Mom’s My #1 on Snapchat
Not really. But for a generation of young things coming up in NYC, Mom is #1 and always at hand — to their detriment.
Location: West Village sushi restaurant, Thursday night, last night. Three tables are occupied by young NYU students blowing off steam — doing sake-bombs, wearing plastic pants, sporting interesting haircuts that are an evolving blend of other-town high school rebellion and NY pre-sophistication. They’re loud, and I’m ignoring them and giving myself a B+ for the effort.
Then they start discussing the popularity of their social networks, and I told my dinner date to shut it for a moment (“Love you, mean it, but shhh …”). Having real-world millennials in their environment discussing relevance of their social networks is rare and important — I mean, I commission focus groups on this stuff all the time. In-field social media usage reporting like this is rare and worth observing.
Their findings, from the committee:
“Facebook is on the wane, Instagram is peaking, and Snapchat is on the rise.” Although, they agree, Facebook will probably never go “completely MySpace.”
OK, fair enough, these twin observations aren’t enough to stop the presses on Big Whoop magazine, but then one of the kids said something really interesting: “My mom’s my #1 on Snapchat.”
“My mom’s my #1 on Snapchat.”
Overheard, at a table of young 24 year-old college kids, out on their own in the city, circa 2015 — young, well-dressed, cleanly washed kids, phone in every hand, cackling away.
In the last days of the pre-cellphone era, say 1996, 1997, I myself was their age — late ’20s, and also hanging out in groups of eight in restaurants, doing sake bombs and laughing the night away. Aside from the fact that we all smoked like fiends back then and nobody smokes now, there was one other major difference: Back then, mom wasn’t anywhere.
We were on our own.
There was no tether to Mom then. Nor anybody else. We sat alone with our friends. If you wanted to communicate with someone or try to get something done, you had to get up and leave the table — go to a payphone, or interact with a guy on the street. Make a note, you needed paper. Pay for something, you used cash (a lot of the time anyway). Problems, dilemmas, life’s big questions, you had to figure them out by talking them over with your friends — Friends in this case being defined by those other people at the table with you, no more and no less. Laughter was the “like” currency of the day. Making out was kind of like a “follow.”
We’d sit and talk and talk and discuss everything — jobs, girls, boys, friends, the world. And the depth and impact was limited to the depth of knowledge and POV of those you sat immediately with. No life line. No tether. This is where the phrase, “You are your environment” really held water — you were, or became, as smart and wise, or talented, or funny, or informed as the people you hung with. Hanging with would-be elders of the tribe was often the key to big thinking, deep concepts, great job advice.
What’s getting lost, or what these kids are missing out on, is a big opportunity to figure things out by themselves in the live environment. I mean, if Mom is always right there in the palm of your hand, liking the look of every meal on IG, then are you really out on your own in the big dangerous city?
And if you’re not really out on your own in the big city, then let me tell you: You’re missing a king opportunity to build some tremendous life coping skills. You’re missing the street-sense education that we all used to sign up for and get for free every time we moved someplace new or stepped out the front door.
You’re also cutting yourself off from the opportunity to reinvent yourself and try yourself out a few way. Before I was in NYC in the late ’90s, I had spent a summer in Daytona Beach, another on the Jersey Shore. I had spent a year in Milwaukee, another in Las Vegas, yet another summer in Los Angeles, followed by a fall in San Bernardino. And another summer in D.C. I moved around a lot, rode the rails, so to speak (literally, to use the word literally), all without the tether. Often alone, with nothing more than the promise of a job in a new city.
I talked to my mom about once every three or four months back then, not infrequently doing so by collect call from a pay phone. It wan’t until I got to Milwaukee that I had cash enough to roommate with a crew of four that acted like adults and had a phone installed.
Disconnected from all old friends and family, off in the world, young — what a way to live. Every new town was an opportunity to try new things, be something else, define yourself a new way, care about different things, reimagine life. New friends, new people, bus lines, headaches, aggravations, parks to avoid, restaurants not to miss. You had to figure things out on the go, on the fly, by reading the writing on the wall. Again literally — bus stop signs, rock club posters, street signs.
The safety net wasn’t the scant cash you had in your pocket, it was the belief in yourself that comes with having figured out a lot of stuff before on your own. The subways of New York made sense because I figured out the city bus lines in Milwaukee. I knew how to mix with New Yorkers because I had long since figured out how to mix with locals as a newcomer many times before. But those skills didn’t come for free — I had honed them on the sandy East Coast beaches, under the Hollywood sign, on the Las Vegas strip.
We’re all products of our experience and our experimentation. And I guess my point is, how far out can you really go if you’re #1 on Snapchat is your Mom?
Mom isn’t really the problem, the social safety net is.
Nothing against Mom. What I’m railing against is the ever present permanent-record that social media brings as you try to wade through the stages of life. My friend Michele P. always said, “I always say, life is lived in stages.” But you’re killing a key opportunity to enter one of those new stages free and clear and open to opportunity if each new life stage is haunted and daunted and defined by your social media history.
Meet someone new, and on day one you get access to 2,200 IG photos that define that person, definitively, probably somewhat incorrectly, and most damaging: exactly the same way they’re defined to everyone else. You can’t introduce yourself, can you? I might have said in the past, “I’m Eric and I’m a designer.” Or, “Hi, I’m Eric and I’m a writer.” Or a lot of times, “Hi, my name is Eric and I’ll be your waiter.”
Or even, “Hi, I’m gay-straight-professional-singing-creative-dancing-liberal-conservative-pro-life-pro-guns-anti-NRA-whatever.”
Just, “Hi, I’m @ericgoeres.” Same old me, day-after-day, with no new beginnings, all the way back to when I first shared a photo on IG some 2,200 photos ago.
And without it, that’s even weirder. How do you hire a guy whose LinkedIn is blank? I wouldn’t. How do you fall in love with someone who has no Facebook? Can you do it? Or is it all too scary and weird? I mean, how do you know who this person is, if there’s no social media definers? Nutty stuff.
Without it, you’re seemingly what we used to call a drifter, a cast-away, a nobody. Disconnected from the world, for some reason, and probably a scary reason. Like when you meet someone who doesn’t drink anymore — you know there’s a dark reason for that. Or you assume there is.
Oh, for the good old days.
There’s the old chestnut about the dad who went out for a pack of cigarettes, leaving his wife and newborn at home, and never came back. This mythical charmer would go out for that pack of cigarettes and three months later be working in an oil field 2,500 miles away with a clean slate, a fresh haircut, a new name and the mom and the kid would be on their own. I think this used to happen a lot. I was just reading this morning that Lamar Odom’s dad did it. Steve Job’s dad too, I’m told. I don’t imagine that’s ever really easy, but I am sure it builds character for all involved. One thing’s for certain, it’s a lot harder to pull that shit these days.
Doesn’t really matter. The ship has sailed, and social media is here to stay. It’s all here to stay, the phones, the connectivity, the selling of our souls to big data for the convenience of pressing a button to “find a bar near me.”
I turn this phrase over a lot in my head these days: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em.” I wonder if you can beat them (probably not) and struggle with joining them (obviously).