The other weekend, I think when Dana, Sherry, and I were caffeinating, the discussion turned to social networking at one point, and, as one would expect, some mockery of MySpace and its brethren took place. Cuz… well, have you seen MySpace? Right. Anyway…
As Sherry (I think) noted at the time, however, and as has been discussed circuitously elsewhere, MySpace and the like aren’t intended for us. (All of us are in our 30s.)
But… but… we’re the Internet Generation!
Oh… hang on a sec… We’re not?
Almost every time the social networking sites come up in conversation (MySpace particularly), the inevitable comparison is to GeoCities (or Tripod, Angelfire, Xanga, etc.) back in the 90s. Anyone could join, and anyone could put up a web page. And anyone did, with the expected, frequently retina-searing results. I mean, you needed somewhere to tweak your background anigifs and post photos of that rad party last weekend, and make lists of your dozens of invisible friends’ GeoCities pages, and spew angst about how much your boyfriend sucks sometimes. But overall, it was all about communities. You selected which GeoCities community you wanted to join, based on your interests or desired personality or lifestyle type (or which ones your friends were in…), you built your page, and all your high school and university and invisible net friends (met in chat rooms, MUDs, and BBSes) came and perused and signed your guestbook. Sound familiar?
LiveJournal showed up in 1999, and things took a similar, bloggier turn. But it was all the same, really; people expressing themselves, often appallingly, and making lists of their interests and creating communities based on those interests and connecting with their friends and “friends” and making lists of those friends and those friends’ friends, etc…
Friendster arrived in 2002, MySpace in 2003, Facebook in 2004… The fashionably latest comer to the party is apparently Microsoft spin-off Wallop. But I digress.
It’s been noted before and elsewhere that the popularity of such sites is based — for those who use them — on what they allow users to do, not how they look. (“They certainly didn’t get that popular because of their stellar design” and all that…)
Additionally, getting back to my opening point, it has to do with age, too. Ideas of “acceptable uniqueness” change as you get older. When you’re a kid, different is bad. It’s all about having the same (right) things to fit in — just ask any parent of a school-age child. This continues, with added viciousness and hysteria, into high school. And I think one of the key contributing factors here is that to that point, it’s not the kids themselves paying for it, so they can afford conformity. Then once you get out of high school and (hopefully) get a glimpse of the real world, things start to change. You start to see what else is out there, you start to figure out what you actually like, and you start being the one who has to pay for it. You also begin to get involved in forming your own communities, and, for some, your own families. Personal preferences emerge, in everything from clothing to career to companions. (That said, within that, almost all of us remain tethered to the status quo to at least some degree.)
By the time you’re into your 30s, you’ve been even more out in the world, did the school thing, had a job or three, maybe got married, maybe had your own kids. Your perspective is better than its ever been on the frequent uselessness of group-think. (Except that a lot of people enter a new sphere of hipster or suburbanite or yuppie group-think and don’t even realize it…) But you’re far enough away from youthful ideas of conformity and uniqueness and — most importantly — youthful definitions of community and community-building that you begin to look at it from your current perspective with a sense of derision and amusement. Good God, why would anyone want to use that? And you don’t realize initially that what you think? Is irrelevant. That it’s not aimed at you, because… hey! When did I become not a target demographic? When did I become not the voice of young and hip? When did I become not a trend-shaper or community-builder?
Because we were the group who first publicly populated the Internet (i.e. we came after the military and the government and the hardest of the hardcore who now sit on their porches slurping lemonade and grouse about 1 baud modems or whatever). The web developed for us, by us and because of us, and it never occurred to us that at some point, it moved past us. That point also happened to coincide with the point in most people’s lives when they realize — holy crap! — I’m a grown-up!
After the dot-com crash, everyone went about their business, and no one thought much of it. Except that something important was still happening — we were all still getting older and grown-up-er — and voila, now that Web 2.0 is upon us, we’re not 24 anymore. And “real” grown-ups don’t spend their days tweaking their templates and posting photos of that rad party last weekend and making dozens of invisible friends and blogging about how much their boyfriends suck sometimes.
However, thankfully there is something for everyone in this next internet era. While we geezers can mutter and wheeze and make fun of the MySpaces and up-and-comers out there, thanks to the near-infinite storage capacity of the interweb, the next generation has access to something as entertaining as their parents’ old yearbooks and photo albums. Cuz my GeoCities site? Is still out there. How ’bout yours? 🙂