Do you remember when you were a kid, staying a little too long in public restrooms reading the writing on the wall? Did you ever notice that there’s very little writing today? It’s because social media has replaced writing on the bathroom wall.
It’s not an official replacement but it’s an example of how so much of what you are trying to protect kids from is the very same type of communication you used for your own self-directed learning as a kid.
As Generation Y was coming of age on Facebook, nearly a decade ago, I remember Rebecca Blood, the gold standard for online copy editing, wrote that parents should stop trying to tell their kids how to manage themselves online because the parents have no idea what to say.
She was right. It turns out that Generation Y manages themselves online like they are celebrities. And the best guides for how to do that were the celebrities themselves. And now, of course, Generation Y is fine. Employers don’t care what’s on your Facebook page.
Now that Gen Y has grown up, and social media has too, we’re looking at the second generation of social media mavens. And their social value will be determined by their social profile. Online. The Atlantic calls it the reputation economy.
We can discuss the pros and cons of the reputation economy. (Pro: it’s a meritocracy. Con: the meritocracy rewards the skills of self-promotion.) But it’s sort of like debating the pros and cons of judging people by their looks. It’s entrenched and not going away.
So a smart parent would teach their kid how to manage themselves in a reputation economy. You would need to know, for example, that having a domain name that is your own name is totally outdated: Generation Z has crazy names for their online identity.
(This is a lot like domain names in general, by the way. All the real names are taken. I used a made up word for my most recent startup and you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to come up with a brand new word that is not already someone else’s domain name. It’s why I used Brand Bucket. They are geniuses for thinking of company names and reselling them to the less name-obsessed of us who need a name nonetheless.)
How do you prepare your kid for a reputation economy:
1. Let them write for an audience instead of a teacher. The reputation economy is based on how you communicate online. It’s difficult to write in a way that makes people want to read. Stanford studied kids writing for a teacher and kids writing for a wider, Internet-based audience and found that kids learn much faster to be much more effective communicators from writing for the Internet. Elite schools realize this, which is why school porn to advertise rich-kid schools always show kids with laptops. (The photo up top of an impossibly quaint Swedish school is a good example.)
2. Let them spend their time exploring online. The reputation economy will be about new ways to communicate value. Harvard education professor Howard Gardner talks about the ways we will think in the new generation – it will be information gathering, synthesizing, analyzing. You might say we’ve had those skills for generations, but not with infinite information. Today we produce more information in a week than we did in the first 1000 years of writing.
3. Encourage kids to be creators instead of consumers. Traditional school is where you listen, so you how to learn, what to learn, when to learn. The reputation economy is about being an active creator which means you cannot depend on people to spoon-feed you information. Wikipedia, StackOverflow, Quora: these are all collaborative, self-directed ways that people are learning by creating. The way your kid will learn to manage their reputation is by understanding how to contribute in a meaningful way to collaborative, information-processing communities.
For many of you, this shift to a reputation economy seems impossible. Here’s something to consider: I have a standing invitation to airport lounges on various airlines all over the world because my own social reputation is highly ranked by Klout.
This is not to say that I use the perk. I don’t. And, frankly, I’m not sure I’d even know how to cash in on the kudos. Which is to say that I’m as inept as you are at managing how my kid positions himself for the reputation economy. Which is why I leave my kids alone online.