According to YouthBeat data, Facebook is on the rise. In the second half of 2009, the number of kids, tweens and teens on Facebook surpassed that of predecessor, MySpace, for the first time - and we think these numbers will increase until a formidable competitor replaces it.
Much has been made about the way that the latest generation of youth communicate. Just between us BFFs, the way they talk makes me LOL. But as anthropologists and linguists have long understood, the language we use is layered with meaning. And so it is for today's youth's brand of banter...
On the surface, it seems that the shortened speech employed by today's youth shows just how impromptu their elocutions are. It's clear that efficiency competes with eloquence for tweens' and teens' attention. And it also shows that informality rules when it comes to the etiquette of conversation. But if you read between the lines, we think it speaks to a need for insider status that is more important than ever to today's tweens and teens.
In a world where everyone is friends, and all spaces are public, privacy and membership can feel elusive. While Facebook may allow youth to express ideas with unprecedented ease and comfort, it also steals a timeless tool of tween and teen relationship building: the secret.
Snark is, by definition, "rudely sarcastic or disrespectful." There's no doubt that sarcasm, wit, and one-upmanship prevail on the homepages of most tweens and teens we know. But snark only works when you're talking to a group who gets the joke. Snark isn't often expressed to its target, but to those who agree. And for teens, snark is often a way of sharing with, not shunning, others. Snark is a way to cement connections, as in using the "children" tool to list the names of your unrelated best friends. Or creating groups that require little commitment to join (like "People who don't care if you need a cow to complete your Farmville collection," or "Women who know that a good man is hard to find"). Or simply infusing your status updates with irony...
What does this tell us about tweens and teens besides their Facebook behavior? It tells us that it's more about them than about us. Teen talk isn't trying to taunt us - it's trying to show others they're worthy of those ever-elusive secrets. And while language can certainly exclude, most tweens and teens use language to show that they belong - and that others belong with them.