How many Facebook friends do you have?
Where are you on social media? Fired with the amazing success of the young Tunisians who outfaced a repressive regime through Facebook and Twitter? Or tacitly supporting the three year sentence for the teenager who suggested to his mates on Facebook that they go out “looting” and killing "the Fedz.”
And has it got anything to do with Transition?
Maybe you can remember that time of adolescence when suddenly everything your mum and dad wanted you to do was either incredibly bo-o-oring or flesh-crawlingly embarrassing. When getting out of the house to see your mates was the only thing that made it all bearable and wearing the same top as your best friend proclaimed both solidarity and security. On dark winter evenings I would queue up outside the phone box down the road from home, just to say the same things we would say the next day in school.
You could say things haven’t changed; as a secondary teacher I have watched countless young people go from being open and communicative individualists to adolescents who do only what their friends do, care only for peer approbation and treat adults with a complex mixture of confusion and contempt. Of course they don’t have to queue up outside the phone box anymore. They have texting and msn, Bebo and Facebook. Communication is instant and all the time and the things they say are just about as significant as anything I confided to that foul, tobacco-smelling black handset.
Yet something has changed. From about the age of 13 young people now begin building up communities of online “friends”. When they finish the adolescent angst phase, as we all do, they don’t turn off the social media. Their communities grow – so it appears the average 22 year old has 1000 Facebook friends. I know my own children (with friends lists at 498 and 616) consider all the people on there to be friends, though they don’t meet face to face very often. It isn’t just, as I’ve heard people my age suggest, that they add people in order to look popular or that their notions of friendship are so superficial as to be worthless.
More interestingly still, these communities of loose knit online friends have enough trust in each other to be willing to act together. American cities were evidently plagued by a series of Flash mob attacks this summer. Over the pond, David Cameron was quick to criticise during our riots “Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media” slow to comment on Operation Cup of Tea (tag line “Make tea not war”) whose 330,000 Facebook supporters helped raise funds for the cleanup operation. Christchurch in New Zealand was supported by thousands of students similarly organised after the earthquakes.
Last week Mark Watson identified individualism as “one of the greatest obstacles to making a smooth transition to a liveable future”. We are rich, isolated and seemingly stuck. Facebook and the other social media come straight out of that fossil-fuelled, energy rich culture of consumerism but they don’t have to stay there. If there is one force to counteract the deadening hand of consumerism, it lies in the growing sense of the power of community (where have I heard that phrase before?) felt by young people.
So, I say it is time to listen really hard to the young people we do have in Transition. And armed with their wisdom it’s time to go all out to make sure what we do and how we do it attracts 15s-30s. Why? Because they have the courage and the confidence to use their communities to achieve change where it seems impossible. And that’s what we want, isn’t it?