Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Unfriending Dad On Facebook: The Generation Gap Meets The Digital Divide

CM Comment: This one is a fun read, and gets you thinking. 30 years ago the generation gap was defined by music ... today it's defined by social networking.

March 20, 2009: summarized from The Seattle Times -- Last week I was reprimanded for being engaged, but here's the rub - I wasn't.

I was only Facebook-engaged, which is like joking-engaged or lying-engaged. My friends know I'm not really engaged. My Facebook fiancée is under no illusion that I am actually planning on marrying her, but it sure looks better to be Facebook-engaged than Facebook-single with a capital S.

Everyone knew I wasn't really engaged. Everyone, that is, except my father, who joined Facebook recently, immediately looked at my profile and proceeded to have a minor conniption fit over the phone due to what appeared to be my scandalous engagement and my concealment of it.

After much assurance that the engagement was a sham, the absurdity of the situation set in. I have friends who claim that even their grandmothers are computer-savvy, who Twitter all day long, who believe that technology makes their lives easier. But last week it occurred to me that despite its ubiquity, technology doesn't really simplify much of anything. It actually creates problems and complications where there weren't any before.

Take relatives on Facebook. It's inherently awkward to reject your aging great-aunt's friend request - after all, such a rejection could mean a feud until said great aunt kicks the bucket - but it is also inherently awkward to allow said great aunt unfettered access to your personal life.

So what do you do? Do you reject your aunt, risking awkward run-ins at family gatherings for years to come? Do you "limited profile" that woman, knowing she will wonder why there is so much white space where your wall should be? Or do you welcome her with open arms to your inside jokes, your profanity-peppered status updates, and photographic documentation of every bad choice you've ever made, not to mention that most dreaded of dreaded topics - your relationship status?

Forget the dangers of employers checking out your Facebook profile. Relatives are a far graver threat!

Since Facebook opened its doors to the wide world beyond university communities, older adults have increasingly logged on. According to the Internet marketing research company comScore, visitors to Facebook over the age of 35 increased by 98 percent between May 2006 and May 2007, and the number of visitors ages 12 to 17 increased by 149 percent during the same period. But this influx of new users is not without its complications - after all, Facebook was not originally intended to appeal to these demographics, and changes to the Web site's original setup have been minimal.

Does it really make sense to open up a social tool that is primarily designed for college students to everyone, without making fundamental changes to it? It's not that Facebook shouldn't be for everyone; it's just that with very few changes to the system, things get complicated.

What do you do when the kids you used to baby-sit for start friending you? What about your younger siblings? What about your cousin who competes over everything, including cleverest religious status? All joking aside, these questions are real for most young adults on Facebook, and there is no clear answer to them.

But last week I got mine. My father's rocky entry into the digital age forced me to make a choice. It wasn't so much that it bothered me to have to explain that very few people on Facebook are actually married, although it did, and it wasn't so much that my profile has its fair share of questionable photo albums and questionable wall posts, although it does.

What it all came down to was that while it's natural for those of us who grew up digital to have a digital component to our friendships and relationships, and a digital representation of ourselves on the Internet, my relationship with my father has never had one. And it hasn't needed one.

So that evening, I did the unthinkable - I unfriended my dad on Facebook.

Full story at: http://tinyurl.com/cj79bc

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