Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Facebook, and “grown-up” as the new synonym for “dead”

When I hear the words “acclaimed critic”, I always shudder, as I know that I’m about to be plunged into a stew of clichés and half-baked premises. This is doubly the case when the moniker “acclaimed critic” is linked with anything related to the Internet.

It was with this sense of incipient dread that I clicked on the link to an article entitled, “Acclaimed critic says‘Facebook is for old people’.” You don’t say.

As you’ll know from some of my previous posts, I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. Online social networking, in fact, is mostly a waste of time and brain cycles. However, I was tempted to log on to Facebook (I have an account that I rarely use), just to show my support, after I read a few lines of what passed for Mr. Lefsetz’s analysis:

"Acclaimed music industry analyst and former major label consultant Bob Lefsetz is widely known for his insights in the music industry, but his opinions and analyses reach beyond music from time to time. In his latest ”Lefsetz Letter,” a periodic newsletter Lefsetz has penned for more than 25 years, the analyst discusses Facebook and the tendency for young people to look elsewhere for their social networking needs. 
 “Oldsters are about yesterday. Youngsters are about today,” Lefsetz wrote. “Documenting your entire life history, building a timeline, a shrine to yourself, so that the people you grew up with will be impressed? That’s for baby boomers. Their children want nothing to do with it. Kids are for living, oldsters are for dying.”

Speaking of baby boomer-esque clichés: Weren’t they the generation who first coined the ridiculous phrase “Don’t trust anyone over thirty?”

Lefsetz, somewhat predictably, is a baby boomer himself (born in 1953); and one can easily picture him dutifully absorbing all the youth-worshiping platitudes of the Woodstock era. Lefsetz found out—as all youth worshipers eventually do—that youth is an ephemeral god. (More in a minute regarding what this means to online marketers.) He is therefore happy to dismiss anyone over the age of fifteen as a “dying” [sic] “oldster”—as if the world were built and maintained not by adults, but by an army of high school students.

Lefsetz does make one valid point: There are better things one could do than spend hours constructing elaborate personal timelines on Facebook. But what alternatives would the youth-worshipping Lefsetz offer us instead? One hundred-forty character tweets about who had the coolest outfit at last week’s party, or who sat with whom in the school cafeteria?

With all due respect to my readers under 30 (or under 20, for that matter): The blame for the above nonsense is not to be placed on the shoulders of the young, but on the legions of people my age (and older) who can’t accept the fact that they aren’t fifteen or twenty-one anymore—and ARE NEVER GOING TO BE THAT AGE AGAIN! If there is anything more annoying than a teenager who is parochially stuck in the mindset of a teenager, it is a middle-aged adult who is parochially stuck in that psychological zone—a youth-worshipper such as Mr. Lefsetz.

But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s return to the original problem: the plight of social networking sites that wake up one day and discover (gasp!) that most of their users are adults, and not fifteen year-olds.

I recognize the need for young people (especially those oh so prickly, oh so painfully self-aware teens) to carve out their own spaces. I was that age, too, once; and I realize that nothing can throw a wet blanket on a candid conversation so quickly as the presence of an adult—or, heaven forbid—the presence of an adult who happens to be an institutional or familial authority figure. I would therefore excuse any teenage Facebook users who don’t want to friend their teachers. (Note: Your teachers, for various liability reasons, probably aren’t anxious to friend you, either.)

At the same time, there would seem to be something wrong with the notion that a social networking site can’t possibly maintain its edge unless it happens to be the sole and exclusive domain of today’s batch of youngsters. And the reason for this is as simple and inexorable as time itself: No one gets to be a youngster for very long.   

I first learned about Facebook from a female coworker who told me about it back in 2006. She was born in 1983 and was then 23, right on the cusp of being oh-so-young and oh-so-trendy.

Today my ex-coworker (who happens to still be one of my Facebook friends) is (gasp!) thirty. She has children of her own now. And in another five years she’ll be thirty-five, on the threshold of middle age.

OMG! ZOMG!—even! Like, she’s almost dead! In the youth-obsessed universe of Bob Lefsetz, she’s heading for “dying oldster territory”.

And guess what? In a few more years, those kids born in 1993 or 2003 will be adults as well. (Revelation: Adulthood happens to everyone, on more or less the same timetable.)

Does that mean that the social networking sites they use will instantly become passé, utterly unusable for subsequent young people?

I should hope not—not if the objective is to actually build long-lasting businesses on the Internet.

A question for Mr. Lefsetz, from an unacclaimed critic: Are we really going to proceed on the premise that a social networking site becomes the equivalent of a nineteenth-century telegraph wire the minute that a sizeable number of adults can be counted among its users?

Or does that simply mean that the site has grown up, has achieved maturity? There is nothing wrong with a business growing up, despite the fact that growing up is a process that the esteemed Mr. Lefsetz apparently disdains.

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