Monday, August 5th, 2013

The Olds Don't Know Where Facebook Is

My mom is always saying things like “Oh, Theresa, oh no, I don’t think she is on Facebook.” Or, “All of my college friends have thankfully joined Facebook!” and it drives me crazy because Facebook is a noun that you possess, not a noun with which you engage. The word “Facebook” requires an indefinite article (a, an) or a possessive adjective (my, hers), not a preposition (on, in, above).

• "All of my friends have a Facebook."

• "No, he's too cool for Facebook, he doesn't have a Facebook."

• "She finally gave in and got a Facebook, but ugh, she restricts her viewable photos to profile pictures."

I have tried to explain this grammatical distinction to my mother multiple times. She does not understand my argument. For her, Facebook is a website on which she interacts. It is a place over there. She must locate her self in relation to Facebook, a separate sphere from her ordinary existence. To me, "posting" or "liking" instantly connotes Facebook; she needs a preposition to explain to her audience where her “posting” or “liking” action took place. Her online presence occurs on specific forums and in specific places, spaces that must be explained. But that is so annoying!

Being on Facebook means currently using Facebook, being on Facebook messenger or actively engaging with the site in another way. If I am logged into Facebook chat, I might say that I’m "on Facebook." The preposition is necessary to draw notice to the extra layer of Internet space that I am occupying. Because, duh, I am always on the Internet, but I am not always actively engaging in the Internet. For millennials, a generational descriptor which we are tasked with reclaiming, Facebook is the assumed space in which life occurs. Millennials do not need to use a preposition in conjuction with Facebook because the space is naturalized. My assumed existence is on the Internet and using Facebook. My Facebook. Which is the other grammatical issue at stake: possessive adjectives.

The difference in language expression stems from whether one has a sense of owning her Internet presence. We’re always talking about “my” Facebook and “my” Twitter and “my” Instagram. We “have” Vines and Tumblrs, too. (Tumblr is always "my Tumblr," though of course Tumblr also sees its Tumblr fragments as individual Tumblrs, which are prone to decoration and remodeling in a way that Facebook is not. Twitter is the middle space on that continuum.) We verbally conceptualize our Internet presences as extensions of our physical possessions. When friends need to log onto their Facebooks on my computer, I ask them to open a tab in an incognito window. I might say: "My Facebook is open, don’t log me out.” Their slice of the Internet can’t supersede mine. Their Facebook and my Facebook can and should lay side to side, each contained in its own window. His Facebook. Her Facebook. Our Facebooks.

But Olds don’t have Facebooks. They’re “on” Facebook. The Olds need a preposition when they talk about Facebook because they do not automatically locate themselves on the Internet. But their word choice serves an additional function. Their constant verbal reification of operating in (on) a space that is not theirs but Facebook’s works pretty well to keep themselves aware of the fact that Facebook owns everything they post. This is something millennials love to disregard.

Even if the grownups know better about privacy and property rights, their grammar is still wrong.

The website Facebook has its roots in a physical college face book, a publication dating from at least 1983 in which freshman would have pictures for their peers and upperclassmen to judge. College face books were like high school yearbooks, but less well-intentioned. As college face books and high school yearbooks serve basically the same function, and college face books have the same name as Facebook and in my experience, the Olds are easily confused by this argument, let’s think about face books and Facebook like yearbooks. You would never be on a yearbook, you would have a yearbook. Your picture might be on a yearbook page, but the page and book themselves are nouns that need to be possessed, not modified with prepositions. You can have a yearbook. You can open up your yearbook to your yearbook page. You can check your yearbook page in your yearbook for your senior quote. Yearbooks and yearbooks pages get indefinite articles or possessive adjectives, just like Facebooks and Facebook profiles.

Unfortunately, for the Olds, these days the word “profile” is only implied after Facebook. People used to have Facebook profiles, but as Facebook rolled out more and shinier updates, this verbal reminder of the physical forebear of Facebook was phased out. The Olds are confused about proper Facebook grammar because they joined Facebook after profiles had disappeared. Prior to 2005, no one who was not a college student could have a Facebook. Prior to mid-2006, no one who was not either a high school or college student could have a Facebook. The Facebook profile, as it was originally conceptualized, lost prominence in 2006 when the "newsfeed upon log-in" style was introduced. My mom, a fairly early adopter, did not get a Facebook until 2008, still too late to have interacted with the original Facebook profile. (A telling description, packed with possessive determiners, of Facebook in 2007: "This was the era when your wall became a central component for your social life.")

