Facebook’s So Uncool, But It’s Morphing Into a Different Beast

What does 2014 hold for your online life? If you’re young, it probably won’t involve Facebook that much.

This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks instead, while the worst people of all, their parents, continue to use the service.

As part of a European Union-funded study on social media, we are running nine simultaneous 15-month ethnographic studies in eight countries. What we’ve learned from working with 16-18 year olds in the UK is that Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.

Instead, four new contenders for the crown have emerged: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. This teaches us a number of important lessons about winning the app war.

Slick isn’t always best

It’s worth noting that the sites and apps that have stolen the hearts of Facebook exiles are no match for it in terms of functionality. Most of the school children in our survey recognised that in many ways, Facebook is technically better than Twitter or Instagram. It is more integrated, better for photo albums, organising parties and more effective for observing people’s relationships.

None of these four have the range of integrated functions found on Facebook. WhatsApp is better for messaging and is now said to have overtaken Facebook as the number one way to send mobile messages. But it doesn’t begin to compare as an overall social network site. Neither can the others. This suggests that the dynamics of new media may depend on factors other than function.

Who’s watching you? Who cares?

Many in journalism and elsewhere wanted Facebook to fall. As Facebook became a behemoth, it started to be seen by some as an evil data corporation that represented global neo-liberal capitalism. The company has long been accused of hoovering up your user data and giving advertisers access to it. This year, concern over this type of activity reached an all time high, when it became clear that the NSA was accessing Facebook information. But young people haven’t gone to the expected alternatives. A lot of them have turned to Snapchat, a picture-sharing service that allows you to send pictures that disappear seconds after they have been sent.

While users are migrating from Facebook, they don’t appear to be doing it to make a statement about mass surveillance or big corporations. One of the most popular alternatives is Instagram, a site which allows you to upload and share photos. And who owns this site? Facebook, of course. Among our UK subjects, there was no evidence that these issues affected their choice of social networking service.

My mum wants to friend me

What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person’s decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request. You just can’t be young and free if you know your parents can access your every indiscretion. The desire for the new, also drives each new generation to find their own media and this is playing out now in social media. It is nothing new that young people care about style and status in relation to their peers, and Facebook is simply not cool anymore.

For anthropologists each media is best defined in relation to the others, what we call polymedia. So Facebook may look the same in 2014, but it has changed by virtue of this new competition. In my school research, the closest friends are connected to each other via Snapchat, WhatsApp is used to communicate with quite close friends and Twitter the wider friends. Instagram can include strangers and is used a little differently.

Facebook, on the other hand, has become the link with older family, or even older siblings who have gone to university. To prevent overgrazing as others beasts have occupied its terrain, Facebook has to feed off somewhere else. It has thereby evolved into a very different animal.

Daniel Miller does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


*Image of a screen with Facebook on it via Shutterstock

*Image of a thumbs up and thumbs down via Shutterstock



Category: Tech Social Media

  • GallopingGoat

    I don’t like the data collection FB practices, but it is a price I am willing to pay for reconnection with my friends. I’ve lived in Africa, England, Spain, the US, and traveled much more for work – almost all of that before I was 25. Keeping in touch with friends was literally impossible. I have been able to reconnect with so many with FB, and I’ve so enjoyed that. Frankly, I’m a boring consumer for FB!

    • Jasmine starlight

      Wow Galloping Goat, you certainly do a lot of galloping around…how exciting it seems.
      I see where FB would be a great for you…. it’s important to stay connected, and fun to see what everyone is up to.

    • HessenBalkan

      I’m in the same situation, I lived in many places and have friends all over. FB helps me keeping in touch with them. I made sure I don’t have it on the phone, I don’t like this being tracked all the time.

    • Sharyn G.

      I can see using FB as an online address book in that way, so people can find you. Yes. I just can’t stand all the annoying daily posters who have to tell you that they just checked in at Teriyaki Hut and had shrimp.

      • geezer 56

        I have one FB friend who does that almost exclusively–Mary is at Starbucks. Mary is at Applebee’s. Mary is at X church. She’s actually very sweet, but she’s her own walking GPS system.

        • Sharyn G.

