Facebook was developed by teenagers, for teenagers and I wonder if it, and its cousins Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit and Google+, are not turning us all into adolescents. Adults conduct their social interactions differently than teens and young adults but social media invites us to sound like our youthful selves. Social media is caught in time, in the student years, when most of us cared desperately about others’ opinions and were far less secure about ourselves.
With maturity we have less need to brag, and more need to deeply connect with others. Our ability to communicate has evolved and improved but the constructs we use in social media have not. Even as adults, we are using the tools of teens to communicate as we venture into social media, not always to the best effect. Here is the challenge to keep social media from turning us into teens:
1. On social media we clamour for the attention of those we barely know while, because of its allure, we can overlook those seated at our own dinner table. The last time I ignored the people I lived with I was fifteen years old, the next time was when I got on Pinterest.
2. Teens like to complain, and parents learn to ignore it. Life isn’t always what we had hoped and accepting this is a defining characteristic of adulthood. Twitter is a complainer’s paradise full of first world problems and bragging, thinly veiled as complaints. 140 characters seems to be just the right number for whining.
3. Life is certainly not too short to type out entire words or phrases such as “never mind,” “talk to you later,” or even “awesome.” By midlife we know there will be enough time to type a word out in its entirety.
4. Adults value friendships for their depth and quality, but social media is all about quantity. Facebook is not the place for heartfelt conversations with three close friends, rather it is a place where we can delude ourselves into thinking we really have 3,728 friends.
5. True friendships, at any age, brim with good conversation focused on shared interests. Interchanges on Facebook and Twitter may be little more than a string of short, clever quips and sarcastic banter, with “Woo Hoo” and exclamation points thrown in for effect.
6. Social media promotes narcissism, or at the very least self-absorption. It beckons us to talk constantly about ourselves, showcasing our every move through photos to thousands of people who barely know us. The line between social interaction and bragging is constantly blurred.
7. Social media makes rude, not rude. Many teen boys become monosyllabic, grunting adolescents who, fortunately, outgrow this awkward stage. Social media allows us to think that one word answers are not rude and that the abbreviated vernacular of 13-year olds is acceptable.
8. Who would think that facial expressions with all their complexity and the range of human emotion which they convey can be replaced with small yellow faces tacked onto a message?
9. Social media means never having to be alone. Quiet solitude is something adults greatly value as a time for thought and reflection, but teens seem to constantly seek out social interactions and Facebook friends can always be found.
10. I was a Valley Girl and over the course of years I learned to stop saying “OMG,” “I can’t wait,” “so excited,” but when I got on Twitter, it all came rushing back to me. It was as if I could no longer speak like an adult if not given enough characters.
11. The average attention span may be shrinking across the generations but we are the adults, and by using the tools of our children, we hasten its demise. I am constantly tempted to text or Facebook message friends and family members instead of calling them. It is so quick and easy and it appeals to my sense of efficiency. But in doing so, I let go of that very human interaction that binds me to these people, and as an adult, I should know better.