The Olds are missing the grammatical roots of Facebook content. They never experienced Facebook profiles that they could call their own. It's not their fault that Facebook dropped the “profile” way before the Olds started oversharing about their Zumba classes on our newsfeeds.

So the Olds, usually right about grammar and using dictionaries and how to best clean your oven after dripping chicken fat all over the grate, are wrong about this one. And they should be, too! The Internet is the domain of millennials. Within the online universe, we have carved out places we call our own, places that we posses. These, of course, may be places where only we have the knowledge of the grammatical roots of the site. Millennials exist in a world where Facebook, and the Internet in general, is the unspoken medium in which we live our lives. Let the millennials win this one, Olds. You rarely let us win anything else.

Becca Hafter is an Awl summer reporter. Photo by Ambuj Saxena.

60 Comments / Post A Comment

anildash (#487)

Haha, this is how you horrible youngs ruined the word "blog" by using it to represent a blog post in addition to the blog itself. Joke's on you; We're destroying the planet in your lifetimes.

anildash (#487)

No folly of youth is more quixotic than the tendency toward prescriptive grammar.

Jasmine (#8)

@anildash oh god. My mom is full of the "posting a blog" nonsense. It grates.

Max Clarke (#3,635)

"Millennials exist in a world where Facebook, and the Internet in general, is the unspoken medium in which we live our lives. Let the millennials win this one, Olds."

Trying to figure out how to respond without sounding like a luddite and/or Old. I've been an internet user for 20 years, so I may be an Old but am pretty sure I'm not a luddite. And I actually know some folks under 30 who share my (elderly! I'm 42!) misgivings about adopting ZuckerCorpBook as "the unspoken medium in which we live our lives."

Can we speak about this unspoken and sometimes unspeakable medium?

stuffisthings (#1,352)

Except Facebook is a capitalized proper noun referring to a single company providing a single online service called Facebook, while "a facebook" is a thing that used to exist in physical form at Ivy League universities, of which there were multiple copies (which is why you'd distinguish having "one." I believe if you were featured in such a book you would say you are "in the facebook.") Capital-F Facebook follows the same grammatical rules as other online services such as Twitter or Gmail. Do you say "I have a Twitter?" Because twitter (lowercase) is a noun, meaning "a trembling agitation."

FWIW, I only dropped capitalized "Internet" and "Web site" (two words) — which were both formerly AP style — from my writing a few years ago. I enjoyed your "blog post" about having "a profile on (the "Web site" called) Facebook" but it's a losing battle, kid.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

(watch out linguistics pedants, this comment thread is draped over a crudely dug pit lined with poisonous spikes)

stuffisthings (#1,352)


@stuffisthings : Wow, not even a despairing, receding scream. Just the silence of a comment heedlessly written and retracted in haste.

cvj (#246,602)

"The Internet is the domain of millennials."

BUT THE "OLDS" INVENTED THE INTERNET SOOOO..? I have heard young and old people say that they were both "on Facebook" and "had Facebook". The implication that there is one right way is absurd enough, but declaring millennials as the group with the deciding vote is just…*sigh* The internet is for everyone! Doi.

To me, the real win is becoming an "old". I'm a so-called "young" and I CAN'T WAIT it's like, why I'm still alive. My bod might not work quite the same but then maybe I, too can give actually useful advice and contribute something halfway substantial to the world! Hopefully!!

stuffisthings (#1,352)

Also I'm pretty sure I've heard millennials say "eating McDonalds"

NinetyNine (#98)

"They like to tell you their MeFi number, generally."

Mr. B (#10,093)

Facebook is a thing for young people? This is what now, 2007?

Mr. B (#10,093)

You will be an old sooner than you think, Becca.

"Hey you geezers, get offa my lawn!"

Cobalt (#7,571)

It's these kinds of self-absorbed youngs who also say that they are "curators" of easily reproduced information on their blog or their Tumblr. Please.

BadUncle (#153)

The Internet is the domain of millennials..