          Right, exactly. I have a friend from high school and the things he posts are downright embarrassing. And, he co-tweets everything via that account so it’s there as well. He will tell you where he ate, check in there, post a photo if what he ate, what he is listening to and a link, where he is going, et cetera., AND usually a few selfies to go along with them. I mean, maybe he’s just bored, but he’s been doing it for about four years straight. That’s a lot of work, actually. I don’t think some folks realize how easy it would be to steal your identity when you could really just learn to be someone by watching all of that. Plus he uses his real birthdate, job history, place of birth. The only thing really missing is mother’s maiden name. You could get fake ID and pretend to be him at the bank. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

        • TweetyBird

          Maybe when Mary’s home is burglarized because they know she’s not there she’ll stop doing that.

          • geezer 56

            Oh, jeez, really! I’d mention that to her next time I see her, except I haven’t even figured out yet how exactly to broach the subject–“Mary, why do you do that?”

  • Jasmine starlight

    Not a fan of FB….things evolve, I hope a better place in borne….FB is a sell out now, like Huffington Post too.
    Change is coming down the pike :)
    At least FB dosnt rule the web, and there are options to using it. It seems when one has a monopoly on something, too much power, the user evidently ends up getting screwed.

    • Erich Brandenberger

      Are you hinting that HP might backpedal?

      • capkelly

        Good question. They sure lost a huge number of their loyal, longtime posters.

      • takawalk

        This web is a ever changing place, if they do back pedal it might be done too late. I am sure HP will do well, and am hoping to find someplace else so they do so without me.

        • TweetyBird

          I won’t go back even if they do reverse their disastrous decisions, not after they outright LIED to their members. And the sneaky way they did it. Nope, my eyes have been opened to how corrupt and greedy they are and they’ll never get another click from me.

  • abxnomore

    Well, this is good news. Who wants to be part of a corporate controlled operation that only wants to mine your data and personal information. Plus, hopefully people are learning that being connected 24/7 may not be such a good thing.

  • Robin S Summertown

    I tried it at the urging of a friend. I lasted about a year and when they arbitrarily changed me to the new format, that was the end for me. I immediately removed myself.

    This article touched on it, urging from family and friends to keep in touch. That is the only reason my friend gives for being there. To me that is just not enough of a reason to stay when there are so many other possibilities out there.

    • Sharyn G.

      I used it until I started thinking how pathetic I looked posting selfies. I realized I had nothing to really say, ever, and neither did anyone else unless it was to totally BRAG. How sad.

      Then I stopped using it and people wondered what was wrong with ME!

      • Veronica James

        I’ve never posted a selfie, nor would I.

        • Sharyn G.

          Smart of you. My aunt kept asking me what I looked like, so I relented. Then I took more and kinda got into it. Then I realized I felt like a d-bag.

  • previously2008

    I have never been a fan of FB, at it’s height I was constantly and throughout the ensuing years approached by friends to join…..no, I always valued my privacy and had no time for what I saw as a complete waste of my time and would never and have never joined. Now as it turns out I am thankful that I never did, for a society that recently has become so concerned with their privacy they seem to have no problem tweeting, insta…anything and revealing all to the world through FB. Hypocrisy at it’s best IMO.
    At 65 my friends and family have my mailing address, phone number and email address. I am reachable… I keep in touch through newsletters to those in my life that matter to me. I could care less about attracting “friends” that I don’t know, or hearing about what they ate for breakfast or where they are going.
    I have always valued the word…a letter, a card that expresses your feelings, that tells me news of your family and life…that someone took the time to communicate with me and likewise me to them. I was brought up to send thank you letters to family for gifts, today I am saddened that my grandchildren don’t seem to know what a thank you note is.
    Communication and the written word are being pushed out of our lives with abbreviations, spelling is a thing of the past and instant gratification is rewarded with how many “friends” fan you on FB.
    Thank you very much, but I will continue to communicate through the written word even though it seems not to be in fashion any longer.
    From A Blue Heart in the Red state of MS.

    • birddogs II

      Well said!

    • Sharyn G.

      And I hate it that people are miffed if you don’t have a cell phone.

      The truth is that people simply have no patience these days. And they can’t stand to be without an electronic device for fifteen minutes. GAWD forbid they get “bored” and actually have to use their imagination.

      • VincentTPackhorse

        I can be reached by telegraph or pony express.

        Yours truly,
        …_ .. _. _._. . _. _

        • Sharyn G.

          I love it!!!!!

          … …. .- .-. -.– -.

          (Possibly totally messed up)

          • VincentTPackhorse

            Absolutely correct, and nice penmanship I might add!

          • Sharyn G.

            I still had my old “Handbook for the Marine” ha ha!

