Today’s American high school students have never lived without the Internet. For young people able to remember a time when Facebook existed but weren’t yet old enough to use it, picturing an educational environment where social media is anything less than omnipresent takes an act of imagination.
For our inaugural back-to-school issue, The Kernel wanted to see that imagination in action. We partnered with the Austin Bat Cave, a Texas-based nonprofit that runs creative writing and English tutoring programs for kids and teens in the Austin area, to ask the question: What would high school be like without social media?
The responses we got were mature, thoughtful, and showed a deep ambivalence about the ability of services like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat to simultaneously connect and isolate teens from the world around them. From allowing students in chemistry class to send tweets instead of paying attention to the periodic table to an epidemic of cyberbullying, the writers saw a generation glued to their smartphones, but not one that’s entirely comfortable with it.
The following are three of our favorite essays that we received from the Bat Cave’s stable of budding technology writers.
BY ANNIKA GLOADE
Nowadays, sitting in a classroom, you look to your left, and the girl who was asking to copy your answers to the daily class work assignment is posting yet another selfie to her Instagram account. Look to your right, and the guy who snores in class is watching a video of some guys pulling off what seems like an impossible trick. You roll your eyes as he sends a link to all his buddies. That is, until the teacher realizes the two students aren’t paying attention and takes their phones.
Most students see that on a day-to-day basis all because something that was once fun and useful is now taking over their lives. School used to be whiteboards, paper, pencils, and lots of manual labor. Now it’s iPads, smart boards, laptops, and calculators, and work is done in a click of a button rather than through the strenuous effort of the student’s brain. What a difference! These changes make students believe using technology in the learning environment is normal and perfectly OK. Part of that technology is the use of social media.
Do you remember a time before Facebook? The only faces in books were those of students. What about schools starting their own Instagram accounts? Or their own hashtags? How about this one: #readabook. Students are more concerned with their friends’ status updates than the chemistry test that will go down in five minutes. In this present day, your friend could be a friend of a friend who you don’t even know. We are all so used to it now. Unless you think about it, everything seems normal and absolutely fine.
But what would school be like without all the tweeting, vining, and ‘gramming? You walk through the double doors and instead of everyone tweeting, they are actually reading a book.
Or maybe they’re simply having a nice face-to-face conversation with their friends. Not friends of friends, but actual people they know. Instead of taking a picture of their hamburger for lunch to post to Instagram, they’re actually eating.
Doesn’t that seem peaceful and nice?
If school was the opposite of what is it now, anyone could guess that it would be filled with much more focused and smarter people. Instead of being focused on their Twitter or Facebook updates, students would be more focused on the actual reason they’re at school—their education. Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Even if students think they’re listening while on their phones, they probably aren’t. Without the distraction of the constant notifications, students can only be distracted by one thing: the occasional bird or plane flying outside the classroom window.
School would also be a more peaceable place. Reports of cyberbullying are constantly flooding the news. With the mask of anonymity, people can say anything they choose, thinking there will be no consequences. Everyone knows the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Whoever came up with that may have been the strongest person on the planet, because words do hurt. People get so hurt by what people say on these social media accounts they become depressed, they self-harm, they consider suicide—all because they think what people say is important. Some are even scared to come to school. Without social media people would be friendlier, or at least stick the old-fashioned bullying face-to-face.
Overall, it just seems like school would be a better place for all. Teachers don’t have to question whether their students are listening to the instructions. Students can focus, get better grades, and feel smarter and better about themselves.
I think the biggest improvement would be the end to cyberbullying. Bullying may not end completely, but an avenue to torture would be gone.
We can only hope, dream, and imagine what school would be like without technology and social media. The best that we can do is ask the old birds to tell us what it was like and use our imaginations.
Annika Gloade is a 15-year-old sophomore at the Northeast School of the Arts (NESA) in San Antonio, Texas. She loves animals, going on vacations with her family, and spending time with her chaotic friends. She enjoys writing poetry in her spare time and is currently working on a novel. She hopes to be an author and middle school teacher.
BY HEATHER HILLERT
High school and middle school would be much simpler without social media.
Adolescents would lose the ability to constantly involve themselves in other people’s business. Although social media can be a wonderful resource to connect with others, too many misconstrue statuses or become unnecessarily jealous of a peer’s post. Today’s society jumps to assumptions too quickly, and simple situations sometimes get blown way out of proportion when in the hands of immature social media users.
