Not all of Hillsborough's top seniors are connected to social media
TAMPA - To the class of 2010, it's "everyone's personal diary," "a creative outlet" and "a simple way to keep in touch with my grandma." To a few, it's unnecessary - maybe even harmful. Hillsborough's highest achieving high school seniors are part of the most wired generation in history, but how they use - or don't use -- social networks may surprise those just a few years older. Consider: Many have already matched up with college roommates, previewed potential professors and courses and are getting to know fellow members of their 2014 college class.At the same time, some don't want to friend or be friended on Facebook. "You can put emotion into talking with people," said Alyssa Carson, a senior at Alonso High who sees no reason to be on Facebook or Twitter. She doesn't text and thinks her classmates are losing the social skills they will need in the workforce. "I have friends in a group with other friends who will be texting each other," Carson said. "I think they're losing the ability to talk to each other face-to-face. When they do, more often than not, it's awkward." Carson is one of Hillsborough's most accomplished high school seniors being honored this month by the Tampa Tribune for academic achievement. More than 200 of the 328 submitted essays to compete for an annual R.F. "Red" Pittman college scholarship. This year, they were asked to envision what influence social networking will have on their college or early job experience. Most of the students said that they use sites such as Facebook and to a lesser degree, MySpace. Many noted they don't have the time for lengthy sessions and fear it could "suck up" even more time if they let it. They do, however, expect social networking to become even more important in college and after in connecting to potential employers and jobs. Maintaining ties and the emotional support of friends and family and accessing information are cited most often as reasons students expect to increase their social networking. Technological ties are already making the transition to college easier for some. "I was just recently reminded by my Twitter feed to sign up for orientation at USF in the summer (I almost forgot)," wrote Sara Bijan, a Tribune scholar from Gaither High. She expects to access missed lectures, converse with professors and post questions and concerns through her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Already a Facebook "fan" of the University of South Florida, she follows USF's research stories there. She plans to major in biochemistry, so "It makes me feel good, comfortable, about going to USF." She also belongs to a Facebook page for her college class of 2014. Although USF supports an official Facebook page with 27 affiliated links, the class of 2014 page is the work of two students, said Vickie Chachere, a USF spokeswoman. The official USF page started in June, has more than 21,000 fans plus 771 followers on Twitter, Chachere said. Sara's twin sister, Susan, is headed to the University of Florida, and also frequents a Facebook page for her class of 2014. Susan also found her roommate through the Facebook page, RoomBug. "We're both majoring in political science and have the same interests, even our favorite author - Oscar Wilde," Susan said of a roommate from Naples she has only met on Facebook. Not all of the 17- and 18-year-old seniors are embracing such connections, however. "People sit for hours in front of their computer doing nothing but talking with a person they don't even know about their favorite type of shirt, how many pairs of underpants they have, or how many hairs on their head," wrote David Garcia, a Leto High Tribune scholar. He has no social networking account and doesn't plan to have one. "I choose to spend my time on things a bit more productive, like studying, applying for the scholarships I need, doing some volunteer work, watching something informational on TV, or even talking to my real friends." A number of the seniors said they don't participate in social networks now, but plan to have a Facebook page soon. "If I don't get one, I have friends threatening they're going to make one for me," said Jason McDade, a Tribune scholar from Sickles High headed to UF. "I have seven AP classes that keep me pretty busy....After AP exams, I'm going to sign up." In his essay, McDade notes: "I pride myself in remaining as one of the few Facebook-less members of my friends, school, or generation for that matter. However, isn't it the fringe, the very last adaptors, who show when some new idea or technology has fully become mainstream?" Social media is so mainstream that a college professor in Brunswick, Maine, has created a class called "In the Facebook Age" that delves into both the risks and opportunities of social media. The material mirrors some aspects the Hillsborough seniors identified in their essays, including privacy concerns. "My students were surprised at the level of publicness," said Dhiraj Murthy, the 34-year-old who teaches the class at Bowdoin College. Students have been surprised to find their words and pictures lifted from Facebook pages and posted on other sites for perpetuity. "There is a trend of becoming more concerned - people who refuse to go on or committing 'Facebook suicide' - deleting their Facebook profiles, " Murthy said. "It's that boundary between public and private." Social media is focused on "a lot of communication under 140 characters all happening (in) rapid fire," he said. "It's a type of new, short messaging. The last time we saw that historically was the telegraph." Even at his college of fewer than 2,000 students, social networking is allowing students to "meet" and form friendships and opinions before they set foot on campus, Murthy said, just like the giant universities with tens of thousands of students. "They're forming their beliefs even before they ever come to college," he said. "It's interesting. The question is, what are these changes doing to us?" One Tribune scholar who noted how effective social networking can be in providing instant feedback, marketing oneself and accessing diverse views, included another insight as to why the class of 2010's networking will be one for more study. "I always try to remember that every 'post' or 'link' or photo I include on my site should be clean and appropriate enough for my grandma to read," wrote Ryan Coultas, a Newsome High senior headed to UF. Coultas said 65-year-old Jan Larkin of Colorado - "Gi Gi" to him - knows the quickest way to get a response is to send him a post on his Facebook wall. "She throws it up and I respond," the 18-year-old said. No question, he said, his grandma will "definitely" remain his friend in college.
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