      • previously2008

        Sharyn I have enjoyed your comments here and the hard work you did in bringing people here from HP… myself included. The first couple of days of being locked out I did read the comments and thus found one of yours.

        In 09′ I found HP and slowly weaned myself off the local paper here in Natchez due to the racism and bigotry that was overwhelming. Not being from the South to say I was horrified is putting it mildly.

        I had made over 8,000 comments, I had over 2,000 fans and was a Networker Superuser, Predictor & Moderator, which I used sparingly on HP. Since 02′ I had been a caretaker for my mother, since 05′ housebound with her care and used HP not only as a source of information, and communication but also as a means to communicate with other like minded people across the country to keep me sane while living in Mississippi since Katrina.
        Over the years of my caretaking (Mother passed last 12/28 at 100) it came to me that one of the biggest “life lessons” presented to me under the circumstances was patience. I realized that patience affects every aspect of our lives.. like pain. Over the past 8 years I have worked very hard at trying to approach life with patience…(not always easy for me). We live in such an “instant gratification” world that it is no wonder children of today not only have no patience but also no imagination (for the most part). All the technological devices that we provide our children and grandchildren with today are IMHO slowly eroding their capability to not only communicate but also encapsulates them in a world of limited possibilities. Instead of taking part in life they are captives of their devices and grow up to walk the city streets as adults never looking up from their cell phones, Ipads and their grown up devices. From my vantage point I am sorry for all the things they are missing out on by not even looking up and experiencing the world around them.
        Formally Natchez on HP

        • Sharyn G.

          Thank you. Everything you said is so poignant. It’s really crazy how the world has sped up so fast that no one has really realized it. I’m sure you value the life lessons you learned in your care taking, you’d be hard-pressed to try and successfully explain them to any young person today. They don’t have the time for it and won’t make it. The worst thing today that I see is when people speak to you face to face (who are my own age, 40’s) while checking emails or playing a game. I don’t think there’s anything that says “you are not important to me in any way” much clearer than that. That’s all you need to know about them.

          • previously2008

            My son (in his 40’s) lived in Manhattan for quite a few years (loved visiting him there) during my 8 years of being “housebound” as well as when he moved home to San Francisco. On those visits out of my house is when I saw the younger generations with their faces never leaving their “screens”. I am very fortunate even though my son is in the tech business he has never been one to allow himself to be all consumed by his devices. Now with his 2nd child due in a week a recent move to Seattle I am confident he and his family will not be plugged in … he is a firm believer in allowing children to be children for as long as they can…..which I allowed him to be.

            I worked in Beverly Hills for over 20 years and had to carry a cell phone 24/7 in the line of work I did. Now my husband has to remind me to put it in my purse when I leave the house as most of the time it’s not charged nor do I even know where it is…..

            Your point….I don’t think there’s anything that says “you are not important to me in any way” much clearer than that. That’s all you need to know about them….. is an excellent observation that I only wish more people would consider. The “me and mine mentality” of today will I have no doubt continue to result in very selfish people as witnessed by a certain group in politics that have no conscious, empathy or concern about the welfare of those in need.
            I wonder if their will ever be a study about the direct correlation of the “me and mine” generations and the advent of all these technological devices?

          • Sharyn G.

            So very true. The “me and mine mentality” is housed at no better place than twitter and Instagram, and Facebook. It seems youth today care only about posting ever-more seductive looking selfies and bragging online.

          • geezer 56

            So true. I mentioned my friend who posts her location multiple times a day. I was at a party with this same lady not too long ago. We’re sittin’ on the porch together, and I’m trying to have a conversation with her, but she’s glued to her phone, checking the sports scores and the dang weather in about eight different places. And it goes on & on. Finally I just stood up without a word & went to talk to someone else–and she probably thought I was the rude one! Again, she truly is a nice lady, but she got the smart-phone bug. It’s everywhere.

          • Sharyn G.

            Yes. Smart phones an make an idiot out of anyone. I purposefully leave mine at home when I go out. I use it, but mostly when I’m on my exercise bike so that I’m killing two birds with one stone. I never ever use it in front of someone unless they need help or have a question that I can look up. I just consider it the height of rudeness.

  • VincentTPackhorse

    I have an e-mail address and a phone number. If you have the same, I can reach you and you can reach me.

    Additional, if I wish to see what’s up at the Smithsonian or heaven forbid, Justin Bieber, I’ll go to their respective web-sites.

