My 24-year-old daughter recently informed me that Facebook has been ruined. "Old People infiltrated it," she said. She wasn't being mean but was rather expressing a simple fact. I argued it wasn't my fault: I'd been minding my own business (and hers, to be honest) on the website for more than four years. For good measure, I mentioned that I'd joined Facebook well before the boomers-come-lately started encroaching.
I theorize that because we've apparently ruined it for them, young people will soon migrate to the next platform of electronic communication, leaving us to toil in the dust of our new-found virtual sandbox. But for now, because we're trespassing in their backyard, we have to play by their rules. I've learned some Facebook etiquette so as not to cramp my kids' virtual style (and to avoid becoming a complete cyber-refugee from their social lives). Here are a few tips for other Old People:
Rule #1. Never "Friend" a Young Person:
Remember, "friend" is just a letter away from "fiend." It is, to coin one of my kids' expressions that I don't quite understand, "totally awk" when Old People "friend" someone significantly younger than them. Also, according to my progeny, it borders on creepy when parents "friend" their kids' friends. (Are you still following me?) The truth is, you really don't want to know what they're doing on Facebook because there's more than a slight chance your children are doing the same thing.
Rule #2. Do Not Comment on/Quantify Your Children's Friends:
Most young people have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook, and any one of them readily admits they don't actually know who half the so-called friends are. That I even know this little anthropological tidbit about Facebook is among the chief reasons Old People like me have ostensibly ruined it. And I'm not supposed to share the fact that I've noticed how many friends they have because it means I'm paying way too much attention to their pages, another protocol demerit.
But parents like me can't help snooping on their kids. We grab any rare opportunity to glimpse a snapshot (or, more frighteningly, a video) of their lives through a window cracked barely enough for us to peek into. When they find us looking and they do, because Old People are inept at cyber-sleuthing they understandably slam the virtual window down on our fingers.
Rule #3. Shut Up:
Note to Old People: Does anyone really care that <So-and-so> hurt his back while power-walking? That <So-and-so> is really looking forward to watching "Mad Men"? Or that <So-and-so> is glad it's finally Friday? It turns out very few people do.
Whenever I contemplate updating my status, I check with one of my children to make sure I won't sound like a "tool," to coin another of their expressions. I've learned it's okay to update your status once in a while but only if there's significant reason to do so. And when you do, you should never convey matters of personal hygiene or health, particularly those relating to the aging process (e.g., aches, pains and the possible onset of dementia). Minor brushes with major celebrity are acceptable ("I saw Beyoncé getting into a cab!"), as are concert plans unless you're seeing Steely Dan.
Rule #4: Be Wary of "the Wall":
Avoid writing personal things on your kids' wall. This includes the following question: "Have you broken up with < So-and-so> yet?" I've learned the Wall is, in fact, an electronic bulletin board that hundreds of people see, including your son's (now-former) girlfriend. The good news is, you'll only make that mistake once.
The fact is that young and old use Facebook for disparate purposes: Young people use it to collect; Old People use it to re-connect. Young people can't possibly understand how thrilling it is when the past marches right into your inbox because their lives are too brief to have much of a past. In fact, I have T-shirts that are older than my kids.
Until very recently I believed that as long as young people and Old People respect one another's presence on Facebook, there's no reason we can't peacefully coexist there.
Then my mother "friended" me.
I wonder what Twitter's all about?
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