Mirror, mirror: here’s how I use social media

Whats in your mirror?  Courtesy:  Lamerie/Flickr

What's in your mirror? Courtesy: Lamerie/Flickr

(A blog post in which I ask and answer the new-age questions about why I use social media the way I do, and why my teenage son uses it the way he does.)

If I had one of those now unemployed Ernst & Young business process consultants sitting next to me, watching how I use social media, here’s what they’d observe:

  • I receive frequent Facebook status updates by email, which are cryptic enough to make me go on the page and try to figure out what they were in reference to, e.g. “I know what you mean!  LOL!”  I noticed about two weeks ago that I STOPPED getting updates from my son.  Yup, he de-friended me.  Fortunately, one of his friends invited me to be her friend, so maybe I can vicariously keep a finger on the pulse that way.  (My son writes a lot of songs that he posts on Facebook, which I really miss seeing.  But he took the advice of a friend that maybe it isn’t such a hot idea to give your mother complete visibility on your life during your senior year in high school.)
  • LinkedIn status updates, which come every few days, are generally boring.  I really don’t care who people are connecting to.  I swear, there’s one former colleague who connects to four or five people a day.  In my head, I hear his voice in an echo chamber, exclaiming like Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin, “I’m the most powerful genie in the WORLD!”  I like to use LinkedIn for purely professional contacts, and I like having access to info about what my professional friends are doing these days.
  • Because I have been crazy busy the past few weeks, I turned off my mobile tweets that used to come through every few SECONDS (dial 40404 and then type ‘off’).  I plunge in every few days, always find good stuff right away, do a few tweets and jump back out of the Twitter ocean.  I also get the occasional DM (direct message), like one from @sacramentopress asking me if I could take some pics of the wild chickens in my neighborhood.  One of my son’s friends follows me on Twitter, although to be honest, I’m not sure she knows it’s me since I tweet as @philanthrophile.
  • I haven’t logged back in to my Google Reader yet, which makes me re-log in every two weeks.  I know if I start reading posts, I’ll want to blog and I haven’t had time this week.
  • And, obviously, I haven’t blogged for about two weeks.  I don’t let myself blog until after I’ve done the important project stuff.  It’s my treat to myself.  Really.  Silent running, of course, has had a predictably negative effect on traffic.  My blog traffic climbed to 1,640 views per month in July.  Strangely, traffic was up early this week but it’s in the dumper again after being silent for so long.
  • My number one tool for communication?  Email.  I am a monster on email.  For me, it is social.  I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone although I text a lot.

The same E&Y process consultant would observe the following re: my son:

  • His phone is an appendage, but not so much for talking.  It buzzes with new texts almost constantly.  During dinner last night, one friend – the same friend – texted him in three minute intervals.  “Okay,” I said finally, “you can respond to Glenn!”  When he answers a ring (the ring tone changes every few days – last night it was Rocky Horror picture show), the greeting is always the same, “Hey, what’s up?”  The conversation is always less than two minutes.  It is usually followed by a succession of other short calls or text messages to coordinate whatever’s happening.  He has moved past the grunting stage of teen communication but doesn’t really enjoy the phone.  Especially Skype calls.  Just ask his sister.
  • His next best electronic friend is Facebook.  It beats out his ipod and gaming.  If he goes to a concert, he posts photos within an hour.  He literally cannot go to bed without doing this.  He is almost immediately embraced by friends who ‘like’ his photo or make comments.  He uses Facebook to coordinate group activities.  Tuesday has become drive-in movie night this summer, so he uses his status update to find out who’s in.
  • He thinks it’s a little strange that I have adopted Twitter, when he hasn’t.  (We parents are not supposed to lead when it comes to electronic adoption.)  But then, only one of his friends is on Twitter, and I’m not sure he even knows that.
  • He checks email only under duress.  Seriously, he hates it.  He has a teacher that communicates that way and he knows colleges use it, but it’s like taking out the garbage – you have to be reminded.

This week, Mashable (the central repository for all things social media) has been talking about why teenagers don’t tweet, in response to Neilson data that teens represent only about a quarter of Twitter traffic (although it doesn’t count those doing it on mobile, so it under-represents them).  So I’ve been turning an anthropologist’s mirror on my own social media usage and that of my 17-year-old son’s, thinking about why we have the patterns that we do.  I don’t think it’s that complicated:

Facebook is really, really satisfying.  He was pulled into Facebook by his college-aged sister, but quickly preferred the cleaner interface and smaller amount of junk.  He doesn’t have to think about a 140 character limit.  The status bar is long enough to accomodate whatever he usually wants to say.

His Facebook traffic is limited to his friends (which do not include me as of two weeks ago).  You can be followed by anyone on Twitter.  Sure, you can actively block people – I block the X-rated types that regularly offer me naughty videos – but that takes effort.  He would rather more actively friend people or accept a friend invitation (or not).

Additional groups – via fan pages – are easy to engage with.  Friends send you a status report that they’re a member of, say, their high school’s fan group.  All you have to do is press connect and it’s linked to your Facebook page.  Your causes and fan pages become a part of your identity on Facebook.  That’s less true with Twitter twibes and LinkedIn groups, plus there are an irritating number of people in those groups who are essentially advertising themselves or their services.

Facebook handles media uploads really easily.  My son recorded a song in memory of our dog’s unexpected death via Facebook.  He didn’t even Flip video record it or record it on Garage Band, his built-in Mac Book tool.

Facebook turns him on to stuff on the Internet, like youtube videos.  He doesn’t spend much time surfing on the Internet.  I don’t know of any sites he checks regularly, other than, perhaps, Fandango.  But friends find stuff and post links as part of a status update.  Voila!  Internet finds thanks to Facebook.

Facebook is so much a part of his life he can’t imagine going on vacation without it.  I know how Michelle Obama feels.

Bottomline:  Facebook is a great product for his needs.  Until something better comes along, AND his friends migrate, he’s not going anywhere.

Unlike my son, I do not like to be electronically tethered when I’m on vaca  (see?  it feels like a tether to me and a lifeline to him… hmm…) … so don’t expect to see a post until on or about August 20th!  Off to meet my daughter in Europe!

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