I logged on to Facebook to check it out. Her sister was fourteen, a freshman in high school. She had about a thousand friends and did not have 113 likes—it had hit 115 in the thirty minutes that elapsed since Allie’s text.
It’s hard not to reconsider your own online presence after seeing that. I recently disabled Facebook, but it was still hard not to feel the attraction of the online affirmation this girl received. What did that number mean? Could I remember the names of 115 people I had spoken to in the last month, much less established the kind of connection that would lead them to like my picture?
But maybe she hadn’t, either. The more I explored, the more I realized the extent to which social media is synonymous with the actual social lives of this group below us. We could be the last age group that grew up having a distinct line between the two. Sociologists might roll their eyes at the idea of a generational gap that separates us from the kids four years younger than us, but I think there is a clear difference in the way that we interact online. These kids grew up thinking Facebook had always been open to them, instead of requiring an invitation. They sext boys in the footsteps of their leader, Selena Gomez, who had achieved all one could hope for in life: dating Bieber.
The extent to which social media outlined these girls’ lives was overwhelming. They listed every class they were taking, with every single person, sometimes including teachers, tagged. Their Timelines were immaculate records of everything they had done since birth. “Trip to Florida,” one of them had recorded, “age 11 months.”
My stalking was made easier by the fact that the overwhelming majority had not made their Tweets or profiles private. As I went through, I was hard-pressed to find a single activity without a like, favorite, or comment. It would be weird if I liked a picture an acquaintance of mine posted, but for this younger group it was a casual gesture, like a head nod in the hallway. If someone I barely knew had done that while I was a freshman, I would have texted all my friends about how creepy it was. That sense of formality, and disconnect between online and real life socialization, has apparently disappeared.
They were aided in their migration to the online world by the use and abuse of the iPhones they all got in 5th grade. I had to get straight-As my first semester of high school in order to receive my first shitty flip phone. I still remember making that agreement with my dad, panicked—“Why wouldn’t I get all A’s?” I remember asking him, nervous. Meanwhile, the generation below us moved through middle school tweeting about Justin Bieber and Instagramming pictures of “new bangs! #sexiii #yolo #thanksmom.” Pinning pictures of One Direction to their Pinterest, which is linked to their Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
When I was fourteen, I had just made a Facebook. When I got a profile, I worried about having enough activity on my Wall and likes on my profile picture. I messaged boys I liked about “homework,” conversations that led to texts and fateful iChats. Years later I stumbled across them, tossing them in the Trash bin rather than suffering the embarrassment of reading them.
“What are you doing?” a friend questioned, looking over my shoulder at a screen full of drunk fourteen-year-olds. This whole operation, of course, was extremely creepy. What was I, a no-longer-teenaged college student, doing stalking a group of recent middle school graduates? “It’s, um, for science,” I explained to my friend. “Can we take a shot for every recorded misuse of ‘literally’?” It was an assertion of our adult freedoms as much as a toast mourning our lost youth.
“Kids these days,” I muttered, swinging my cane around and adjusting my Depends. I felt about eighty years old after scrolling through two thousand inane tweets about “Mom got Cocoa Puffs #thanksbitch #swag #imeanyolo.”
I Snapchatted Allie. “Lyke for a lyke,” I typed out, across an ironic selfie. “How old do you feel right now?” I asked.
“Fuck it,” she replied. “At least we can sext without getting guys in jail.”
“Word,” I replied, sending back a quick mirror shot, and closing the last of the fourteen-year-olds’ Facebook photos.