Born at the turn of the century, the crux of my childhood social life was rooted in technologies like Tamagotchi, Club Penguin and Nintendo’s PictoChat. Simply hearing these words evokes feelings of nostalgia in many of us. And that’s why, even at a time when technology has advanced to smartphones and high-definition video games, I felt a twinge of heartbreak when the news broke that Club Penguin was shutting down.
The reason why they were so compelling stems from the shelter that these games provided. Games like Club Penguin could be a virtual utopia in a callous world. Activities like evading the mischievous Herbert, tipping the iceberg and typing profanities that would never make it onto the public chat were just about the worst offenses most kids could pull off. The community was a relatively safe space wherein kids could be kids — grooming their pet puffles, customizing their igloos and vacationing at the cove. While reality was just as harsh as it is today, at least games like Club Penguin could shelter kids from the frightening headlines and disillusioning tragedies of the time.
There is little separating youth and the terrors of this day and age and today’s headlines, I admit with dismay. And because of the ubiquity of smartphones among youth, young audiences have been forced to confront our dark world at a younger age. Corresponding with kids’ exposure to social media, there has been an increase in depression and loneliness. Premature exposure to social media can rob children of their innocence, and wires them to approach life from a cynical standpoint. And as a large percentage of social media users are college age, who is more responsible than students like us for creating this cynical environment? Young people can’t manage to recognize humanity’s capacity to love when our Facebook and Twitter conversations center around angry debates over tragic events, Instagram exacerbates feelings of isolation and poor self-image and the YouTube community idolizes controversial figures like Sam Pepper and Logan Paul.
New generations lack platforms like Club Penguin that served as a more innocent version of social networking. My younger brother grows up exposed to the violent realms of Fortnite and Call of Duty, which only separate children from their inherent need to connect and empathize with others, creating a social network through virtual violence rather than through the building of friendships.
While Club Penguin is no longer around, today’s college students have the power to keep the spirit of the old online computer game alive. It’s simple. Create the social media platform that you want. Since kids’ online games rarely permitted mean words or vulgarities, adjust your social media experience so as to reflect this more lighthearted, respectful approach. Encounter disagreeable people online? Don’t resort to ad hominem attacks. Rather, calmly and respectfully refute their positions. Endow your digital footprint with an aura of respectability, making yourself known everywhere you appear online as someone around whom others can express their opinions freely and safely. In doing so, a rather pleasant crowd might flock to you, an old-school island in a world of sink-or-swim-style politicking. Do it for your own well-being, and do it for the kid in you that couldn’t get enough of those hours spent building a little life on Club Penguin.
What do SpaceX, a commercial leader in the aerospace world, and LELO, a European sex-toy company, have in common? They’re both pioneers in the tech world and simultaneously changing our lives in more ways than one. Just Tech-ing In will discuss socially and technologically relevant topics like forthcoming innovations, tech controversies, women in STEM and university updates on Tandon projects and startups.
Serena Vanchiro is a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at Tandon School of Engineering.
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