In a meeting the other day, one of our graduate students observed that for undergraduate students today, email is a way to get in touch with old people.
Deeply wounded by this notion, I decided to test this proposition out with some of the undergraduates I know. Alas, they mostly confirmed this statement. When I asked them how they mainly stayed in touch with one another, they said:
But email? For the very unscientific sample of students I spoke to yesterday (five altogether) email was for getting in touch with professors, staying in touch with parents, or contacting companies to purchase products, ask for technical support, and so on.
Supporting this notion that younger people are turning toward newer and different ways of staying in touch are the statistics published by Livejournal.com on its website. Livejournal, which bosts only 9.3 million accounts (as compared to the 27 million or so Myspace users) has a demographic that is largely aged 18-21 and almost two-thirds female. So, for example, there are ten Livejournal users aged 18 for every one aged 30 and more than three 18 year-olds for every 25 year-old. Facebook and Myspace do not publish similar information on their sites, but given the fact that Facebook users must have college/university or high school issued email addresses to sign up, the average Facebook user must be even more heavily weighted to the 18-21 year-old demographic.
What does this mean for history educators–beyond the depression that acceptance of our dinosaur status will induce?
First and foremost it means that we are going to have to start using these new communication platforms, and fast. Otherwise our students will be engaging in a dynamic and freewheeling conversation that we have no access to. But it also means that we are going to have to think carefully about how educational purposes can be best served in these new platforms. After all, education is what we’re good at, isn’t it?