    I don’t need a middleman—with ads to boot.

    (Boy you are a cranky old man.)

    • Sharyn G.

      You’re not cranky just smart.

      • VincentTPackhorse

        Thank you very much, Sharyn, for your kind word. Might I also say that you are astoundingly perceptive.

        (Next to my wife and my cat, I am the third smartest person in my family.)

        • Sharyn G.

          Thank you kind sir. And your wife and cat are lucky to have you.

  • Sharyn G.

    With the help of the Bluffington Post.

  • Gin1234

    Instagram is owned by FB and is up and coming, so FB could just rename itself and be relevant again. They think up ways to fool people all the time. In time, it will just be a has been. I can’t wait.

  • geesepeace

    “A lot of them have turned to Snapchat, a picture-sharing service that allows you to send pictures that disappear seconds after they have been sent.” The problem with that, as a recent case showed, is people can take a screen grab of the photo and continue to circulate it after is ‘disappears’ on snapchat; so young people will be sadly mistaken if they think that is a safe way to send x rated photos.

  • geesepeace

    I like facebook for some things, it is a quick way to organize people to get something done. When news came out here that a guy in Whistler, BC killed 100 sled dogs, overnight a facebook page with over 18,000 people on it formed to get some kind of justice for these dogs. You share information, articles, email addresses, petitions. I’m pretty sure without this effort by so many people this would have been swept under the rug. When the DNR had a ‘swat team’ go into a small animal rescue in Wisconsin and kill a fawn named Giggles a FB group formed within minutes….thanks to the pressure of so many people the governor of WI ordered an investigation so this type of thing did not happen again. I’m not surprised some young people with little interest in anything other than posting selfies and arranging parties don’t use FB much, but it is a very good place for causes.

  • likeIsaid

    This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, I would have been more taken aback if Facebook was able to keep the attention span of the younger generation in the long term. One of the cardinal features of youth is the crazes that come and go. In the 1980s, one minute everyone had a Rubik’s cube/Yo-yo/leg warmers/disco skates/ra-ra skirt (well OK, not the boys) and the next minute if you were unfortunate enough to have parents who required extensive pestering before they gave in you were left holding a prize that was simultaneously expensive and useless as far as being with the in crowd was concerned. Internet and smartphone-based crazes are the new Rubik’s cube. Even without the effect of receiving friend requests from your parents (I even find this slightly disturbing and I’m in my mid-40s!) they would have got bored of Facebook sooner or later and moved on.

    I only joined up because my sister was on it. It snowballed to my having 200 or so friends, most of whom are people I went to school with, who hadn’t contacted me in 25 years, and who rarely contacted me again once I had accepted their friend request. Most of the rest are family, who will email or phone me if they have something useful or important to say, and people I see every day in any case. The sooner the whole thing withers the better.

    • likeIsaid

      Nearly forgot body warmers and tank tops! Without hint of irony we were banned from wearing them indoors at school as otherwise we wouldn’t “feel the benefit” when going outside.

  • geezer 56

    I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but the uncomfortable fact is that it provides me with daily access to family and friends who, otherwise, I’d hear from maybe once a year, if that. It also saves a lot of time, since you don’t have to tell 50 different people the same dang thing over & over in e-mails and phone calls. I also found a long-lost and much-missed cousin on FB. We’d lost touch for so many years, I never thought I’d hear from him again. And of course, it’s good for a laugh. My friends and family are pretty funny–plus, we we are mostly old farts, so we appreciate a lot of the same things and share a complete lack of interest in hooking up at parties or gossiping about Tiffany’s appalling new boyfriend.

    • AskandTell

      I agree…it is a wonderful tool to keep connected to relatives and friends that before you’d connect with once a year through a Christmas card.

      • geezer 56

        Exactly. So I have to face it, I’m kinda hooked. But I try to be vigilant about checking my privacy settings and never saying something there I wouldn’t necessarily want engraved on my headstone.

        • imamouse

          Dustin Hoffman once said all he wants said on his headstone is “I knew this was going to happen”.

          • Cougar90210

            Never heard that one, but that would be a pretty good epitaph.

          • geezer 56

            Love it!

    • TweetyBird

      But at what point does the price become too high to pay? With all the privacy breaches and their constantly changing policies and ever more intrusive ads, will you ever say enough?

