I was talking with a friend’s younger brother the other day – make that, my friend’s much younger brother – about social networking. He’s in high school and already is heavily immersed in social media. To my amazement, he had never heard of AOL Instant Messenger.
Today when you say “social networking,” the first words that come to mind are likely Facebook and Twitter. But social networking goes far beyond these two. There’s LinkedIn, a site for professionals; there’s CafeMom, a site for parents, predominately mothers; there’s CaringBridge, a site for medical patients and their families. There are Tumblr pages and ways to Digg everything from blog posts to news articles to pictures; there’s Flickr and Facebook-owned Instagram. The ways to share information on the web are endless.
But this wasn’t always the case, and I said as much to my friend’s brother.
“When I was your age, it was all about Instant Messenger. And chat rooms.”
“What? It was once cool to be in chatrooms?” he asked, automatically making me feel about a decade older than I really am.
“Hell yah it was! A/S/L baby!” The reference flew way over his head. “Texting didn’t become popular until about 2001, so to communicate, it was all done on AIM,” I said.
I had to explain to him that Gchat was just AIM integrated into his email, but what we used was the original.
“What about MySpace?” I asked, wondering if I was only setting myself up for failure.
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that,” he replied. “Isn’t that what paedophiles use?”
Just for kicks, I logged on to my old Instant Messenger account to see if anyone used it anymore. It took me a few guesses on the password (I will never forget my 6th grade password), but I was logged in. My list of friends on Instant Messenger, once hundreds strong, was empty; not a single one of my 164 friends was logged on.
I never had a MySpace account, so there are no embarrassing photos there, but I’m sure that many of my friends still have active accounts. I asked a few people, who said that over the past few years, they deleted their MySpace accounts to shield it from potential employers, not that anything they posted in high school would be relevant to their careers.
Today, it seems like just about everybody is on Facebook; the social networking site has over a billion members. Twitter is a household word, and most of the people I know have an Instagram app on their smartphone. But 10-12 years ago, we were just getting used to having a cell phone in our pockets (I didn’t have one until my freshman year of college), and social networking was confined to sites that are, apparently, obsolete.