This is a guest blog post from Chris Ronan. He is pursing his Masters of Science degree in Journalism at The University of Kansas. This is his submission for a project regarding “the identity of self on social websites.” Chris Ronan is the communications manager for Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., a mixed-used development on the southern edge of downtown Kansas City, MO.
Picture what a completely web-connected person would look like. What do you see? More than 1,000 Facebook friends. Daily tweets? Regular Foursquare check-ins?
That person exists and his name is Ramsey Mohsen. A consultant for Overland Park-based Digital Evolution Group, Mohsen is a self-described “internet addict.” His Facebook profile lists more than 1,300 friends and a link to his personal website. On that site, one will see links to his pages on Flickr (4,600 photos), YouTube (167 videos), LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, del.icio.us and friendfeed.
In short, Mohsen has gone “all in” on the social website experience, both personally and professionally. His life is, by all indications, an open book. As a result, he is recognized as one of Kansas City’s most connected “influencers.” Ingram’s magazine named him to its inaugural class of “20 in their Twenties.” He is often invited to speak at conferences or be interviewed by media for his thoughts on social media.
I’ve known Mohsen since 2006, when we worked together on the redesign of Crown Center’s website. From the beginning, I was impressed with his web savvy. But he was 23 at the time and I was certain he couldn’t continue his level of connectivity without it adversely affecting his personal development.
Recently, I interviewed the 27-year-old Mohsen and learned that he has, by all appearances, proven me wrong. Not only does social media not control him, he has managed to use it for personal, professional and charitable purposes. So how has he done it and what can his experience teach others?
Many social development experts are troubled by the degree to which young people are exposed to media and technologies. In the June 2009 issue of Phi Delta Kappan (the publication of the Professional Education Association), Diana D. Coyl writes, “Text messaging and e-mails provide limited or no access to other people’s emotions, and the rich language of nonverbal communication that occurs in real-time interactions is lost. In addition, the quality of family time may be compromised if parents or children are using technology.”
In fact, parents could be the biggest factor in whether social media augments or overtakes a person’s life. That was certainly the case for Mohsen.
Of course, parental influence can only go so far. Mohsen acknowledges that he’s endured a few missteps along the way to becoming the well-adjusted social media addict that he appears to be.
Speaking of extremes, Mohsen’s social web experience took a pretty extreme turn two years ago, when he became a beta tester for Justin.tv. He wore a camera-enabled hat that broadcasted his every move to voyeurs in more than 250 countries. And he says that experience was what really made him comfortable with social technology.
I believe many of those who are concerned about the potential negative impact of social media on self-development have lumped it and other new emerging technologies with other so-called negative technologies like television and video games. The concern, which I admit to sharing in the past, is that people will become so engrossed in what’s on the screen that they won’t truly experience what’s happening off the screen. That, in turn, could stunt a person’s development of “self.”
Ramsey Mohsen has shown that it doesn’t have to be that way. He’s learned to use social media to augment his life. Inevitably, his self-identity has been largely affected and defined by the web. But it’s been refined, too. After all, his annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, which is driven by social media, has raised more than $25,000 for Operation Breakthrough. Social websites have helped him identify and become the kind of person he wants to be.