Why teens will leave Facebook in the next two years

Why teens will leave Facebook in the next two years I actually drafted this post several months ago, but am finally publishing it now in light of some other blog posts that are coming out. Among others, Anastasia Goodstein writes about Facebook and youth social networking fatigue, Libby Issendorf says that gen Y lost that loving feeling for Facebook, and Adam McLanes writes about how MTV lost their “cool factor” with this generation.

The cycle of youth culture

It’s really not surprising to me that this is happening. It’s the cycle of youth culture. Teens gravitate to something, usually under criticism from adults, until it becomes common and mainstream. As the adults eventually start adopting it themselves, teens gradually move on to something else.

Remember that, in his day, Elvis Presley was greatly criticized for his gyrating hips and the moral values his followers were adopting, but eventually his music became common among adults, parents, and teens alike. So, teens moved on to other flavors of rock and roll. As those flavors became mainstream with adults, teens moved once again to alternative rock. And so on…

Mark Oestreicher, in his book, Youth Ministry 3.0, summarizes it well:

Youth culture has become the dominate culture…. Middle-aged and younger parents listen to the same music their teenagers listen to (or, at least, used to listen to)…. Clothing brands cross age barriers…. Adults are all over Facebook and MySpace. …youth culture cannot stand by while it becomes completely commoditized and commonplace. That rubs against the essential fabric of adolescence…. Teenagers’ constant need to differentiate from the adult world… drives them to new, “other” ways of connecting, coping, and creating. Every time some aspect of youth culture becomes commoditized and mainstream, accepted by adults and culture at large, teenagers tweak it in a new way for themselves or create a whole new category. Case in point: All Web-watchers and adolescent speculators were still convinced that teenagers were going to continue using email and online chat rooms to connect with each other virtually, but teenagers slid out from under that and embraced instant messaging. Then we adults… were shocked… that teens would slide out from under our assumptions about their IM use and move to texting as the most common form of social networking. (Pages 65, 66, 68.)

It’s impossible to predict what teens will move toward next, but I will take the liberty of going on record to say that the general population of teens will move away from Facebook in the next two years.

This is becoming more and more evident as young adults like Julian Smith are annoyed that grandparents are joining Facebook. In his popular video, 25 Things I Hate About Facebook, Julian says there should be an age limit to Facebook (1:14 in the video).

Some teens I know still love Facebook and use it daily, but not everyone. Actually, what prompted me to write this blog post a couple months ago was a conversation I had with a teen who said he closed his Facebook account because there’s too many adults there and it’s too bloated with random features he doesn’t care about.

So what’s next?

I have no idea what they’ll gravitate toward as teens stop checking Facebook multiple times a day and start checking it only once a day, eventually checking it a couple times a week and then only once in a while, but I think it will have a couple elements:

1. It will not be tethered to a computer. Although Facebook has a mobile version and features, it’s still largely bound to a computer. As teens become more and more mobile and as smart phone data plans become more common, their networking will move to a mobile device that connects to a computer rather than the other way around.

2. It will still enhance and lead to face-to-face socializing. When the telephone was gaining traction, the criticism was that people would no longer meet face-to-face to talk and the dangers of miscommunication from not seeing body language would create a lot of problems. Today we all know people still continue to meet face-to-face anyway. The telephone just extended our communication. Oddly enough, however, that’s the same argument that was made when I was younger and email and IM was gaining traction, except that those communication methods didn’t even have talking involved! But yet, here we are today still meeting in person, despite all the text messaging and social networking sites. Remember, God has created mankind with an innate need for relationships, primarily with Himself, but also with each other. That face-to-face component will never go away, just the expressions of it change as technology and youth culture continues to develop.

One possibility of something teens might gravitate toward is something like Loopt, a social service that utilizes the GPS capabilities of newer phones to show you where your friends are in proximity to you, what they’re doing, and quickly contact them so you can meet together face-to-face. (This Apple commercial explains it a bit more.) Whether or not it will reach the widespread acceptance like Facebook is yet to be seen (I kinda think it won’t).

Whatever teens move toward, though, it will initially come under criticism from adults just like MySpace and Facebook did. Soon enough adults will accept it and cause the teens to once again move elsewhere, but thus is the cycle of youth culture and all the subsequent challenges of youth ministry.

What do you think?

Do you think it will take teens longer than two years to move to something else? Shorter? Will Facebook be able to keep up with the morphing trends in culture and adolescence? Have an idea of what they’ll move toward after Facebook? Would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Posted on April 8, 2009

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