup) unaided. That four-letter word (f) is a real Twitter fave (favourite).

The conventions and language of each medium have to be learnt. Those for Facebook are different from those for Twitter. This is so partly because of what some regard as the tyranny of 140 characters imposed by the latter. However, the medium as well as one's life-mix, one's incorporation of social networks and other forms of online activities into one's life, and the role online activities play in the mix, will also help to dictate how language is used.

Speedy communication

Texting, tweeting or facebooking via a small mobile device, such as a cellphone, encourages use of abbreviations. It saves fingers and joints, reducing the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Gaming as well as posting to either Facebook or Twitter and texting when one is on the go, even if doing this via an iPad, which is mobile, but much larger than a cell, pushes the use of technology-induced language including abbreviated words and symbols, since these facilitate speedy communication.

Tags - Digital native, Digital immigrant, new media, social networks, Twitter, Facebook.