Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Facebook could change things

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, so I thought I’d just get it down now. I’m very interested in the ways youth culture has changed and become more connected (and less local?), particularly as a result of social networks, but I wonder to what extent that culture sees social networks as a broadly applicable tool that they can wield in their interest as opposed to one that’s mostly used to sell things to them or to occupy free time.

Consider: In Minnesota, it seems like every year the legislature debates the start date for schools, especially in years where Labor Day is late. This comes from the tension between schools, who want an earlier start because of testing and other immoveable parts of their calendar, and the tourism industry that relies on seasonal labor, which is often provided by high-school students (they don’t want them all to quit before the make-or-break Labor Day weekend). The debate ends up decided in the legislature, which sets school start dates. As far as I know, this debate never seriously involves one party directly affected by the decision: the teenagers. I’m sure teens have always had opinions about this, but it doesn’t seem like anything has ever mobilized that opinion on a scale that causes anyone to take notice. Fifteen years ago, this cause couldn’t jump from local community to local community fast enough to become a force (remember, this is really only an issue for you for a couple years before you age out). But that was before Facebook.

Imagine: One seventeen-year-old decides that this late school start is a big problem for him and for his immediate friends, and since he knows that the tourism industry almost invariably wins this fight and school will start after Labor Day. So in spring, when media coverage of this heats up, he starts a Facebook group (Minnesota Teens for a Pre-Labor-Day Start or something) and all through the spring and summer, it gathers members and they support each other in the decision  not to work after the last weekend in August. Come August, a few thousand teens (out of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps) actually do quit. School still starts on September 7th, but I bet next spring’s debate will be different.

So, is stuff like this happening?


Debby G said...

The principal at my daughter's high school was considering going from a block schedule, three two-hour classes a day, to a traditional schedule of six one-hour classes a day. My daughter and others used Facebook to help get 2,000 students out of 3,000 at the school to sign a petition protesting the change. The principal, citing the students' petition, backed off from the idea.

ddpattison said...

I don't know if kids will use Facebook to organize social change. But Facebook will definitely change marketing, as this article explains: