A recent Economist article takes you cyber-evangelists out there to task, arguing that young people’s use of social media to get Obama elected was nice, but it masks the real use of social media by youth, which they label ‘cyber-hedonism.’ The Economist asks:

…as young surfers are exposed to facts, sights, sounds and a range of interlocutors that are far beyond their parents’ ken, how will they use that access? Will they try to change the world, or simply settle for enjoying themselves?

Their answer: enjoying themselves.

Hence the minting of another ‘cyber’ hyphenated word to explain that (gasp!) teenagers use the Internet to flirt, meet people and look at pornography. It seems to me the pendulum that was initially too far on the side of cyber-optimists has now swung too far in the other direction. Like anything, the reality of how youth use the Internet is somewhere in the middle of extreme media viewpoints like this one. We have far too many examples of young people using the Internet for positive social change to say that it’s all hedonism. However, the Economist may be on to something when it writes:

In authoritarian countries with rising living standards—such as Russia and China, until recently—official tolerance of cyber-hedonism has been a sort of Faustian pact offered by the authorities: we will let you enjoy yourselves, in new and unconventional ways, if you keep off politics. But now that economies have turned sour, will the young go on keeping their side of that bargain?

Doubtful, if recent protests in Russia are any indication.

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