Sorry child, but unless you were a usenet user on a 2400 baud modem, you might claim to only have come of age with the web. Think of me giving you the Finger (protocol).

Also? Facebook a noun you possess? Better clue in the shareholders. Then send a photo to my Instagram.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@BadUncle didn't you already post this comment as a 15-part RAR on alt.olds?

@BadUncle : Unless you can whistle the distinctive tune of a dialup modem handshaking with a server, etc, etc.

Alternate take : I'll see your finger and raise you a gopher.

Bonus alternate take : TELNET 4 LIFE.

riotnrrd (#840)

@stuffisthings RAR? You young kids. Uuencode now and forever.

This nostalgia is making me feel like groping some packets.

BadUncle (#153)

@Clarence Rosario
Ping!™ (a term now completely misused by MBA-types).

Jeffacolypse (#246,603)

While I commend some of the commenting persons above for highlighting false assumptions made by the author, I just want to take the time to say that this is, quite plainly, the most pointless article I have ever read on the internet. I mourn the time the author has lost writing this piece, as well as the sleepless nights that no doubt compelled her to speak out.

767678@twitter (#246,605)

People who use "olds" and "youngs" have Pinterest-themed pajama parties, drink vanilla caramel coffee out of ceramic mugs that look like paper cups, carry their iPads around in Piggly-Wiggly bags from the Sixties, and write made-up trend stories that can't be verified by actual data.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@767678@twitter: So, you're an old?

migraineheadache (#1,866)

@767678@twitter I thought piggly-wiggly was a grocery store are people carrying their iPads in 50 year-old paper bags?

wjmtv (#246,651)

@767678@twitter I would kill for a sixties-era Piggly-Wiggly bag.

12961442@twitter (#246,608)

At first I felt sorry for the commenters, for falling for what's obviously one of this site's many spoof "humourous" fake posts. But now I'm not sure either way. Confusion and despair.

KarenUhOh (#19)

You want it? You can have it.

Her biographical line should read: Becca Hafter is an "Awl"ful summer reporter.

I mean, honestly: who gives a shit?

riggssm (#760)

I'm afraid I'm now an Old——I found this incoherent. (The irony is that my school was the fifth or sixth in Boston to have The Facebook. In theory, I should've understood it.)

stuffisthings (#1,352)

You know, Awl interns, you're never going to make it in this industry if all you do is post mildly trollsome articles that rocket to the top of the "Most Popular" list, garner dozens to hundreds of mostly indignant or off-topic comments, and are widely linked across the Internet. THAT'S NOT HOW IT'S DONE.

@stuffisthings I really would have enjoyed this more as a slideshow.

18990554@twitter (#246,613)

This was not worth the electrons you inconvenienced to publish it.

skyslang (#11,283)

Another article by a kid about being a kid.
Oh. Ok. I get it. The Awl is not for me anymore. Any site that isn't all about being young… or isn't quite so ageist? Because this shit would be insulting if it wasn't so boring.

@skyslang Try

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"The Internet is the domain of millennials"

I never know what age exactly "millennials" are supposed to be, but thank you for pegging them at "not yet old enough to understand that being cooler than your parents is not a big deal" for me.

Seth Yaffo (#246,616)

Interesting. "Facebook is the assumed space in which life occurs." So one "has" a "facebook" as one "has" a life. Since "life" is the space in which individual lives occur. Unless one has a facebook? In which case, it's facebook, and not life? Or the two are fused, with facebook a subset of "life"? But maybe there is no such thing as "life" in the sense of a field of life, but only individual lives. But then is there a "field" of facebook, rather than individual facebooks? Yep. And it's making a small group of folks awfully rich.

Another post by the summer temps. Just don't anybody touch Balk's bourbon, kids.

@SarahHeartburn Well, christ, I didn't read her byline carefully. She IS a summer temp.

river18girl (#246,620)

Spell check is also the domain of the Olds? "Within the online universe, we have carved out places we call our own, places that we posses."
Backatcha, Becca, "But that is so annoying!"

MrJM@twitter (#18,073)

You don't have "a Facebook" — the Facebook™ has you.

– MrJM

NoReally (#217,942)

My, what insane crap. All of it.

Can I assume that the child went and did this all on her own, and if anyone older than 20 had seen it beforehand it would never have been posted?

