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Why the New Generation Is Turning Away From Facebook

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Robert Daly via Getty Images
Robert Daly via Getty Images

It seems like every week there's a new headline decrying the fact that teens are flocking from traditionally older social networks like Facebook to new apps that don't run the risk of mom liking everything they post. Journalists debate what will emerge as the "Facebook for teens," and contenders include newcomers like chat app Yik Yak, private sharing app Snapchat, and visual networks like Instagram -- or in other words, anything your parents aren't using.

As someone who is approaching the big 3-0 (gulp), I'd like to think I'm a social media early adopter and am hip with the digital trends. I was on Twitter in 2008, regularly tried out the newest shiniest apps during my time as a technology editor, and I now run a digital marketing agency, so being on top of the latest trends is part of my job description.

Despite being a tech-savvy Gen Y'er who lives online, sometimes I read an article that makes me feel like I'm being relegated to some "too old to be hip" corner of the internet where only Clint Eastwood and baby boomers hang out. The most glaring instance was an October article in Quartz about the rise of social payments app Venmo, and the clear divide between the twentysomethings who have enthusiastically adopted the app, and the thirtysomething reporters who were trying to understand the appeal.

The article highlighted what their staff called "a clash of generational cultures" -- the early twentysomething writers used Venmo constantly to split bills with roommates, divide cheques at restaurants, and even to check out the app's feed of recent transactions (because apparently some users care that their friends just paid their hydro bill). The 30-something writers not only didn't use the app, but spent a good chunk of time trying to get their colleagues to explain the value. One writer summed up the conversation (and the disparity in app users) perfectly: "that moment when everyone over 35 in the office suddenly realizes everyone under 30 lives in a different universe."

It left me with one distinct thought: I'm getting "social media old" because I know exactly zero people who use this app, and I have no desire to see a list of my friends' payments with funny messages and emojis attached.

I know 30 isn't old at all (at least that's what I'm telling myself), but there is a clear divide between the apps and social networks used by late twentysomething/early thirtysomething Gen Y'ers, and the new "digital natives" who make up Generation Z and who have never known a world without the internet (and who, according to MacLean's, will save the world).

This divide was underscored in a Medium post last week written by (gasp) an actual teenager! Andrew Watts, a 19-year-old University of Texas at Austin student, offered perspective on teens' use of various social networks based on his habits and those of his friends/classmates. Some of his observations echoed the media's tales of Facebook's decline among teens: he said Facebook is "dead to us" and is seen as "an awkward family dinner party we can't really leave." He does say it's weird if someone doesn't have Facebook since it's the easiest way to find someone, and lots of his friends use Facebook Messenger, so most teens still do have an account regardless of how little they use it.

He said teens don't understand the point of Twitter and either use it to complain or to create a personal brand for future employment (or to retweet celebs, natch), which seems to reflect lower-than-expected user growth numbers for the network.

Unsurprisingly, Watts named Instagram and Snapchat as the most popular social networks among his friends - Instagram because your parents aren't using it, Snapchat because you can share what he calls "the story of a day in your life" without the social pressure of likes and comments. While I'm an avid Instagram user, my only interest in Snapchat is reading Marketing Magazine articles about how brands are using it to connect with, you guessed it, teens.

It's only natural the next generation would use different tools to communicate, much like we adopted Facebook to connect with classmates/friends away from the prying eyes of our parents. Similar to how boomers and seniors quickly became the fastest-growing audience on Facebook (and drove away younger users in the process), it's only a matter of time until the thirtysomethings who once criticized apps like Venmo for being a silly app for teens actually become users, and the cycle begins again. Until then I'll be coming to terms with being a Gen Y early-adopter -- which turns out, isn't that powerful anymore in the world of technology.

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