If you want to take a look at Generation Overshare, there’s no better place to do it than #followateen, one of those internet things that’s grown over the past month to take on a life of its own. With #followateen, adults are picking random teenagers to follow on Twitter and then reporting back on what “their teens” are up to.
This isn’t a new idea, but it was revitalized by Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos in early April, who suggested people pick a teen and find out what kids are up to on Twitter these days. The hashtag took off, and if you haven’t searched for the results recently, you should.
(Sometimes the teens even catch on.)
Aside from making fun of random teenagers, the growth of the hashtag can actually teach us a good deal about teens, social media, and our weird relationships with the internet. Here are five things I actually learned from #followateen:
Life is a lot harder for teenagers in 2013
When Timeline came out last year, I went back and deleted a lot of old wall posts, and I was shocked by the volume of bad photos and inane thoughts my friends and I posted. (i.e., “Do you have a copy of the math homework?” or “OMG lacrosse practice was so hard today.”) At the time, I thought that teenagers had probably learned from my generation’s early adoption and over-sharing, and that today’s teens had stopped posting as many inane, personal moments online. Surely they’d come to realize that everything they post on the internet is public and searchable forever.
Scrolling through posts from teens on Twitter this week, it became clear that they have not stopped posting personal, intimate details of their lives online for anyone to search, and if anything, they’re posting even more. As someone who went through high school missing one of my front teeth (don’t ask), I cringe for the future selves of these teens who will wish they’d posted a little less for the public to see. And in my (pretty recent) day, we didn’t even have Instagram or Tumblr.
#followateen is the future
You can lament those selfies and poor grammar on Twitter all you want, but how teens are using social media like Twitter today is likely going to have an impact on what we’ll all be using ten years from now. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are struggling to build advertising networks and continue to add new users, but data has shown that many of those new users are actually coming from older generations, as kids are being drawn to new sites like Snapchat, Vine, Wanelo, Tumblr, and Instagram.
You and I don’t use Twitter the same way
When I log on Twitter, I find people talking about the latest tech news, debating the proper way to report corrections to tweets, and LOLing at internet trends like #followateen. I bet the average age of the people I follow is 30. But searching for teen-esque hashtags and scrolling through the resulting posts was an incredible reminder that Twitter is entirely what you make of it, and that my experience on the network probably looks nothing like yours.
It’s easy to forget when everyone becomes so accustomed to his or her personal feed that this is true. I would guess that there’s far less disparity in people’s different Facebook and Instagram experiences, because those social networks are much more dictated by the design of the sites and the types of content people can post. But on Twitter, you create your own adventure.
Twitter is totally creepy, whether or not you #followateen
Yes, it can be super creepy to #followateen on Twitter and treat that teen like a zoo specimen for observation. But Helena Fitzgerald of The New Inquiry points out that, really, following a teen and reporting back on the hilariousness of their lives is no different than most of our Twitter relationships, where we follow people and retweet them and view their tweets as news; especially when most of them never follow us back. Humans are curious about other people by nature, and Twitter plays up that curiosity in ways that can be creepy but also completely entertaining.
Stupidity on the internet is certainly not confined to kids
Lest the adults get too full of themselves and their superiority over the teens, the emergence of the #followanadult hashtag on Friday serves as incredible reminder that adults can be just as predictable and boring online as the teens are.