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Friendster Teens and Elderly Savoire Faire

According to Danah Boyd, underage teens are signing up on Friendster as people in their 60’s. Let’s be clear about this. What does underage mean? Under 18? Under 21? The assumption is that someone is underage is they can’t be dated? However, this assumption becomes slightly ridiculous when the under 16 are more technology-savvy than the rest of us (and live on another continent). For example, I am not ashamed to admit that I learned quite a few blogging tricks from Jordanna Leah when she was 14. What’s wrong with communicating with her or linking to her blog? Extending the analogy to friendster, who’s to say that people on friendster actually want to meet? (I would say that they just want to codify connections; yes, it’s a gosh darn popularity contest). The attitude towards teens is both condescending and a little fearful. Script kiddies everywhere can ruin corporations, and yet they can’t be trusted to register on a friend network. Teens are warned about unsavory internet predators, and yet they are often the mischeif makers and the ones pushing the envelope on free speech and technology issues. Here’s my definition of adulthood: the ability to buy something on your credit card.

Emily Nussbaum writes about how blogging and other technological tools are transforming the teenage experience:

A result of all this self-chronicling is that the private experience of adolescence — a period traditionally marked by seizures of self-consciousness and personal confessions wrapped in layers and hidden in a sock drawer — has been made public. Peer into an online journal, and you find the operatic texture of teenage life with its fits of romantic misery, quick-change moods and sardonic inside jokes. Gossip spreads like poison. Diary writers compete for attention, then fret when they get it. And everything parents fear is true. (For one thing, their children view them as stupid and insane, with terrible musical taste.) But the linked journals also form a community, an intriguing, unchecked experiment in silent group therapy — a hive mind in which everyone commiserates about how it feels to be an outsider, in perfect choral unison.

For many in the generation that has grown up online, the solution is not to fight this technological loss of privacy, but to give in and embrace it: to stop worrying and learn to love the Web. It’s a generational shift that has multiple roots, from Ricki Lake to the memoir boom to the A.A. confessional, not to mention 13 seasons of ”The Real World.” The teenagers who post journals have (depending on your perspective) a degraded or a relaxed sense of privacy; their experiences may be personal, but there’s no shame in sharing. As the reality-television stars put it, exposure may be painful at times, but it’s all part of the process of ”putting it out there,” risking judgment and letting people in. If teen bloggers give something up by sloughing off a self-protective layer, they get something back too — a new kind of intimacy, a sense that they are known and listened to. This is their life, for anyone to read. As long as their parents don’t find out.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • zephoria 5/19/2004, 4:28 pm

    Underage refers to Clause 1 in the Terms of Service: “You must be eighteen or over to register as a member of Friendster or use the Web site.” This is a localized reference and i do not mean to suggest that people under 18 don’t date or wouldn’t find value from the site, simply that they are actually not permitted to participate.

  • Robert 5/19/2004, 4:35 pm

    And why aren’t they allowed to participate? Because Friendster as a corporation doesn’t want to be seen as assisting contacts between people of different ages. Aside from the fact that preventing this is probably impossible (in an age of easy persona creations), it reflects a naive and legally conservative point of view. I guess in this digital age it’s becoming harder to “protect the innocent” and separate childhood from adulthood.

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