Trying to connect


Teen Times/Kate Ferguson: Recently we were "invited" to write an essay with a title along the lines of "The world I'm living in". I didn't quite get round to doing this, but I did think about it.

And by "think about it", I mean consider what constitutes the world I'm living in, as opposed to that of yesterday's teenagers - they were the kids of the 1970s - who came one generation before me.

The most pervasive issue that distinguishes us from yesterday's youth is "connection". We're more connected than ever before and, as the ad for a new broadband service keeps reminding us, some things don't need lines to work. We can connect and never touch. That's how connection works in the noughties.

"Network" is a great buzzword. Everyone who's anyone "networks". We network our computers, our bank details and our global properties. But do we network ourselves? I do. A good few days a week, I log onto and check my profile. My profile consists of a picture of me, or anything else I choose to convey as self (usually something I find doing random google image searches), and a short introduction as to what it is to be me; my likes, dislikes etc. I also feature a poll asking my friends to vote for my biggest fault. (Incidentally, the turnout has been fairly poor considering that I would assume all my friends are entitled to vote on this important matter.)

Speaking of "friends", on bebo everyone's one. All you have to do is request somebody's friendship and if they click on "accept" then they're added right onto your list of pals. Then they too can leave comments on your page, maybe even draw you a picture on your virtual whiteboard. It's all good fun really.

The internet allows you to connect with anybody, anywhere and in doing so, lets you be anybody, anywhere. Nothing wrong with that, within the boundaries of decent behaviour, I think.

Yet I still walk into school, and even though I have seen them every day for the past six years, there are people in my year that I have never talked to. How unconnected is that? You see, in the real world, we still network, it's just that we do it on a smaller, more exclusive scale. My network would probably be "nerdy/alternative". Unfortunately, our connection with "popular/conventional" is a little unreliable. And it's nobody's fault really. Ever since first year we've made ourselves into little networks that don't quite link up to form a web.

There's one exception to this rule though, and it's alcohol. When we're drunk, we talk to everyone and anyone, and we're all nice and friendly as if we've been "like this close since forever". Alcohol, as they say, loosens the boundaries. The effect of bebo and alcohol is similar. You get to communicate with people you never would otherwise. You can leave a comment and never have to look the person in the eye. "You" aren't 100 per cent responsible for what you say or do.

I guess it's all quite sad really; this whole notion of escaping in order to get closer. Yet what makes this subconscious, closed networking thing so important, is that you really know who your friends are. Every network crashes when it's overloaded.

Of course I'm not suggesting placing a quota on your friends, but I do think there's something pretty amazing about going six years and still depending on the same people for the ultimate in trust, support and, most of all, fun. It wouldn't harm us though, to extend some of the openness that we have online to the everyday. After all, some things don't need lines to connect. Right?

Kate Ferguson (18) is in sixth year at Wesley College, Dublin

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