The rise of generation ‘F’

Eric Schwartz | op-ed Submission

I have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Foursquare, Google+, Spotify, Turntable.fm, Bonfyre and Pinterest accounts. Although I’ll be the first to admit that my online social life may be slightly excessive, I doubt my experience is uncommon. Researchers have begun to explore this so-called “Facebook phenomenon” of having hundreds, perhaps even thousands of friends online, while having fewer truly close friends than our parents did. Matthew Brashears, a Cornell University sociologist, found in a 2010 study that adults today have, on average, 2.03 friends (maybe two people and a fish), compared to a study in 1985 that found the average was closer to five.

So what’s going on? I used to consider myself lucky that I had a way to stay connected to the multitude of people I’ve met over my lifetime. I can search Facebook by “Current City” to find friends in a new place, or check up on what a friend did last weekend through events and photos. The amount of personal information we have access to is literally overwhelming; there’s no way to absorb every story that comes across our Facebook news feed or Twitter. Photos, tweets, check-ins, pins and likes are now standard pieces of information about a person you may have only met once or twice.

Generation “F” stands for Generation “Friend,” which reflects the changing definition of the word in the context of how our social networks define it. In some ways it is a deceptive trick that facilitates more use of social websites. For us, the individual user, their loose interpretation of the word is changing how we interact with the people around us. You may be friends with someone on Facebook, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you say hi to them in Whispers. Brashears’ study doesn’t conclusively explain why our number of close friends is decreasing, but I’d like to propose one possible explanation.

The amount of access to personal information we have on acquaintances has raised the bar on who can now be considered a “close friend.” Personal information that had been previously shared face-to-face, such as photographs (on paper), details about a relationship, travel plans and even mutual interests, are now completely accessible to the online community. Life events that our parents only share with their close friends are now on a public Timeline, resulting in less ways for our generation to connect deeply with each other. We simply have fewer things to discuss.

I respect people who decide to deactivate their Facebook profiles, but I could never be one of them. I don’t necessarily believe that the answer to establishing true close friendships in the traditional sense is to swear off social media altogether. Rather, our generation must come to appreciate the value in meaningful face-to-face interactions; a facial expression or gesture that needs no explanation or the ability for someone to instantly tell when you’re not feeling 100 percent is more valuable than ever before. Social media should complement our interactions, rather than supplement them, and while I don’t see this happening as often for those of us who remember using pay phones, I worry about the babies playing with iPads. It’s only a matter of time before they learn how to download the Facebook application.

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