My obituary for Facebook

11 May

How do you know when a hot youth trend has crested? When all the kids who were doing it are about to move on and find something new?

You know the answer. Think back to when you were a kid.

Exactly. It’s when your parents find out about it. Or – especially – when they start to enjoy it themselves.

The great new band everyone seems to like? Well, if everyone suddenly includes Mom, that’s it. Time to find another band.

A great TV show that spawns a dozen catch phrases? Once your parents start spouting those phrases, let the channel surfing begin.

That new style of pants all the cool kids are wearing? Nothing cools off cool like Dad squeezing into his own pair.

With that in mind, I have some breaking news:

Facebook is so over.

You don’t think so? I understand why:

• You’ve read articles reporting Facebook as one of the most popular websites online, attracting 1.5 billion views a day.

• You’ve heard it has exploded in popularity from its creation in 2004, when it was limited to Harvard students, to encompass people all around the world.

• You’ve been told it is especially popular in Canada as the social networking site of choice, with more than two million Canadian users, growing at a rate of five per cent a week.

• You’ve noticed that it’s become so big, politicians have hopped on the bandwagon… that Stephen Harper, Stéphane Dion, and Jack Layton are all on Facebook… that the Ontario government is so concerned by its spread, it is banning public servants from accessing Facebook at work.

Fair enough. The evidence would suggest it is waxing, not waning, in popularity. But here’s something you should consider to counter all the hype:

I’m on Facebook.

And I’m a lot closer to 50 than I am to 15.

When I first registered on Facebook a few weeks back, the only people I could find there were younger than I am. A twentysomething cousin. Work colleagues more than ten years my junior. A teenage neighbor.

Since the core activity of the site is to find people you know – from office-mates to distant family members to your long-lost high-school crush – add them to your “friends” list, and communicate with them in both public and semi-public ways, I felt as if I was accidentally invited to the wrong party.

But now? Mere weeks later?

It’s like everybody and their mom is on Facebook.

In fact, when a friend of mine signed up, that’s exactly what her son – in his early 20s – wrote on her Wall (the message board that appears on everyone’s profile page).

Here’s what she wrote back for the world – or at least her Facebook friends – to see:

“I promise not to spy… too much.”

Yeah, sure. How many parents would be able to resist the temptation?

A recent university graduate I know was thrown for a loop when his parents mused about joining up. Now he has to go through hundreds and hundreds of public messages and photos to erase the incriminating stuff.

Thrown for a much bigger loop was an unfortunate high school student in the Toronto area. He posted some lewd, rude comments about his teacher on Facebook, naively thinking they were for his friends’ eyes only. Instead, he was broadcasting them to the world, including the teacher in question.

A generation ago, such comments would be fleetingly told and forgotten in the schoolyard. Today, they got the student suspended from a field trip and splashed all over the national media.

Although any Facebook user can control how much of their profile is public and how much is only for friends to see, there is a noticeable generation gap on Facebook as far as privacy is concerned.

Younger people on the site seem a lot less reluctant than their elders to keep conversations in the public sphere. Maybe that will change now that parents and teachers are signing up en masse.

So… the lesson for all you kids out there? Simple:

Party’s over. The grownups have arrived. Clear out the virtual rec room and find a new place to hang out.

Now, where can I get a pair of those pants I see all the kids wearing?

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