A a senior man learning the computer with an expression of concentration of confusion.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user billpellegrini1

First rule of Facebook: don’t talk about the rules of Facebook.

Just like any community, online or offline, Facebook has a set of unspoken rules of conduct that ensure minimum conflict or embarrassment and maximum cohesion. For the everyday user, these rules are difficult to articulate, but the violators are easy to identify.

This weekend, I uploaded an overdue Facebook photo album with pictures of my travels so far. Immediately, the first 22 notifications were all from my roommate’s dad; then, 14 notifications from my own dad, plus his additional eight comments and three shares; then the ten notifications from my mom. This kind of (harmless) behavior is not unusual for the older generation, and I’m sure everyone has countless examples of an older relative acting the same way and results in a characteristic eye roll. The social norms understood by youth online do not seem to apply to adults. Norms like: don’t start a private conversation on a comment; don’t comment on 15 different pictures; don’t share every insignificant detail of your day; don’t instigate controversial arguments; etc. Are they not understood, or do they just “not get it”? Are they understood, but ignored? Though parents on Facebook is a small example, what makes the older generations’ interaction with digital technologies different from our own?

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My father unaware of what I consider a social norm: over-participating on a certain album. He said he got “too excited”.

This raises an interesting paradigm shift in my own life. In the early years of my Internet involvement, my parents regulated what I did. In the first several months of my new Facebook, I had to ask my mom for permission to accept certain friend requests, which “protected me” from online strangers and dangers. Now, several years later, my mother asks MY permission to tag me in a picture or comment something sassy on a status. She’s beginning to grasp some of those norms that I’ve tried to explain to her (though I can’t fully acknowledge them myself). Media is still produced by adults, but youth seem to have established the social norms, or the “rules”, for social media use. This all provides for an interesting coexistence of generations online.

The kids from the 80s and 90s are the “Internet Generation” for various reasons. We were raised at the time that the Internet and its various offshoot technologies were booming; we grew up as the Internet grew up, and as a result, we are inherently more “savvy” with its “rules” and how it works than the older generation, who had to learn it all after the fact. Boyd also adds that teenagers are rejected from most physical “public spaces” (like bars, family parks, etc.) and therefore turn to the Internet to create their own public space online. Susan Herring’s Questioning the Generational Divide chapter reiterates this and says: “a majority of teens said they would rather go out to a movie or do something with friends than stay home and ‘consume media’, but they complained that their neighborhoods did not provide enough activities for youth” (77). To an extent, teens turn to the Internet due to exclusion elsewhere. Similarly, for better or for worse, social media has become a way for youth to shape their identities. Various social media profiles target and attempt to appeal to their peers, or future peers. By the time adults turn to social media, their identity is already shaped and well-established – it does not serve this purpose. In my experience, most parents joined a social media primarily to keep an eye on their child, and connecting with acquaintances was secondary. Evidently, there are fundamental differences in the purposes behind using Internet use between the younger generation and the older.

Millennials, Internet Generation, Net Gen, Generation Y; call it what you may. I cannot validly argue that every person outside of this generation does not “get” technology the way our generation does, nor can I argue that every “Millennial” fully “gets” technology and its norms either. It poses the question of what will come of the next generation and how they communicate and interact with digital technologies. My nine year-old cousin is glued to his iPad, sequestered on the couch and playing “educational” games, and my four year-old nephew generally knows how to navigate the iPhone and even how to take selfies of himself. With great power of resources, knowledge, experience, media, and internet access, comes the great responsibility to use and teach it wisely; both to older and to younger.


The flattering selfie my four year-old nephew took on my phone, with his own knowledge of navigating to the camera app and flipping the perspective button. How will the next generation interact with technology?


2 thoughts on “A Generational Divide

  1. “First rule of Facebook: don’t talk about the rules of Facebook.”
    Okay, let me start by expressing how much I love this reference and this statement in general. It is very true. I dont ever remember seeing or talking about any rules or guidelines on how to use Facebook or any other platform for that matter. Which is interesting and I think says a lot about mankind in general. We tend to take to attach rules and norms to anything that comes our way in life. Its a very natural thing. Even our own emotions are associated with norms and values; an example of that would be how men are expected to not cry because “it is a sign of weakness”, and a man is supposed to be the strong care taker of the family. By attaching norms to certain social constructs we tend to think that we are creating order within the community. Even if it is an online community. Are we creating order though?

  2. The patterns of usage of social networking sites by the older generations are honestly fascinating. As you mention, most do not seem to possess the inherent understanding of social norms online, and it’s difficult to say exactly why this is the case. I wonder if part of the reason they do not tend to filter their activities is because of the most obvious difference between “us” and “them”; they did not grow up with the internet, and learned to communicate with strangers and friends in person.
    When you meet someone in real life, you don’t have that much time to plan out your responses, because that’s clearly not how normal conversation works. Perhaps because our predecessors have communicated this way for most of their lives, they see no problem sharing the same instinctual, quick responses and emotions online.
    Another explanation can be found in the concept of “risk aversion” found in the younger generations that may be due to our development with the internet. Again, the elders of our society did not experience this in their youth, and therefore most do not experience any kind of anxiety around posting whatever they want; that is, until someone teaches them otherwise.
    We—as the “Internet Generation”—may have learned the same manner of communicating face-to-face as well, we have also realized that interacting online can be much different than interacting offline. Some feel the pressure to stay “on brand” with their captions, comments, and other content, and thus filter what they post. Others write and rewrite responses and edit photos so as to portray a certain image of themselves. In my opinion, it is very rare to find an older person who goes through the same thought processes when it comes to social media. Hence the collision of norms when it comes to grandparents and parents posting online in a space cultivated and regulated by their children.

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