Since we began youngwritersproject.org in September 2006 -- ahead of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, etc -- we have been struck by kids' needs to be challenged, to go deep, to find substance and purpose.
And we see it in the schools, too. The vast majority of our kids are bored out of their gourds. But if you give them time to develop ideas they are interested in and if you give them a purpose other than a grade -- an audience of peers, say, or an external audience -- they respond. That is why I remain so optimistic.
My friend Barbara Ganley -- a guru of writing, photography, technology and learning -- gave me a heads up about Sherry Turkle's latest book, Alone Together in which she posits that social media is causing youth to expect less from friendships. I will read the book. Promise. Ms. Turkle also had a recent NYTimes article in which she wrote about how we've become a 'tribe of one,' pay attention to only what interests us and would rather text than talk.
We have noticed her thesis manifested in other ways. Our users now spend less time on the site than they did in 2006/07. They post fewer comments and view fewer pages.
But here's the good news: Recently we disabled our chat feature for a week. There were some howls, but there was also a 20 percent increase in # of comments, a like increase in time spent on the site, and page views grew by 25 percent. In a week.
And then, independent of this, a teen user posted this about her experience with her classmates who had been asked to go onto youngwritersproject.org to write and comment:
I have a writing enrichment. We go on to this site and write. But people in my class are using the chat messaging to talk to their friends instead of writing. They also talk to random people and try to say funny things. It really bothers me because it's not fair for them to abuse a system that's meant for the benefit of us. I don't know if anyone else feels this way But I sure do. I like getting feedback on my writing but it really makes me upset when people just use chat to literally chat with there friends about things that don't even have to do with writing.
So what if the social media spaces were more intent on depth of experience and creativity than numbers and monetization?