Age Lines on Facebook

Is Facebook fading in importance, in particular among the very people who used to be its target market: college students and recent graduates?

I had a beer with my 25-year-old daughter Jen and Laura, her friend from high school, before seeing a performance of The Nutcracker in mid-December. I mentioned something about Facebook, and was surprised by their animosity toward the site. They both agree that they did not like what it is (too serious, a soapbox for self-promotion, populated by arrogant and self-absorbed Gen Ys) and missed what it was (fun and a safe way to meet people in college, a closed community). They both also did not like that it was now a place for parents – yes, me – to go. (Note: My daughter has friended me but 21-year-old son says he won’t.)

Their perspective is, of course, is easily dismissed as useless information because it is entirely anecdotal. I personally know other people in their 20s and 30s who do use it and share enormous amounts of information and photos.

And Facebook Statistics clearly don’t support the notion that it is fading in importance, even among younger people: 350 million members, each with an average of 130 friends, 8 friend requests per month, and 3 event invitations per month. Facebook crossed the 200 million member mark in April 2009, so membership has increased by 75% in some nine months or by more than 16 million members per month. Facebook has more than 101 million members in the US as of December 31, 2009, and according to CheckFacebook.com, of the 95 million US members it had as of November 3, 2009, slightly more than 50% are between the ages of 18 and 34. Facebook is growing overseas as well but numbers in any country are dwarfed by US membership, with the UK coming in a distant second with some 22.6 million members. The largest growth rates over the last 12 months are in the Philippines (2046.8% growth), Indonesia (1536.7% growth), and Thailand (1063.8% growth).

Nevertheless, there seems to be some increasing disillusionment with Facebook, though I know of no definitive trend in any age group that has been reported, other than among members 55 and older, whose ranks diminished by some 600,000 in April and May 2009. Type “Facebook sucks” into the Google rectangle and “about 19,600,000″ results show up. (This is so unscientific I won’t even make a claim about validity.) But there are also some thoughtful, reasoned articles about quitting Facebook that intrigued me:

  • Carmen Joy King at Adbusters: “The amount of time I spent on Facebook had pushed me into an existential crisis. It wasn’t the time-wasting, per se, that bothered me. It was the nature of the obsession – namely self-obsession. Enough was enough. I left Facebook.”
  • Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times writes about friends quitting: “If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.”
  • Singer Lily Allen, quoted by Anita Singh at showbusiness.com: “I just had this revelation that Facebook, blogging, all those things were becoming a total addiction. I’d be with my boyfriend or my mum and they’d have just got half of me. So I put my BlackBerry, my laptop, my iPod in a box and that’s the end . . . We’ve ended up in this world of unreal communications and I don’t want that. I want real life back.”
  • Hannah VanderPoel at North by Northwestern, a Northwestern University online publication: “Ultimately, my own self-prescribed hiatus from Facebook was fueled by three factors. One was to rid my life of unnecessary distraction, mostly in an attempt to finish my homework. The second was the hope of re-learning how to socialize in ways that don’t involve typing public messages to profile avatars that serve as pixeled representations of real people. Thirdly, it was the desire to regain the sense of personal privacy that I surrendered three years ago when I first created my account –- a move that I am retrospectively thankful for, given the controversy surrounding the site’s privacy policies (or lack thereof).”
  • Boston University sophomore Brendan Gauthier: “I couldn’t justify the amount of time I was spending — no, wasting — on it. Why was I looking through my friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s sorority sister’s photo albums? I didn’t even know this person, yet I could tell you what she did last weekend. . . . At what point are we willing to sacrifice real friendships for convenience? Since giving up Facebook, I’ve called my high school friends, and our conversations are much more gratifying than three words on our wall-to-wall.”

So, my questions are: Do you know people who have quit Facebook? Are you thinking about quitting yourself?