odd time signatures

Twitter, Facebook, Teens and Old Folks

Ms. Dancer hates the fact that I have a Facebook account, even though she knows I’m not a huge fan of Facebook and keep it mostly because family, friends and others that I want to stay in communication with inhabit the place. She hates even more that BigDog ADORES Facebook and is (finally!) loving ‘his’ whole social network discovery.

This is because she also isn’t a huge Facebook fan, but all of her friends are on Facebook, so she also hangs out there. The idea of mom or dad looking over her shoulder is pretty repugnant to her, especially since she considers herself web-savvy and smart enough not to have mom or dad in her virtual face all the time. Which she is. She’s also pretty trustworthy. But not so trustworthy that I’m silly enough not to put her on notice that I can and just might peek over her shoulder, unannounced.

It’s interesting, then, to read Danah Boyd’s post about differing teenage views of Facebook. (Oh, and I love the title…lol. Now I’m ‘old people’? Sigh). She compares the views of two teens — Kaitlyn (14) and Connor (17) — who come from different demographics and have completely opposite ideas/thoughts about Facebook. Kaitlyn thinks Facebook is useful to communicate with family only, but is for old people. Connor sees Facebook as the place to be for social interaction with his friends.

These two narratives reflect different views about the salience of age in social network site participation. At one level, we can simply read Kaitlyn as rebellious, anti-authoritarian. Yet, that doesn’t quite work. Kaitlyn is not rebelling against her parents or teachers; she simply doesn’t see why interacting with them alongside her friends would make any sense whatsoever. She sees her world as starkly age segregated and she sees this as completely normal. Connor, on the other hand, sees the integration of adults and peers as a natural part of growing up. The difference in their ages is part of the story – Connor is two grades ahead of Kaitlyn.

How does Twitter fit into the picture? Miss Dancer thinks Twitter is fun, but has trouble pulling her friends out of Facebook over to Twitter. Part of this has to do with the openness of Twitter, the lack of sophisticated controls and filters to create groups of friends and shape conversation with those groups. She wants a filtered real-time one-to-many experience. What she says to her closest friends may not be what she would say to friends far away and more distant. Twitter really doesn’t have the tools in place to make that happen.

Danah’s other post is interesting, too. She asked her Twitter followers to send her questions for teens. Some of the questions were interesting, as are her answers, particularly with regard to email, Facebook and MySpace.

@AlterSeekers: According to Facebook Era, Teens see email as a “work” tool and prefer to Facebook message. Is this true among these teens?

I was surprised to find that email is deader than ever among teens. As more of their parents and teachers are getting on Facebook (or MySpace), they see little reason to email with anyone. Thus, email is increasingly needed for having an account on various sites and for getting access to or sending attachments. But even when teens do use email for “work”, they do not use it for social purposes.

This comes as no big surprise to me. I use email less and less for anything personal, preferring to either touch base in real time via Twitter or IM first. I only email if I have no other choice.

The other somewhat surprising answer is that Facebook seems to be the ‘new hot place’ for teens (despite the view that it’s for old people). From what I’m reading in her post, MySpace is yesterday; Facebook is today; and who knows what tomorrow brings?

What I do know is this: these networks are slowly becoming interoperable to one degree or another. Twitter updates can be streamed to Facebook (though I don’t recommend it); Facebook updates can be sent to Friendfeed, which in turn can broadcast to Twitter. Comments to blogs can be made via a Facebook or Google login, and I think it’s probably just a matter of a short time before one’s Twitter handle becomes their new identity key, just as email is today.

The real-time web is here, and it’s slowly interlocking, whether our kids like it or not. It’s not just for kids anymore. As a parent, I consider participation and understanding of not only how our kids use these networks, but how we interact and define the parent-child relationship on them as a first-priority item. Like anything else, they can be used as tools for good or evil, and we’d better understand how to keep them focused toward good.