Social Networking: Drama where it doesn't belong

Compared to fifteen years ago, it is easier than ever to get in touch with someone and share your thoughts with the push of a button. In 1997, AOL introduced Instant Messenger, which altered the terrain of communication by making it possible to completely misunderstand a person's words and become offended... online! People were able to shed the awkwardness of being face to face with someone and became irreversibly brave about what they said, and who they said it about. All of this, despite the fact that what they typed was still arguably public. Since then, we have gone through the trendiness of Friendster, the horror of MySpace, and now the addiction of Facebook and habitual use of Twitter. Are these things inherently evil?

That is up for you to decide.

But, whether or not you feel that social networking is useful, useless, engaging, engrossing, or an utter waste of time, it is a fact that 73% of teens who use the internet often are using social networking sites. Unfortunately, it is also a fact (albeit an unquantifiable one, for now), that many of these "wired" teens are flat out abusing them. And yes, this does spill over directly into the world of theatre.

From Stage to Webpage
I cannot go more than 72 hours without a new event invite on Facebook to a local production, whether it is on my personal page or on this site's page. That is great! It keeps me up on what is going on, and when I can go see the show, I do. I read the walls (or ahem, "timelines") of the companies if they have their own FB page, and I do the same for the actors if I know them. I truly enjoy seeing the 2:00am posts of a group that is obviously in tech, slaving away and getting us excited about the inner-workings of their show. It is incredible how many of my own connections are from the world of theatre. Just by virtue of how many people we meet in this business with each show we are involved in, your connections can stretch to the tens of thousands in a heartbeat. That means that all of those people are connected back to what I post. Much of the traffic for this very site comes from what I post on Facebook, which is great. But, I also see a dark side...

I also can't have 72 hours pass without seeing something like this from a former student, or hearing about it from a fellow theatrical professional. Facebook has become a great place to share your life and connect with people in ways we never would have imagined. But those connections, paired with the sense of distance and bravery of being behind a keyboard in your own home (instead of being face to face) have made for some very awkward, hurtful, cruel, and (quite frankly) stupid situations. If you wouldn't say it to a person's face with your parents present, don't put it on Facebook or Twitter. What you post cannot ever truly be deleted. It lasts in retweets, shares, emails, texts, and word of mouth. See also: cyber-bullying.
Who am I anyways?
This goes beyond the simple digital-bickering we all see, and gets into the world seeing a side of you that you didn't intend for it to see. It doesn't matter how you set up your Facebook profile, that "friends only" post can get out there somehow. So, that photo of you playing a backstage prank or that video at the pizza parlor after opening night where you were caught swearing like a sailor can and WILL get out there. So remember:

1) Don't do dumb things in front of a camera.
2) If you happen to catch someone doing something dumb on your camera, think twice before posting it.

Question: Is this worth it?
God, I hope I get it.
Little do many teenagers know that very important people are watching. Forget mom and dad (important though they may be), and think of the 24% of college admissions boards at 359 selective colleges in the United States that use Facebook to get information about applicants. Also, think of the hiring managers, internship directors, and of course casting directors who are watching. And yes, we really are watching.

With all of this being said, these sites are great tools for networking, expressing and sharing a part of yourself that you couldn't do before. They are fantastic, addictive, and fun to use. Just, be smart about it. Stay in the light and use them well, or else you may find yourself helping to form a harmful cyber-caricature of an innocent person, or being judged as an unsavory digital version of the person you really are.

When in doubt, don't press "send".
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