The Facebook Generation

The Facebook Generation.

I’m 28 years old, and Facebook belongs to my generation.

I joined Facebook as a college student, when it truly was ours and only ours.  All the youth growing up now constantly connected to the internet are following in our footsteps.  In high school, we chatted on AOL Instant Messenger late into the night.  In college we experimented with various online connections (Xanga, LiveJournal, NationStates), but when Facebook entered the scene, all those other options fell away.  Oh, they still exist, but none of us use them anymore.  We still use Facebook.

College Roommates Freshmen Year.  One of the first photos I posted to Facebook, when posting photos became possible.

College roommates in our younger years. One of the first photos I posted to Facebook, when posting photos became possible.

I remember hoping and waiting for my college to connect to Facebook.  That was the day when Facebook belonged to the colleges and universities.  That’s why I joined, actually.  As far as social networking went, Facebook offered more security and privacy than other websites like MySpace back then.  We had to sign up with our college-assigned e-mail account, and there was no such thing as a public profile.  Our college network plus our friends from other schools was as “public” as we could get.  I chose a more private option, limiting my profile to only my friends and blocking out the rest of my college network.

That was when we had “walls” to write on instead of “newsfeeds” to follow.  That was when the only games on Facebook were the sporadic “poking” wars between friends.  That was when we could upload our course schedule to connect with people in our same college classes.  That was when no one under 18 or over 22 were on our social network, so we developed our own unwritten rules for communicating on the internet.  We understood that not everything our friends posted had been written for us.  Maybe their post was an inside joke directed at someone else.  Any post we didn’t understand, we just left alone.  We navigated the waters of cryptic, dramatic messages left by people who (apparently) wanted attention without actually saying what was wrong.  We learned through them not to discuss anything overly serious on such a “public” forum.  And that was before Facebook really went public.

These days, only the name hearkens back to the day when Facebook belonged to the college students of the world and no one else.  I wonder how many teens updating their status on their cellphones now even know what a face book was before the website existed.  I’ve watched the evolution of social networking as first teenagers and then our parents and grandparents joined our online conversations.  I played my share of games until I decided turn off the application platform for fear of viruses and hackers.  I don’t have a smart phone, so I don’t carry my social network in my pocket, but I do check my account daily.  Like it or not, Facebook has worked its way into my bloodstream, like so many others of my generation.

I don’t post often myself, though.  Even with a private profile limited only to my friends, I’m connected to 251 “friends” through Facebook.  Anything I post is like speaking through a microphone to 251 people, some of whom I barely know or haven’t spoken to in years.  I don’t feel the need to announce my personal life to those people.  I know I can limit who sees specific posts now, and I do appreciate that feature and use it occasionally, but really, I don’t want to think through all that when I write a status update.  So instead, I write funny quotes my students say, or equally generic bits of information that don’t give away personal issues.

However, Facebook has impacted our personal lives, anyway.  On a more serious note, this week several of my friends have been processing through an intensely personal situation.  Even without posting the details of what happened, the influence of Facebook on our generation (people in our late twenties) is clear.  I’ve sent private messages of support and care to my friends.  I’ve read emotionally charged status updates that don’t reveal specific information but do send clear messages.  I’ve watched profile pictures change in response to certain events.  While we’re careful enough not to air all our dirty laundry in public, Facebook is still in our blood and often our primary means of communication.

I cannot speak to the positive or negative impact of Facebook.  People claim the appeal of Facebook is that it helps them be more connected to others.  I don’t necessarily agree.  Facebook hasn’t really changed the amount of my connectedness, but it has changed the method of my connection.  I have Facebook “friends” that I never speak to and will probably never see in person again.  Do I feel more in touch or connected to them because of this social networking platform?  No.  I don’t think the course of my friendships would have run any differently if Facebook didn’t exist.  However, I appreciate the means of communication Facebook provides for those friends still in my life.  It hasn’t changed who I connect with, but it has changed how I connect with them.  For that reason, I continue to check Facebook daily.