Closing the Social Media Generation Gap

social media youthIn tribute to the late Douglas Adams, his article on learning to accept new technologies (which at the time was the Internet) recently trended. In it, he outlines the way this happens between generations:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

At the time, he wrote about the Internet in general, but he just missed the advent of web 2.0 and the social media phenomenon. Yet, as we approach the “it’s been around for about ten years” of social media, it’s interesting to see how his ideas still hold true.


Facebook hasn’t quite been around for ten years, but we’re approaching the decade anniversary of Friendster. At the same time, we’re seeing a generation of parents alleviate their fears around social media:

Despite age restrictions on some social media sites, the number of U.S. parents who would allow children 10-12 years old to have a Facebook or MySpace account has doubled in a year, a new survey showed.

Seventeen per cent of U.S. parents questioned in the poll said they had no problem with a pre-teen child using a social media site, compared to just eight per cent a year ago. 

Just like many of us who grew up with television or radio, our children are growing up with an expanding network where friends and strangers all participate. While I can’t remember the first time I ever saw a television screen, young people won’t remember signing up for their first Facebook account. I have a vague memory of searching out this Facebook thing that people we’re talking about through an email invite, but for today’s youth, it’ll always have been “there” — like water from a tap.

Although this generation may be savvy to this technology in a way that only a native user can, there’s still the aspect of learning to negotiate relationships and communication that often only come with experience (if you don’t believe me, spend a few days in a pubescent classroom — it should bring back memories of the social drama). Without intending to trivialize issues such as cyber-bullying, I wonder, will these cyber-dangers be any different? Or will it all become the stuff of the cyber-playground?

As the gap begins to close, good parenting is something that also needs to shift online.