From texting to Tumblr: Kids, digital technology and the Next Big Thing

Tumblr screenshot

From fandoms to discussions of hard news, users of Tumblr tend towards images, GIFS and brief comments.

One of my daughters was discussing some plans she had made with a friend, during which she realized they would have to change their meeting time. “It’s OK,” she said, “I’ll Tumblr her.”

Tumblr her? Really?

The kid literally has at her disposal more forms of communication technology than humans have had at any point in history; she can text her friend, email her, call her cell, or (god forbid) the family landline.

But no. Out of all the possible forms of contact available to her, she chooses a form of direct message in one of the many random social media networks out there. One neither of her parents happen to use.

For those unfamiliar with it, Tumblr is a micro-blogging site popular with teens and young adults, in which users can post content, re-blog, like or comment on the posts of others. Content is shared with those who follow a user’s account, and users can see the posts of others they choose to follow. Many users tend to coalesce around “fandom” communities, following and sharing content particular to certain TV shows, bands, genres of music or other kinds of pop culture. It’s not unlike Facebook, except that parents are less likely to be on it.

As I struggle to understand her choice of communication with her friend, which strikes me as tumblr_lhhtozRPCb1qzf3p5o1_500neither the most efficient nor most direct choice for relaying a change in plans, it also strikes me that she has used “Tumblr” as a verb.  Kind of the way we’ve come to use Facebook and email (“I’ll Facebook you” or “I’ll email you.”).

I realize that a big part of the reason kids do this is because a technology is new and resonates just with them.

It isn’t really that she wants to confuse me (OK maybe just a little), but that her use of technology has moved fast enough that – at least with this network – it’s completely passed me by.

I get that my kids are unlikely to pick up the phone and make an actual voice call. When I look at their cell phone bills each month, the three or four minutes that show up are almost certainly calls to me or their dad. Possibly their grandparents. Everything else is texting and other forms of digital communication.

One of the big differences between this generation and their parents is the way these kids see digital technology as a seamless extension of their lives.

Even though I spend almost all my working life online, I still make a distinction between my relationships with family, friends and co-workers and the communication tools I often use to engage with them.

This generation of kids doesn’t do that. Online and off is a giant continuum. They manage their social lives and personalities online, collecting followers, tracking likes and comments. Understanding that distinction needs to be the starting point in helping them manage their time and online presence. These spaces are a digital reflection of their kids’ personalities; knowing and respecting that is the starting point for helping them find a balance. As a parent, you can offer specific guidance on how to do this safely, creatively and productively, but it’s also important to let them learn to use these technologies with acceptable increments of freedom.

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