Here is an interesting turn of phrase that I heard used in an actual conversation the other day:
it is fading into obscurity faster than Facebook. One would think that this should be considered a bit of an oxymoron, because Facebook is nowhere near faded. It’s colors are a little bit washed out maybe, but it still has a long way to go towards faded. If you want faded, look at Myspace. And yes, despite popular belief to the contrary it is still around, and last I heard their recent re-design actually boosted their user base back into triple digits. So there is that. Facebook on the other hand is so ubiquitous and mainstream it is nearly impossible to think that it is becoming irrelevant.
Apparently this has been common knowledge among the parents of teenagers. While frequently not as hip and agile or fast on the uptake of new internet lifestyles, moms and dads of teens and tweens have a slight advantage over those of us in our 30′s who have yet to spawn a cyber-compatible genetic fork of ourselves into the world. These folks are plugged into the gestalt consciousness of the Young and Reckless generation (henceforth referred to as YaR) which has a built in technology barometer of coolness. I have interrogated several parental units of the cow-orker status, and they all corroborated the reports that teenagers are feeling Facebook in droves. Which, if you think about it, should not be surprising.
As the popular expression goes, “everyone and their mom is on Facebook”, and that precisely seems to be the problem here. What self respecting teenager would want to be a member of a social network used by their mom? Things used by one’s parents are automatically uncool. And so, Facebook seems to be a victim of it’s own success. Mark Zuckerberg managed to convince everyone that they need his platform, and the YaR collective promptly said “fuck this shit”, packed their bags and left. After all, how much fun can you have on Facebook when your dad keeps posting embarrassing comments on your even more embarrassing pictures, your grandma is spamming your wall with inspirational religious quotes, and your creepy boss is liking all your selfies.
Facebook has become a social network for old people. It is something you use to keep in touch with mom and dad when you leave for college, and keep clean because you know employers have learned to dig it for dirt. All the risque, illicit, and therefore fun activity has long moved elsewhere. What is even more interesting is that it didn’t move to another social network, but rather became distributed.
The main problem with Facebook is that it became a social construct and as such it has lost the semi-granular privacy it’s users enjoyed in it’s heyday. For example, what does it mean when you don’t want to be “Fecebook friends” with someone? How do you explain to a parent or a distant acquittance why you have reservations about adding them without rising suspicion? While Facebook offers privacy controls, explicitly blocking someone’s access to parts of your profile may backfire when they compare it with what someone else can see and get offended. Facebook, for all it’s utility is very public and very high profile these days. I believe this host of issues has been codified as “Stan’s Dad Syndrome”:
So it is no wonder that YaR are moving towards services that are either low profile, and offer little utility to “gronw-ups” or choose networks built for privacy. In that first category we have services like Instagram and Vine which have been more or less built for hipster-filtered duckface selfies, and recording of immature meme-worthy antics respectively. As such they are not very attractive to parental units, who usually settle for occasional passive monitoring of said networks rather than joining in and trying to fit in.
The second category includes completely ad-hock social cliques maintained via messaging services like SnapChat, WhatsApp. These are particularly interesting because they offer point-to-point communication that is mostly ephemeral and difficult to monitor or mine for information. In other words, you can easily add your dad on SnapChat but it doesn’t mean he will ever have the opportunity to see the 800 silly selfies you produce every day.
In a way this is actually healthier behavior than the good old Facebook exhibitionism because it is less prone to embarrassing privacy failures, stalking and employment loss due to leaky privacy features, or your pictures ending up on unsavory image boards. This is actually a good thing. Teenagers are adopting to the digital world and mitigating risk by confining their stupid choices to mediums that at least superficially appear to have less tracking and less permanence. Which of course isn’t necessarily true, seeing how the seemingly ephemeral SnapChat photos can be easily captured via screen-shot and re-posted online. Still, the fact that capturing must be done in real-time and one can’t easily embark on a dirt digging expedition like this is the case with Facebook is definitely a good thing. On the other hand, if you are a parent, this means you have oversight and monitoring features and thus your endless, thankless job of protecting your precious, lovable, demon spawns from real and imagined internet dangers just got harder by a factor of three and a half.
You could say that things like SnapChat are just a temporary fad, but isn’t that true of all social networks? Myspace was a fad. So was Facebook. Fads drive this business, and SnapChat creators are actually convinced that their fad is currently on the rise. They are so sure of it they recently turned down a 3 billion dollar offer from Facebook. That is correct, a small company with 0 profit told Zuckerberg to shove it, because they think they are worth much more than that. Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Their business model (well, lack of theroff but who the fuck needs business models when venture capitalists are willing to throw money at you indefinitely as long as you tell them fairy tales about about the value of your social graph) is to offer a refuge to the hungry and huddled masses of YaR’s disenfranchised by the fact their parents finally figured out how to use Facebook. They view Zuckerberg’s service as a waning empire on a downswing – it’s the titanic minutes after it hugged the iceberg. You don’t chain yourself to a sinking ship.
Are they right? I honestly don’t know. But there is no denying the fact that Facebook is seeing a mass exodus and decreased number of subscriptions. It used to be that teens would lie about their age just to get onto the service. Nowadays it is actually hard to entice the youngest generations to join the Mom and Dad Social Network even after they reach the proscribed age. So once again we see social media landscape shifting underneath our feet. It will be exciting to see where will it go from here.