Jun 7, 2013

The Not So Secret Life of the American Teenager

There’s been so much written lately about teenagers in the age of social media, so much of it patently ridiculous (e.g. I talked to my sister and her friends and thus extrapolated what all teenagers were up to) and/or posited by people who haven’t actually seen a teenager since they themselves were one, that I felt a tirade was in order. So here goes:

What’s the one constant about teenagers, of any generation, beyond the whole horniness thing? The fact that so many teens are constantly trying on new personalities and new identities just to see what it feels like or to see what fits. And so what apps they are into varies wildly from day to day, from school to school, from clique to clique and (especially) from girls to boys.

Facebook is the one constant. They may tell you they don’t really like it, don’t like seeing the dumb things people post on it, but reality check: so do most adults. And like teens, we may gripe about it, but we still use it.

Why? Because it’s its own self-contained theme park. You can chat, you can play games, you can look at pictures, listen to music, stalk old friends-- there’s a whole world of things you can do on Facebook depending on your mood. And everyone you know is on there, from Grandma to the kid you sat next to in kindergarten, so it’s got the same repellers and attractors as home. Especially if you’re 15 and undecided whether it’s comforting or mortifying that your mom “liked” your picture from soccer practice.

Apps are like teenage fashion choices. One day you’re wearing Ugg boots because they’re cool and trendy, the next day you decide they’re stupid and pretentious and want nothing to do with them. Substitute Pinterest or Twitter or Snapchat and you get the picture. And that shouldn’t be the least bit surprising: teenagers are like that, they’re capricious about pretty much everything from friends to music to the mood they’re in when they get home. And they have been like that since we invented them back in the 1950s.

So let’s stop trying to define them and assigning them a specific taste in apps. Vine is hot this month because comedians are making funny videos/hipsters are making cool artsy videos/someone was playing with it in study hall and everyone started watching/my older brother and his friends said it was cool.

Next month it’ll be something else.

Which is not to say that every teenager is doomed to spend their middle school and high school years in a permanent state of app flux. Sometimes it feels right and so you stick with it. But what that “it” is varies so widely, it’s foolish to try and define. The one thing we do know is that the next Facebook isn’t here yet. Facebook still feels like “home” and with the possible exception of Instagram and Snapchat, all the other apps are about interacting with others or about being entertained. None of them are the new Facebook, either singly or in combination.

The new Facebook won’t be here for a while: sea changes like that don’t come about very often. But when it does, don’t worry about trying to identify it: like the Supreme Court said about pornography, you’ll know it when you see it.


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