@NoReally She's over on Twitter bragging about how her "inflammatory" article pissed off the "Olds". Maybe we should set her up on a dream date with Lunch Truck Man.

WATERMELON (#246,621)

@(almost) everyone in the comments: Are you all reading the same article I read? This was a pretty light-hearted article, so I'm not sure where all the vitriol is coming from. I'll bet half of you read the article title, saw the writer was a summer intern, and then skipped straight to the comment section to spew your rage. I'm impressed by those of you who read carefully enough to point out minor typos and make "witty" comebacks. You all must be so proud of yourselves.

Many of us are growing up in a world where our social lives are increasingly dominated by the internet (and Facebook in particular). For us, it's interesting (and I would argue important) to think about how Facebook has affected how we interact with the internet compared to older generations. You don't have to like it, but if you think this article is incoherent, you just aren't trying.


KimO (#10,765)

Oh, Becca. I, too, wrote a lot of obnoxious pedantic essays in college. I’m very grateful that the internet wasn’t the unspoken medium in which I lived my life way back then because, seriously, this piece is embarrassing. Someday soon you'll have the wherewithal to realize it.

joshc (#442)

Just dropping in to say that I'm such an Old that when I made my profile it was still called The Facebook.

wjmtv (#246,651)

Is this rant at all related to Apple's refusal to use articles when talking about "iPod?" Last time I checked, that thing I hold in my hand, stuff into my bra at the gym, and listen to while falling asleep at night, was a noun. Therefore, in need of an article when used in conversation. Or have the millenials changed other grammar rules while I was out getting my walker tuned up?

And then they wonder why we don't take them seriously.

I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it ! Thanks, very good. We are really happy just for this post in this website.

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opijanimjq (#246,658)

Oh, Becca. I, too, wrote a lot of obnoxious pedantic essays in college.

Your mom is right.

hazmathilda (#839)

if you don't just call it "The Fartsbook" you're probably doing it wrong tho – a youngish

PullMyFinger (#246,670)

I once knew a girl who was super-smart. I was so happy to meet her…! Over time though, as she moved on from young bright mind to becoming a "real grown up" she evolved… and not in a good way. She does have a minor wikipedia page now, but she is not a happy -or a positive/healthy- person. Somewhere along the line she made the choice to be a scenester even though she philosophically objected to the mentality, she at the end of the day cherished it's warmth/glow.

This is an interesting subject, and the author is obviously kinda-smart. Language is important and significant kids (I include all y'all/us in that since we're all pretty infantile in terms of our mental development – maybe someday this will change as our culture improves and/or our lifespan extends).

I often wonder at the impactfulness of new technologies, ESPECIALLY communication technologies, on our psyches/gestalt. And the internet, boy she is a big one. The facebook is also ultra-biggie tho I don't use and tried to get people to explain it to me… it's connections, that much I get, but beyond that it's kind of lost on me, except that I see that status and status updates are closely related, and the big issue is "who cares" and it seems related to the monkey grooming issue: who is grooming (/watching/following/liking) whom? Or maybe I'm wrong about that, but that's what I'm getting. KONY 2012! It's definitely a big data big wet dream.

So I would love to read an insightful insight into these topics, and hells yeah, especially by young peeps who are often seriously brilliant (and who do NOT always get more brilliant with age… that shit can go both ways, with people getting more interesting, and people losing what spark they had to become duller).

This is not that insight/insightful, and it seems like this author has some mommy issues. Which, okay… but, not so okay. I get a lot of "self-promotion" vibe, which… I could correlate to The Facebook Effect but I totally won't because it totally isn't. Peeps have been on that tip for a long time and it's not new or original to "stir shit up" to get on the tee vee as a talking head. But it's a poor waste of what could be possibly talent. I'm way more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt. I like smart kids. Whatever the age. And I'm totally not averse to noting developmental stages nor era differences. Those variations contribute to making life interesting! It's cool to think what kind of mind structure you could have at 80 or 90 if you're doing things right and not just wasting brain cells. I think intergenerational engagement is super cool. And it's also cool to hang with ppl who have a similar shared experience that you can relate to and appreciate.

