Friday, February 10, 2006

The "Social Internet"

Over the past few years, the Internet has changed. The Internet is becoming much more of a two way communication tool than it had been in the past. When Tim Berners-Lee developed hyper-text markup language and morphed it into the world wide web 1989, it was a one-way communication tool. Berners-Lee had envisioned the Internet being a two-way tool, allowing scholars to exchange and share information about the projects they were working on. The Internet remained basically a one-way tool for the next decade. During the Dot-Com boom, there were more people authoring their own web pages, but the communication was still basically one way. The only way to interact with the author of a web page was to send an e-mail to a link the author had on the bottom of the page.

Over the past five years this has started to change. Blogging tools, like the one I am writing this on started to show up in the early 2000's. Individuals could write their own content, post it on the Internet and with the inclusion of message boards, people could read and respond to the author. The comments of many people reading the page were there for everyone to read and respond to. The popularity of blogging and other two way communications tools has created a second Dot-com boom. Right now the 'blogosphere' is doubling every six months.

So, what is out there that the students we teach every day are using and what can we do to hook into what they are doing. One of the biggest tools students are using now is 'Texting' on their cell phones. It allows people to send text messages using their cell phones. Students use 'texting' in all sorts of ways, from cheating on exams to managing their love life. Students even have their own short hand that they use when texting on their phones.

As the level of two way communication has increased, there have been 'virtual communities' springing up, organized geographically or by interest. 'Craig's List' is one of the most popular virtual communities that was established outside of a traditional ISP, like America Online. Other social Internet communities are forming in places that you wouldn't expect them to and allowing their members get more deeply involved with others in their own physical community. One of these communities is called 'Freecycle,' that allows people to offer items that they are willing to give away to anyone that will simply come and pick the item up. I have personally used this community on both sides as a giver and a receipient. But, the virtual community we have all been exposed to is: 'MySpace.' There is good and bad in anything; 'MySpace' has problems because of the clientele and the behavioral norms that the community accepts. 'MySpace' has flourished because it allows teenagers and young adults to connect with eachother in new ways, but because it is the first virtual community most have become members of they don't understand some of the 'netiquette' that is part of the 'online experience.' This has created more than one instance of 'cyberbullying' or 'cyberstalking.' Students also don't understand how some of the things they post or say online can allow people to gain entry into their personal lives. Anytime you are online, you leave a trail of where you have been and what you have done! So, as we begin to use the tools available to us as teachers, we must be a bit more vigilant in setting appropriate standards for online behavior by our students.

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