Nancy Jo Sales, the acclaimed writer of “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” wrote an article for Vanity Fair entitled,”Friends Without Benefits” where she researched how social media is affecting sexuality and hook-up culture in youth today.
81 percent of Internet-using teenagers in America reported that they are active on social-networking sites. With the access teenagers have to porn, as well as technological affordances of certain social media sites such as Tinder and Snapchat, youth today has different expectations regarding openness. Nancy Jo Sales interviewed high schoolers and college students in New York and Los Angeles and found some shocking revelations. This article brings up an important debate regarding discourse around new technologies. I am looking to class author Nancy Baym,author of “Personal Connections in the Digital Age”, in hopes of analyzing how these social ties are changing and what discourse Sales uses in discussing such relationships. In identifying how the discourse of social ties is being represented in the article, we can better understand the way that these networking sites are affecting teenagers today.
In talking with students Sales found that girls felt more and more pressure online to be sexually promiscuous in order to get more attention from guys. Online forums also opened up for more bullying regarding sexuality such as calling girls “sluts”. Not only were interactions sexualized but people’s postings and self-representations were as well. For example it was noted that most teens felt the need to post “selfies” making promiscuous faces or wearing minimal clothing in order to get more “likes” from guys.
For many students they seemed to be under the impression that these websites were the culprits in this type of behavior, a technological deterministic approach to the discussion. A boy in the article seemed to argue for technological determinism on accident he said (rather eloquently), “There are so many apps and shit that just, like, hand you the girls. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing, but really they’re just giving teenagers ways to have sex.” Girls complained that Facebook was ruining their lives. Boys who were shy in real life, would be bold in asking for naked photos on Facebook. Behind their screens they had a level of protection that made them say things they would never say face to face. The issue with blaming technology is that it doesn’t factor in social context. It is critical that when discussing youths social relationships we look at the different factors affecting ties beyond just social media affordances.
Many people who read and commented on the article seemed to have the exact opposite reaction as Nancy Jo Sales. Readers disagreed with Sales’ argument that social media is changing the way kids view sex and relationships.Many people commented that sexuality in youth has always existed at an extreme and that with or without social media, promiscuity is inevitable. This discourse would fall under Baym’s term social construction, meaning that kids are given this technology and appropriating the technology for their own interests, which at this age is sex.
The third theory to take in account when discussing discourse around new technology is social shaping. It is the discourse Nancy Baym deems most responsible and in terms to youth hook up culture, I think it most accurately describes the relations
Baym tackles the topic of parents and moral panic in her book. Baym states, “Fears about children can be understood as arising from parents fear of losing control over them, a problem inherent in child rearing, regardless of whatever technologies may or may not be present.” (Baym, 43) Children are often seen as innocents who are going to be corrupted by technology and don’t factor in agency. Baym believes that the rhetoric around technology says more about society than the actual technology itself. She believes that people have the power and the way technology is represented in pop culture usually causes a moral panic. Nancy Jo Sales article does just that.
The article is a dark and depressing insight into what kids face everyday online and in school. The best example of this is the inclusion of the “Mad Men” effect. Youth culture today is compared to the television show Mad Men. Young adults having sex without meaning, and needing to drink to numb the effects of these empty relationships. If that doesn’t cause moral panic in parents I don’t know what will.
Kids aren’t as helpless as they seem but these new forms of communication are making it difficult to be young. Social relationships are changing and getting more complicated. Baym sees that social cues online are blurring the lines when forming relationships. There are less social consequences and less risk, so people are more likely to share. As a result, isolation and depression are felt commonly among students when viewing things on social media websites, a point proven by many personal accounts in the article. In a social world that is dependent on other peoples opinions, social media becomes a place of terror that you won’t fit in.
In this article, Nancy Jo Sales is bringing up an important discourse about the effects social media has on social ties in the lives of teenagers. Whether or not social media is the catalyst to this type of demoralizing behavior is debatable. However what is not debatable is that even the teens themselves are unhappy with how Facebook and other SNS’s are changing their relationships and ways they view themselves in relation to their peers.