Facebook highlights the new generation gap

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Lucy Kellaway, a columnist in the Financial Times, wrote a brilliant piece some time ago about how older generations engage with social media, and why the battle to understand the value of Facebook.

I think she has hit the nail on the head. It’s not a technology issue, it’s about a mindset. And she’s right about the eventual outcome, too. It’s inevitable. The sooner Boomer’s accept this, the sooner they can start engaging with a new world of work.

You can read her article here (it’s really worth reading – she’s brilliant), or an extract below.

Generation game plays out on Facebook

extract from FT.com, By Lucy Kellaway, March 21 2010

…. Facebook has become bigger than Google. In the US, more people now visit the social networking site … than turn to Google [for information]…


Social networking, it seems to me, is the biggest separator of the young from the not-so-young. In most other respects there is not much to choose between people of 50 and of 15, apart from a bit of experience and a great many wrinkles. Everyone wears jeans. More or less everyone (quite) likes Florence and the Machine. But 15-year-olds live on Facebook, while 50-year-olds don’t understand it at all.

This isn’t a small thing: it’s a ginormous non-meeting of minds between two generations over what is not just a different way of communicating, but a different way of living.

Google is natural for old people because we were taught how to look things up at primary school. It is like a library only a lot better: you don’t have to get on a bus, and the thing you want is never out on loan to someone else. E-mail is natural for us, too. We might still grapple with the right stylistic flourishes for this flat medium, but we understand the principle perfectly. One person communicates with another, only it happens faster than a postman takes to drop a letter through a door.

My generation can even do Twitter, at a pinch. Twitter is just a sort of showing off, and we are just as good at that as anyone born a decade or two after us.

But Facebook remains deeply alien. For us, the point about communicating is that it is a consensual activity between two people. I like to talk to one friend at a time, which allows you to vary the tone and content to suit the person to whom you are talking. When we deal with more than one or two friends at a time, we get in a flap. Think of the kerfuffle that goes into deciding who to invite with whom to a dinner party.

By contrast, the idea that communication becomes a random broadcast to 500 “friends” about what you were up to last night is perfectly incomprehensible. As is the thought that you park yourself for hours on end in front of a screen gawping at the random communications of your unmanageably large group of friends and commenting on them.

This gap between the Facebook/non-Facebook generation is wider than the gap between my generation and our parents. My dad liked Verdi, I liked the Rolling Stones. He thought mine was noise, I thought his was weird. But it was the same 12-inch circle of vinyl going round on the turntable, and listening to it involved sitting on the same sofa. My mother would not throw any food away, and while I did not admire the half a roast potato sitting in the fridge, I understood that she had lived through rationing and was therefore constitutionally incapable of chucking it out.

I have asked my children to explain Facebook to me, but I’m none the wiser. They can’t explain it because they don’t understand what I’m asking. The scale of my puzzlement makes no sense to them.

Whether or not we see the point of it, my generation is going to have to sign up in time. A friend of my daughter’s recently complained that because her grandfather wasn’t on Facebook, she couldn’t wish him a happy birthday. … If in the future we want to get birthday cards (or communicate with anyone under 40) we are going to have to join Facebook whether we understand it or not.

Source: FT.com

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0 thoughts on “Facebook highlights the new generation gap”

  1. Renee Bishop says:

    I disagree with many points in this article. I have just under 200 friends on facebook and very few of them are under 50! I am closer to 60! The difference is that few of my friends over 50 have 500+ friends. I, for one, am not looking for lots of so called ‘friends’ whom I don’t know from a bar of soap. I love being connected to people I know who live all over the globe! Sure, I don’t ‘live’ on Facebook, but my husband thinks I’m addicted!!

  2. Graeme says:

    Renee, I hate to argue with you, but I think your comment precisely proves Lucy’s point. She isn’t saying that an older generation won’t use Facebook, she’s saying they won’t use it in the way that young people will use it. Precisely as she suggests, you use it mainly for personal purposes and only for connecting with people you already know. That’s one way of using it, but it’s an older generation way.

  3. Renee Bishop says:

    Point taken! However, that may change in the future when one has more time!

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