Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Envelope Please Please

One of the blogs for the New York Times has been running a series called "The Choice" that seems to have culminated with the posting about "How Fat Was Your Envelope?" Of course, there is some irony to the title because very few colleges actually notify students first with paper and traditional post any more; most high school seniors find out the colleges to which they have been admitted online, just as they applied to those colleges electronically. Watching this blog series and the postings on College Confidential, it is jaw-dropping to see the number of students talking about test scores, grades, and college rejections on public forums for these sites. Rather than read these disclosures as part of the so-called "end of privacy" among the "digital generation," I tend to notice how students cloak certain forms of information about their identities and how they share knowledge with communities of interest outside their schools.

As the mother of a student who will be a college freshman next year, I can't say that I have watched this phenomenon entirely with detachment. When it comes to my digital parenting style, I've never been one to police Internet use and cut off online time with draconian zeal, but I must say that the constant online status-checking among students who are seeking admission to elite schools, particularly on Facebook, doesn't strike me as healthy. Because disclosures on so called "gated" social network sites are so much more personal among a more intimate circle of friends and acquaintances on a minute-by-minute basis, it seems to ratchet up the anxiety of a group of already anxious students. For the first time I even found myself turning off our wireless router at night so my teenager would get some sleep. I hate to sound nostalgic for the era of big envelopes and small envelopes and private elation or disappointment, but the current system seems to be an embrace of technology efficiency before the human costs are entirely worked out.

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