Ever since September 26, 2006, when Facebook became available to anyone and everyone with an email account, it has quickly become a part of everyday life for, well, many people, if not everyone with internet access. It quickly overtook Myspace as the social networking site to be on. Young professionals in their twenties and thirties, well out of university by the time Facebook came out, quickly jumped on the bandwagon, seeing it for the creeping, stalking, networking tool it can be and is. And now, our parents, and some of our grandparents, are also on it.
Sometime in between its acceptance in the young, techno-savvy public and infiltration of the older generation’s radar, Facebook started changing the way people interact. The less mature amongst us started posting the minutiae of their lives online, posting pictures and information about themselves to share with family, friends and strangers. The crime-orientated amongst us used vacation and other such information to burglar their so-called Facebook friends. Police forces responded by using Facebook to catch under-aged drinkers, unravel lies told by friends in the name of “obstruction of justice” or “taking one for the team”, and most recently, to charge people with vandalism in the Vancouver riots following a shutout loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
On a more amusing note, the general public’s “fails” on Facebook became fodder for an amusement site, Failbook. On a less amusing note, as NY Times Magazine pointed out today an in article on a seminar the Boston Public Health Commission found necessary to sponsor, teenagers and young adults are eschewing the maturity needed to end a relationship properly (that is, face to face) and instead, are hiding behind their Facebook relationship status updates.
There is no “closure” anymore.
I remember when I was in high school. In the late 1990’s, my peers were starting to experiment with breakups via instant messaging (IM) devices such as MSN messenger, Yahoo talk and ICQ. My first boyfriend confessed and asked me out via an email chain letter survey. But even at that time, breaking up via phone was a no-no. I broke up with my boyfriend via IM and a few weeks later, he demanded a face to face discussion for “closure”.
When texting came out, there was a general consensus that it was not “proper” to break up via text. People did it anyhow. But at least with phone, email and texting, there is some sort of direct communication between the parties involved.
With a relationship status change on Facebook, there is no communication. There is no “talking” about it. It is simply “I’ve made my decision and you can’t change my mind so live with it.” It is “Facebook official” (refer to the man who immediately turned away from his new wife at the altar to change his Facebook status on his smart phone) that seems to matter most amongst those born in the 1990’s through to those born in the 1970’s.
Now, people breaking up in high school and maybe even early adult life will not know what it means to have “closure” after a relationship ends. What does that mean for our emotional stability and maturity a few decades down the road? Our teenage years and our twenties are the years in which we experiment, learn social rights and wrongs, cues and behaviors and decide ultimately, if unconsciously, on which facets we keep and incorporate into our personality as responsible adults. With social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace, it is as though there is an extension of childhood – and indeed, it is the outrageous-for-your-age deeds/updates/photos that get the most comments/likes, which is the equivalent of positively reinforcing attention from your peers in the internet world.
If users never really grow up because they receive gratification by prolonging childhood online for others’ entertainment, what will happen to the structure of our society when these people become adults by age if not in heart and mind?
I suspect that somehow, we will adapt. We will incorporate a degree of unprofessionalism into our professional lives, we will lose a bit of class on average, but as we age, we will learn to equally value our private and our public lives for what they contribute to our psyche and our social place in the world.