What does Facebook mean to my generation? My parents, my aunts, my uncles, my teachers, all have Facebook accounts. But in the eyes of someone my age—a college student—many of Facebook’s older users certainly don’t use the site the “right” way. There are no official rules for how to use the Facebook site; however it seems like my generation, containing the site’s primary users, has built its own etiquette for how to use Facebook and the role that it should play in an individual’s life. My generation has essentially grown up with the site and has helped shape it into what is today. The website itself has changed a great deal overtime in response to how we users have chosen to use it. The website has become dramatically “smarter” overtime, evident in the way that it can collect data from what we post, who we interact with, and what we “like,” in order to give us the experience it thinks we want each time we log on. The person whose profile you have checked multiple times will show up more in your timeline, as well as people you have a lot of conversations with in your messages, or someone who has tagged you in a lot of photos. If a photo of one of your friends gets a lot of likes, it continuously appear in you timeline as if Facebook is peer pressuring you into contributing another like. In this way, Facebook has moved from a simple form of connecting and sharing with friends online to a mode of receiving validation via the phenomenon that is the like. This is what sets my generation’s usage of Facebook apart from say my parents’ generation. They care most about sharing their lives, while we care most about building the perfect image of ourselves.
The way my parents use Facebook really has not changed since they began to use it. They post the occasional family picture, an interesting article, or a status update letting their small amount of Facebook friends know what they are up to these days. But the way that I, and many of my peer, use our Facebook profiles has changed a great deal over the years. When I first got a Facebook in 7th grade, I was Facebook friends with people from my school, and maybe some family. I would post any pictures I had of me and my friends and the occasional status update along the lines of “ugh, school is soo annoying.” My profile picture would be whatever picture of me that I had on my computer and I would pay little attention to the 4 likes that it might have gotten. But now it’s quite different. I block my parents and other family members from viewing some of the things I post to my friends. I’ve deleted all of the old photos of me that I don’t think look good. I don’t make daily updates about what I’m up to, but instead I make an occasional post about something that is really important to me. I think about what I want to like and what I don’t because I know Facebook will tell my friends what I liked. My profile pictures are carefully chosen photos that I think represent me at my best, show me with the most significant people in my life, or represent an important event in my life. Now when I choose a new profile picture, cover photo, or post a link to an interesting article, I probably do this subconsciously on the basis of how many likes I think it’s going to get, as if that represents how much my peers approve of me and what I think. I can remember back to when I posted about my college decision to attend Emory and it was a crazy next couple of hours. There was a like notification popping up on my screen every ten seconds it seemed until there were nearly 300 total. It’s a giant influx of validation that, though I really don’t need it to feel secure and confident in myself, I can’t help but enjoy the feeling. I don’t think most people, myself included, post to Facebook and Instagram in search of validation via likes. But I do think it is part of what makes us keep posting, whether we like it or not.