PullMyFinger (#246,670)

@PullMyFinger Also, I didn't mean to be snarky about The Facebook/RenRen/Skoob/VK/Viadeo/etc. I love social networks and the immediacy of communication that they enable. I'm all about that.

(Although I do plan to make my first millions by opening up SN-rehab/dry out facilities around the country. I'm looking for VC now, and there's a lot of interest.)

The new trend in Asia is chat applications. Several have been developed and the fastest growing chat app is Line from Japan. The company reached 100 million users 3 times faster than Facebook. It took Line only 19 months to reach that feat.

TweetThis (#246,672)

Facebook is a platform on which you engage with the platform with others on the platform. They don't have a platform (except in the abstract – the platform provided by the internet at large) they have an account.

While language is subject to arbitrary changes due simply to common parlance, I'm pretty sure people of any age don't usually say do you have a Twitter? They say, are you on twitter? Or, do you have a twitter account? So, what you're saying is that people are dropping the "account" as implied, and thus extraneous information. So the grammar is essentially the same, I think…? I've forgotten how you diagram all that shit out, but I used to be pretty good at it. Point noted about the ownership of the virtual/internet space though.

I'd be curious to see if anyone else thinks this is a legitimate kernel of an idea about how language is evolving around the virtual space and our participation/existence in/on it? It seems interesting to me but the author seems a little bit twat-ish, so it was hard to wade through that to get at what she is saying. But it seems interesting to me, and I'd like to offer some constructive criticism to help her to cut out the fat, and keep the parts that are compelling and connect/land/hit the mark. Which this weird generational warfare does not seem to, I mean, what the fuck are you on about? You think you're special because you have earlier exposure to the connected virtual space? And you want to lord that over people? Because you feel they have put you down in some way?

"millennials, a generational descriptor which we are tasked with reclaiming"

Dude, I so get this. One things that totally annoys the fuck out of me is how supposedly millennials are so entitled/the special snowflake syndrome. Seems to me like millennials are really hard workers, compared to the so called "slackers" of the previous generation, and even then, that "slacking" turned out to be actually the necessary gestating of creativity that can come from daydreaming and being imaginative, not just getting to "work work work". Innovation is one of our best tools… and it's a creative process.

There's this whole idea of entitlement which just seems freaking absurd to me. Wah! Wah! Wah! You think you're entitled to a medal just for existing? Entitled to a job that doesn't drain you dry? Entitled to feel special just for existing? Who the fuck do you think you are? Somebody call the whambulance!

I feel like as a group, millenials are pretty keen on contributing, and aren't afraid of the hard work because they're mostly used to it and connect the idea of hard work with rewards and accomplishment, in very personal ways. I think millennial's aren't averse to working hard, but I do think they'd prefer not to work on Maggie's farm no more. I think some of the bad stuff are some of the things expressed in this piece, ironically. A little bit too much emphasis appearances rather than substance, which isn't unique to millenials, but the flash-in-the-pan fame chasing, I think is stronger than it maybe has been. Notice me! Notice me! is maybe a little bit even more prevalent than it has been, with disregard for the reasons for being noticed. Is that band really new and interesting? Or are they just really really good at marketing, but completely derivitive and non-unique?

If one is salesy, if I can convince you that I'm interesting, even though I'm really not, I will be tangibly rewarded. That's the double-edged sword of the internet, (one of the) dark side(s). So bullshit can be elevated to a high art. Which, yes,
Andy Warhol mined this territory… but genius that he is (though callow one, perhaps) he was prescient of what was to come. And, it's sort of not the greatest. But, as far as I'm concerned the pluses far outweigh the minuses… because while there is that noise, more importantly is the strong, loud and clear voices that resonate. Not for being loud, but for actually connecting. People can connect with ideas that truly do carry weight. That are impactful and worth listening to. And those voices will be heard, and will rise to the forefront, not because they are salesy but because they resonate. They legitimately connect, organically and authentically (not snakeoil-connect vis-a-vis someone's driving need for attention/validation).

So, author, please… more of the former, and less of the latter. Other than that, good piece, thanks!

philomene (#355)

I thought none of the youngs even thought about Facebook anymore. I thought they only Instagrammed. Or were on The Instagram or whatever…

blogan (#9,735)

I guess I need to be code switching, before the Millennials get tasked with thumb typing LOL at me on their little screens.

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