One day, sometime around 2004-2005, I came home from school and hopped on the computer. It was a boxy, white Dell computer. I asked my dad, who’s always been kind of a techie, “Who owns the websites that I play games on?” He gave me a little tutorial of the internet, and I remember being hooked. He set my sister and I up with our first Hotmail account, explaining that we could send e-mails to anybody with an e-mail address. I loved everything about it, and convinced all my friends to get Hotmail accounts. We e-mailed after school about all the crisis that took place in our 3rd grade classrooms.
Soon after the era of communicating with friends via e-mail faded, MSN Messenger became the most popular form of communicating for my age. You had a tagline next to your name (usually ambiguous song lyrics to describe your feelings), and could instantly chat with anyone in your friend group. I’d sit with my friends and we’d sometimes wait for our crushes to get online so we could chat with them. If someone “logged off” while chatting, it was truly a special type of heartbreak.
A couple years down the road, Myspace took over. I remember in 6th-8th grade how vital a Myspace image was. Your profile song defined you, and your Top 8 Friends determined your real-life friends. Whenever my girls would sleep over, it was usually spent editing our own profiles, and stalking everyone else’s. I would Google how to do certain things on Myspace, and practically began teaching myself how to code websites (Really wish, now, I would’ve continued that). Posting surveys on Myspace was absolutely necessary to stay relevant.
Facebook became popular during my freshman year of high school. As an impressionable, confused freshman in a new school, it was even more important to fit in while also standing out. Updating your status, profile pictures, and photo albums, was a must. For kids my age, it was common to have either a very vague Facebook status (to make others want to talk) or to have an overly excited, dramatic Facebook status (to make other jealous that they didn’t talk to you).
After graduation, Twitter really became a more popular form of social media. It was short, concise, and powerful. It filtered out those who used Facebook as a public diary. It didn’t feel as obligatory to follow someone on Twitter as it did to add someone as a friend on Facebook. I had hundreds and hundreds of Facebook “friends”, whom I was never really friends with, but felt like I should add them because I saw them around school. “Following” people felt more like purely your choice.
In Generation Like, groups of young kids spoke of how “liking” on social media was a form of validation. How more likes, meant empowerment. They bragged about their social media likes, and worried when they weren’t reaching their standards.
Author Danah Boyd stated in the video, “It’s harder and harder for kids to get attention.” That’s so true. With so many personalities on display for us daily, it’s no wonder today’s kids have to scrap their way to the front of the pack.
It’s crazy for me to think that young teens these days use Twitter and Facebook as their first outlets of expression. Hotmail, Messenger, and Myspace were more private and because of their newness, they seemed not as exploitative. I’ve always considered myself part of a very selective age group, probably those born between 1991-1995, that barely missed the complete overtake of social media. We grew up as the tide of popular social media outlets crashed over society.
Middle school is a confusing time to find yourself. The newness of such a social media as Myspace, felt like they were finding themselves as well. Facebook was more popular and edgy and open, which was what high school was all about. College is stressful and there isn’t time for much, just as Twitter allows us a quick, 140-character excerpt about our day. Who knows what social media will emerge as the newest for my middle-aged years.
Growing up on the cusp of popular social media, I feel like I’ve bared witness to an evolution of technology. I feel sad for today’s kids who have never known life without it. I wonder who I would be today without it. I wonder what the impact of it will have on my future career in the Advertising and Public Relations, besides the obvious “perks” of knowing how to target young consumers. It’s allowed for so much progress in the world, but I can’t help but be skeptical as to how far social media will go in the future.