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Thompson: Frontline's Terrifying Portrait of Generation "Like"

How is Douglas Rushkoff’s PBS Frontline “Generation Like” different than semi-addictive social media that “reels” in people like they are a fish?

Rushkoff starts with some disturbing social media issues that perplex adults. He then lets students, and new media entrepreneurs, speak for themselves. This allows us to see the dynamism and the potentially wonderful use of the digital “mashup of commerce and culture” for “self-empowerment.”

By the time Rushkoff completely reels in the viewer, however, we recognize the true danger of a world where young people believe “you are what you like.” He explains a “meticulously planned marketing strategy” where young consumers become the marketers. The result is an “endless feedback loop” where every moment in a teen’s life is transformed into “a branding opportunity.”

At first, we can grin along with the energy and antics of “Baby Scumbag,” as the talented and immature social media star seeks validation. At first, his and his peers’ efforts to seek “fame by association” prompt mixed feelings. We can understand his claim “it’s all fun.”  As we see him “playing the class clown in public” to get skateboard freebies, the dynamics become more frightening.  Then, Rushkoff pulls us into an Orwellian world of “fame by association.” We recognize the horrifying essence of a commercial digital culture where “to stay alive” young people must “get people to like you.”

But, Rushkoff embodies the balance necessary to use social media to build a better world. He demonstrates the role that all adults should have played in listening and mentoring digital natives.

Like the young people portrayed in the documentary, I had no idea of how deliberate entrepreneurs are in engineering "serendipity by design." I hope that someday our generation won't be cursed by young people for ignoring our responsibility to help teach them to use and not be used by technology. While we are fighting over silly schemes to measure "outputs" and reward and punish educators, I fear that we are ignoring our real responsibility to today's students.-JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.

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