Through social media, teenagers have become much more concerned with image, which can be a good thing, until this concern borders on a complex or obsession. But in contrast, despite warnings that nothing truly disappears from the Internet, students still broadcast inappropriate items on their profiles such as party pictures that display illegal activities, statuses referring to other people in a negative manner, and profanity. While the user has freedom of choice in relation to posting, many frequently forget the long-term effects of poorly thought-out decisions.
The world in which the nation’s teens are living is very public. This influence pushes users to recognize people’s ability to gain information about others. In addition to its students, school systems themselves are greatly impacted by social media. Administrations have implemented technology policies to control the social media craze. All these sites linking students to each other have become a large distraction to daily studies. The ability to control these distractions seems fruitless at times, with wireless Internet capabilities on a number of devices.
Being without social media would allow students more time to focus on things of more value than the shallow satisfaction gained from bragging about the most mundane things. To have the ability to withdraw from the constant influence of others would let others branch out more comfortably.
The worries of status quo would not be glaring constantly in the faces of teen users, who are constantly glued to brightly lit screens. Focus could be redirected toward future development and becoming someone to be admired and hired instead of tired and fired. Traditional communication could make an unprecedented comeback. Think of all the productive actions that could be taken when one’s brain is not preoccupied with various postings from a dozen sites packed with millions of users.
Heather Hillert, a senior at Menard High School, plans to become a pharmacist. In her spare time, she can be seen reading or tooting away on her clarinet.
BY SHREYA RAJHANS
The world is constantly evolving and becoming more technologically savvy. Seventy-eight percent of teens now own a cellphone and 95 percent have access to the Internet, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project—and most Internet users have some kind of social media account.
Social media can be beneficial, helping you learn about current events and making sure people don’t live under a rock that stinks of ignorance. Of course some people still do live under a rock that stinks of even more things, figuratively speaking.
But there can also be rather negative problems, like cyberbullying.
The electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously, is how Merriam-Webster defines it. In simpler terms, it’s just making
another person’s life miserable through social media. Just look at it from a human perspective. Does it really feel good to imagine that someone might be crying, panicking, or just feeling terrified behind a screen of any size? If social media were to be completely obliterated, restricted, discontinued—whichever you prefer—we would have less of this problem.
Of course we are human, and we tend to do things even if told not to do them. The Web is a vast space filled with millions of users, and not all of them can be controlled. Like a river that keeps flowing unless a drought occurs, the Web will keep being used unless a technological drought occurs. But if that did occur, half of the country or even world would probably go crazy and run around in circles, until they faint from hyperventilation and exhaustion. I think you get my point.
Are people who bully necessarily always bad? No, some could just be frustrated. Are the victims always the stereotyped groups in middle or high school? Actually, no, because everything that occurs in cyberbullying occurs behind a screen. Nobody really sees the bully, and that makes it even more dangerous to some. A popular kid in a particular school can get bullied by a less popular student in a totally different school. Every new thing that is invented has about double the amount of negative effects as benefits. This doesn’t necessarily mean we stop new innovations, does it?
If social media did not exist, maybe we would be a little more blissful knowing that bullying online would happen on a lesser scale. But is this really a cause for celebration?
It’s true social media can be harmful, but it can also be beneficial, helping students find important news, learn about current events, or even find a job. These days companies that want to hire teenagers or college students for entry-level jobs want their employees to be media-savvy. Many companies and employers post important information on their various accounts.
Another cool thing about social media is its ability to connect people. Many who have lost touch with their friends have reconnected with them through websites, and others have found new friends that share the same interests.
Many good and bad things come out of using the Internet to express thoughts and feelings. We should all be careful of what we post online and how much we post of it. It doesn’t take long for people to misunderstand a person or criticize somebody. Just like when going to a job interview, a person’s body language and dress makes an impression, what a person posts makes an impression on others. So be careful and not reckless.
Undeniably if social media did not exist, then we would have probably less concerns, but also more liabilities in the sense that we would be decreasingly well informed. We should be grateful that we live in age where most of us have the privileges to accomplish what we do today. Be grateful for what each of you has been given, and be humble toward those who aren’t so fortunate. We can accomplish even more if we keep a positive attitude and strive to overcome negativity.
Shreya Rajhans is a freshman at Jasper High School. She doesn’t really know what she wants to be, but it’ll be related to medicine (probably). Shreya likes to write rants, listen to K-pop, research dogs, and practice Tae Kwon Do.
Illustrations by J. Longo