Column: They say only the good die young

Dec. 28, 2013 @ 01:25 AM

Facebook’s death has been announced, though the obituary hasn’t been written and funeral arrangements remain incomplete.

Indeed, the announcement may be in error, because Facebook sure looks lively. Or perhaps it’s just a fresh zombie, ambling about with all the appearance of a living thing because the flesh hasn’t yet rotted and begun falling off.

News of Facebook’s demise comes from England’s University College London, where a study on social media, who uses it and what they use has found that among current teenagers in Europe, “Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried.”

And yes, that’s teenagers in Europe, not in the United States, but it must be only a matter of time. The Beatles started there and came here. The Rolling Stones started there and came here. “Monty Python” and “Doctor Who” started there and came here. Now Facebook’s death, it appears, is starting there and coming here.

Facebook was launched in early 2004 but was limited first to Harvard students, then opened to college students in the Boston area, then the Ivy League, then other colleges, and then finally in 2006 it was opened to pretty much anyone. It’s now a publicly traded corporation valued at more than $130 billion.

Millions of people use Facebook every day. Some of us check it last thing before going to sleep and first thing in the morning, then periodically through the day. The News-Topic’s Facebook audience keeps growing and our page is now approaching 3,000 likes.

That sure doesn’t sound like it’s dead.

But if the European study’s findings hold up over here, then it’s as good as dead all right, and it’s easy to see why.

Parents killed Facebook.

But not just parents. Grandparents, aunts, uncles -- any responsible, clear-headed adult who “friended” a young relative on Facebook killed 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,” wrote Daniel Miller of University College London. “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.”

I confess that I helped kill Facebook. A couple of years ago, I friended my teenage nephews. In hindsight, I realized it was a mistake, but the damage was done. I have noticed they don’t really use the site much – and the amount has decreased over time.

So what’s the hip, new thing for the young people?

In Europe, at least, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp are the leading contenders. Twitter and Instagram are fairly mainstream in the U.S., even if less used than Facebook. Snapchat I had heard of mostly as a way teens can send each other naked photos that would then self-delete. WhatsApp is new to me, which is probably an example of its greatest virtue.

But here’s the other thing Miller wrote: Facebook is technically better than these other competitors, more integrated, better for photo albums, organizing parties and more effective for observing people’s relationships.

In other words, the others are a bit clunky and harder to use.

In the world of technology used by teens, that’s perfect. By the time the adults figure out how to use it, the kids will be all grown up.