      I’m not trying to be snarky or critical, but I’m genuinely curious. Obviously you value the connections it helps you maintain. I know a lot of people who use it for that very reason. It’s the always increasing, ever intrusive data mining of personal information that kept me from ever joining. So I just wonder what it will take for its users to finally say no more. Care to offer any insight?

      • geezer 56

        No offense taken. I’ve asked myself that question, actually. The problem is, I would lose almost all contact with most of my FB friends and a hefty percentage of my family if FB just went away or if I just dug my heels in and canceled my account. Most people I know live over a thousand miles away from me, so FB has been a bit of a godsend. So at the moment, with things as they are right now, discontinuing FB would be like chopping off my nose to spite my face. I can ignore the ads, and I never post any info on there that I wouldn’t be comfortable with the whole world seeing–even my “likes.” It could be that FB will eventually do something egregious enough for me to stop, but at this point I really don’t know what that would be. If they started charging an actual fee for it, I’d probably have to give it up.

        • TweetyBird

          Interesting. I’d rather pay a (reasonable) fee for a secure site that didn’t sell my information to everybody. I don’t know of one, though.

          • geezer 56

            Yeah, but to make it worthwhile, you’d have to get everyone ELSE to pay to join. I love these people, but getting them all to agree just on what to have for dinner would be a real feat. 😉

          • TweetyBird

            Good point. I guess I will remain a social media virgin.

          • geezer 56

            Hey, if I had a lively social life in “real” life, I would never have bothered. Geographical isolation, zero interest in texting, and impatience with lengthy, expensive phone calls kinda made the choice for me. Still have to individually e-mail those who won’t join, but they’re worth it.

        • LaFemmeNikitty

          I don’t know anyone who’s ever clicked on a site’s ad, read it and then bought the item. At the risk of sounding like a true paranoiac, what is it they are really selling, and who is really buying it? What is data mining’s real intention and who benefits?

          • geezer 56

            Oh man, you’re asking the wrong person! I honestly have no idea. The creepy thing is it must work just often enough to make it worthwhile.

  • Julia Oceania

    So, the younger folks don’t care if Big Brother gets into their business, or if their activity is used to market to them, but they don’t want mom in their business… and the world revolves around the same as 10000 years ago. What is true today is true in any year

    • Cougar90210

      I think it has to do with self-absorbtion, as well as the “outa sight, outa mind” mentality that young people generally have. Most don’t even think for a second about what they are doing when they share intimate, or emotional, or simply inappropriate thoughts with the entire world. Big Brother – who’s that?

      • Sharyn G.

        Just like twitter and instagram. Oh! The things kids post! And the photos. Wow.

        • Cougar90210

          And it’s not JUST kids. The idiot comments that politicians and performers make off the cuff on Twitter, etc. – and then spend days trying to back peddle from – are amazing. Self-control just seems to be in limited supply these days.

          • Sharyn G.

            That’s true. Look at what Geraldo posted last summer !!!!

            “70 is the new 50” he wrote and posted a half-naked selfie. THAT was hard to unsee.

    • Sharyn G.

      They’re all back at myspace is what I read. Ha ha. Facebook deserves it.

      • Julia Oceania

        I liked myspace until it was bought out. I liked that I could decorate it. I liked that I could embed tunes into it. I even wrote blogs there once upon a time.

        • Sharyn G.

          Sounds much more personal and creative.

  • Sharyn G.

    “This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of Facebook. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks…”

    Which explains the sudden “deal” with Huffpoo.

    And yet huffpoo says there’s no financial agreement. Uh huh.

    Facebook joined the S&P 500 two days ago.

  • LaFemmeNikitty

    I wish crackbook would go the way of myspace. I’ve seen real life people ruined because their addiction to it is so pervasive their lives just end up in the toilet.

    • geezer 56

      And ruin it for the rest of us?

      • LaFemmeNikitty


  • Devey Elise

    I’ve always been against fb. And every time they do something evil to it’s flock it just reaffirms my decision to not join. I’m a rebel like that :)

  • http://redlandcityliving.com/ Janet from Redland City Living

    My kids are into something called Ask FM – where people can ask them any question, anonymously – scary!

  • gmb007

    With the advent of HP-FB ReichPost, Facebook just became even MORE uncool.

  • Tamir

    I came across this interesting service today (http://www.shizup.com). Seems to take a different approach for handling the inherent privacy awkwardness of FB. It’s not live yet so can’t really vouch for it, but from what it says on their site it sure looks promising.