Parents are starting to flow online and although I’m still searching for some data on this topic I think the main reason is not at all to follow their own college-aged children, almost all of whom have been socially interacting online for many years. Rather it is to connect with their own friends and relatives as the online social universe expands to include …. virtually … everybody.
Facebook’s dignified style probably has helped with this trend as Myspace is is less appealing to the professional and parental style world view. However I think mostly we’re just seeing something of a Gladwellian “tipping point” where enough friends and relatives of online friends and relatives have come online to reach a critical mass.
Obviously we still have many years to go before “everybody” who wants to be connected online is connected, but I think we are crossing some thresholds that will be sociologically significant. One of these thresholds is the parent / child continuum, where parents like me with college age kids like Ben become “friends” on Facebook and wind up sharing types of information that are generally *not shared* between parents and their kids or the friends of their kids.
On balance I’m very optimistic about this development. I think it’s a way to *add transparency* to the system, especially for kids who are facing personal challenges and sharing information online that their parents should know and act on. More common however will be an *enhancement* of functional relationships between parents and kids. In fact what inspired this post was noting a very thoughtful and loving “wall” note at Facebook had come from the *mom* of a friend of my son’s. My first reaction (my “legacy media” reaction) was that it seemed like too public a place to rave about your kid, but I quickly realized that the mom was just adopting the very nice new tendency of the bright and shiny kids in the new generation to give glowing praise to each other very publicly. Note to Loic Le Meur and Mike Arrington – you guys could learn from those young whippernappers!
A threshold I find even more interesting is something I have yet to experience but I’m sure better connected folks like Robert Scoble have by now, which is where social networking finds new and significant, but previously unknown connections between friends and relatives. e.g. you find out you are your close friend’s second cousin once removed. Or, I suppose in some of those “fun but alarming” stories, people will find that they really were adopted and their biological parents are actually their … current in-laws. Hello, this is Jerry Springer calling.
Still, the implications of a massively interconnected social sphere are to my way of thinking very positive. We’re not there yet but we’ll be there soon, and at the very least it’s going to get even more … interesting.