Why children (and adults) need to be on social media or get left behind


Yesterday the West Australian newspaper began a five-part series on children and social media, beginning with a feature article introducing the topic.

The article’s title, Get online or ‘be left behind’ quotes an interview with me. It is very easy for journalists to focus on the negative when covering children and social media, so I’m very glad they took a more balanced stance.

The article began with an introduction to the issue, to the point of mentioning that English secondary school Eton has banned Snapchat. It goes on:

Sydney-based Ross Dawson, founder of think tank Future Exploration Network, said social networking was still in its early days. “We’re still fairly early on into what will become simply communication – life as we know it,” he said.

“Rather than logging on to Facebook and sharing some messages we are going to be in a world where we are sharing vast degrees (of information) with those who are close to us and to the world at large, and this communication will be intrinsic to life, our personal life and our work life.”

The article goes on to look at the development and uptake of social media, quoting my friend Gerd Leonhard noting that “social media is the new broadcasting.” It continues:

The more ubiquitous social media becomes, the greater the digital divide between those who opt to share a lot online and those who do not.

Mr Dawson said the division would have big implications.

“Those who are actively engaged in this world of connection will advance in their professional careers faster than those who don’t. They will have access to better information, be able to discover those who are most relevant, they will be more visible and can be found more easily by potential collaborators,” he said.

“People who do not understand and engage in this thing will be tremendously disadvantaged.”

“This is not a toy, this is the nature of how people live and work, so if you are not comfortable with it, you are absolutely going to be left behind.”

The theme of Digital Divide is covered in our 2014: Crunch Time report as one of the important issues in the coming year and beyond.

We do need to make choices in how we engage online, recognizing the downsides as well as upsides of being caught in an online vortex.

Yet it is also quite clear that professional success will come harder and harder for those who are not actively engaged in the open world of communication that we call social media.