March 29, 2014

Pre-screening peers on Facebook

Different generations use the same technology in different ways. Nothing new about that: as teenagers, the Silent Gen huddled around the radio set to listen to drama programs, quiz shows, and variety hours — akin to parking yourself in front of the idiot box — whereas Boomers and especially X-ers turned on the radio to get energized by music.

After reading more and more first-hand accounts by Millennials about how they use Facebook, it's clear that there's more social avoidance going on than there first appears. Refusing to interact face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice, is an obvious signal to older folks of how awkward young people are around each other these days. As recently as the mid-1990s, when chat rooms exploded in popularity, we never interacted with our real-life friends on AOL. It was a supplement to real life, where we chatted with people we'd never meet. Folks who use Facebook, though, intend for it to be a substitute for real-life interactions with their real-life acquaintances.

But then there's their behavior, beyond merely using the service, that you can't observe directly and can only read or hear about. Like how the first thing they do when they add an acquaintance to their friend list is to perform an extensive background check on them using the publicly viewable info on their profile. Who are they friends with? Birds of a feather flock together. Who, if anyone, are they dating? Where do they go to school, and where do they work? Where did they go to school before their current school, and where did they work for their previous five jobs? What's being left on their wall? What do their status updates reveal? Pictures? Pages liked? Etc.?

Damn, you hardly met the person and you're already sending their profile pics to the lab in case there's a match in the sex offenders database. Back when trust was just beginning to fray, people (i.e., girls) would have maybe used the internet to check for criminal behavior, but that would be it. Now it's far worse: they scrutinize every little detail on your profile, and every trace you leave on other people's profiles. They're going far beyond checking for far-out-there kind of deviance, and are trying to uncover every nuance of your life. Rather than, y'know, discovering that first-hand or at most through word-of-mouth gossip.

Aside from feeling invasive ("creepy"), it betrays a profound lack of trust in all other people. After all, it's not this or that minority of folks who are subjected to the screening. Nope, it's like the fucking TSA waving each Facebook friend to step up to that full-body scanner. "OK, open up your profile, and hold still while we scan it... All right, step forward... and... you're clear." What if I don't want to "hit you up on Facebook," and keep that part of me private? "In that case, you can choose the alternative of a full background check by a private investigator, and provide three letters of reference." Just to hang out? "Well, you can never be too safe. It makes me feel more at ease." Yeah, you sure seem at ease...

Moreover, it destroys any mystery about a person. Remember: mystery is creepy, in the Millennial mind. An unknown means that something's going to pop out of the closet and scare them. They have to open every door and shine a flashlight over every micro-crevice of the home of your being, in order to feel secure.

It also delays the getting-to-know-you process, and interrupts the momentum whenever it gets going.

Trust greases the wheels of sociability, and it used to be normal to meet someone for the first time in the afternoon and feel like you knew them well by the end of the evening. Not just boys and girls pairing off, but also same-sex peers making quick friends, particularly in an intense setting like a concert or sports game. These days, there's this nervous laughter, sideways stare, and lack of touchy-feely behavior (for boys and girls) or rowdiness (for same-sex peers).

I think it's probably too late for the Millennials to be saved from their awkward, pre-screening behavior on social networks. They're already in their 20s and set in their techno ways. Hopefully by the time today's post-Millennial kindergartners become teenagers, they'll look at the choice of Facebook as real-life substitute, and let out a great big BOORRRRRRINNNNNG. Locking yourself indoors and huddling around the radio set listening to soap operas died off fairly suddenly, and there's no reason that the next generation can't kill off Facebook just as quickly.

8 comments:

  1. "the Silent Gen huddled around the radio set to listen to drama programs, quiz shows, and variety hours — akin to parking yourself in front of the idiot box — whereas Boomers and especially X-ers turned on the radio to get energized by music."

    Boomers turned to their radios for music instead of programming because they had that other idiot box which you're referring to for the latter. Sometimes the standard histories get it mostly right.

    By the way, the Silent Gen also went to the movies at least once a week. The television ended the era of going to the movies regularly for multiple films, serials, cartoons, and newsreels. Maybe the Silents were less antisocial for going to the theater for all that entertainment and information?

    Or maybe they were just following the development of technology like the Boomers, Gen-X'ers, and Millennials?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Boomers weren't parked in front of the idiot box as teenagers, although they were as children. Google Image search "children television set 1950s." And "especially X-ers" were not glued to the boob tube.

    Remember that the mid-century saw the rise of the most anti-social way of going out in public -- the drive-in. For movies, restaurants, and even churches. The drive-in died off during the New Wave age, but has returned during the Millennial era:

    http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2011/11/anti-social-mid-century-and-present-day.html

    The drive-in restaurant is about as far as you can imagine from the cafeterias, diners, and automats of the Jazz Age, or the mall food courts of the New Wave age.

    Generations do not "follow" the development of technology. The Greatest Gen were infamous during the Roaring Twenties for having "petting parties" in their cars, just like the later Boomers and the X-ers made "back seat of the car" a standard phrase. Not the Silents, and not the Millennials, though.

    And all this weird substitution of virtual reality for actual reality is mostly / especially a Millennial thing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Moreover, it destroys any mystery about a person. Remember: mystery is creepy, in the Millennial mind. An unknown means that something's going to pop out of the closet and scare them. They have to open every door and shine a flashlight over every micro-crevice of the home of your being, in order to feel secure."

    Yeah, I noticed this too. I don't think Facebook will go away completely, but the way people use it will change. remember, it was first designed when the crime rate rose temporarily after 9/11(2002-2005, IMO), so it has the potential to be pro-social. FB as an insane status contest and pre-screening tool didn't happen till later.

    FB will return to its roots, which was a way for strangers in college to meet each other and plan events.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If they are all equally awkward they should be able to talk to each other, unless they are all awkward in different ways.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Adding to what Curtis said, Facebook 2014 is a completely different thing from what it was in 2005. It was extremely open in terms of sharing personal information (as opposed to opinions), possibly because it was limited to colleges, so the likelihood that a stranger that wanted to add you as a friend was dangerous was pretty remote (not many rapists among the Ivy-level SAT set). Even then, I remember discussing with friends how the openness couldn't last once more people started getting on Facebook.

    Also, I find it mildly amusing that extensive Internet stalking is almost expected among girls who would probably pull out the c-word if they knew a boy was doing the same thing to them. I know double standards are a fact of life but maybe they should listen to their own gut feelings.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Even then, I remember discussing with friends how the openness couldn't last once more people started getting on Facebook."

    Well, hopefully when teh culture becomes more trusting and open, FB will go back to its origins. I still think it can be a good thing - just get rid of the feeds, timelines, etc. Make it what it was - just pictures, a wall, the ability to poke.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't believe that status updates were part of FB's original design, either.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Related: The breakdown of interaction in online social networks.

    http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2012/02/breakdown-of-interaction-in-online.html

    ReplyDelete

You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."