One of the benefits of Thanksgiving is that you get to hang out with people from different generations.
Yesterday, I hung out with someone from a different generation — a post-Millennial that I am told is from the generation known as “Gen Z.”
I explained to the Gen Z-er that my social media usage is limited to a niche news service called Twitter and an occasional dip into Facebook. The Gen Z-er smiled knowingly. She then explained that she and her friends rarely use Facebook and Twitter, but are otherwise addicted to social media.
The big winner, she says, the service that everyone uses, is Instagram.
I asked her why.
“Because parents see the little camera icon and think it’s a photo app,” she said. “They don’t know it’s a social network.”
Some people do use Snapchat, the Gen Z-er said, but parents know that one is a social network. And it has a “bad reputation,” so some kids aren’t allowed to use it. And also the pictures disappear — except when they don’t disappear because your “friend” takes a screenshot of your picture and sends it to everyone they know (and everyone knows how to do that).
Then there are Vine and Tumblr and YouTube and WhatsApp and Google Plus, et al, all of which are used for different things and by different people at different times, the Gen Z-er said. (So much for the old theory that there would be one social network to rule them all).
I asked the Gen Z-er to walk me through all of these difference use-cases and attributes. So she did.
If you’re doing “fandom,” she said — sharing excitement and news about a band, game, movie, book, show, YouTuber, et al — you use Tumblr or Instagram. You can also use Google Plus, but that’s basically like email.
If you want to hang out and chat with friends, you use Snapchat, Google Plus, Facebook, and texting. The texting, by the way, is primarily through standard texting or Apple’s iMessage. Most people don’t have WhatsApp.
If you want to look at funny stuff and post funny stuff, you use Instagram, Vine, Twitter, and maybe YouTube. Vine’s video editing tools are better than Instagram’s, the Gen Z-er says. And Instagram’s video playback is sometimes buggy.
If you want to brag about being popular and post selfies and groupies, you use Instagram and maybe Snapchat — basically anything but Vine and Twitter.)
If you’re depressed or creepy, you use Tumblr. Or you can just follow and post sad stuff on Instagram.
No one uses Facebook anymore, the Gen Z-er says. Facebook is just for old people posting pictures of their kids and grand-kids. These people, by the way, are now starting to infiltrate Instagram. They do this to try to keep an eye on their kids or to try to seem super-hip.
Pinterest, meanwhile, just gets a shake of the head from the Gen Z-er. No one uses it. (An ancient Boomer nearby pipes in to suggest that Pinterest is used by “old ladies” posting pictures of knitting. The Boomer then adds that she herself is one of these old ladies.)
What about phone calls? Do people ever talk anymore?
No, the Gen Z-er says. They just text. Everyone does have a phone number. But phone numbers are for texting, not talking.
Well, actually, the Gen Z-er adds, people who are dating occasionally talk. And also people who are doing group homework assignments.
In case anyone thinks social media has changed social dynamics in some meaningful way, rest assured — it hasn’t. Kids are still as clique-y and mean to each other as they have always been — and as adults often are. And there is still a rigid social hierarchy that everyone knows about. It’s just that the tools for imposing this hierarchy, and forever reminding everyone of their place in it, have changed.
Unpopular kids will occasionally try to become more popular by following popular kids on Instagram. The popular kids, however, may respond to this overture by blocking the unpopular kids. For an unpopular kid, being blocked by a popular kid is worse than being passively ignored by the popular kid, because everyone can see that you’re blocked. And when you’re blocked, you can’t see or share or comment on anything that the popular kids post, so you don’t even know what the popular kids are thinking or saying or liking or talking about. You also can’t even search for the popular kids, because their names won’t show up. It’s like you don’t even exist.
By the way, all the popular kids have brand new iPhones, the Gen Z-er says. Or fancy Samsungs.