- - Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Social media outlets are creating a digital divide based on age that may continue for decades to come.

As mothers and grandfathers post family photos on Facebook and tweet occasionally, teenagers have moved on to Snapchat and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Meanwhile, millennials and GenXers are stuck somewhere in between, wondering whether LinkedIn and Google Plus are worth the time.

Andrew Watts, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas at Austin, provides some useful insights into the technology for his peers. He eschews data and studies about technology use because people can look up that stuff online. Instead, he provides his own view at Medium.com about what he and his friends like and don’t like.

“Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave,” he writes. Instagram has become the most used social media application because it “hasn’t been flooded with the older generation.”

Mr. Watts said his peers don’t really understand the affection for Twitter among other age groups. “There is always a core group at every school that uses it very religiously to tweet and another group that uses it to simply watch or retweet, but besides that many don’t use it,” he said.

Snapchat — an application that allows people to post selfies and text to specific friends for short periods — has gained a wide following among Mr. Watts and his friends. The materials are deleted almost immediately after being viewed, providing greater privacy. Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging service, YouTube and Reddit get thumbs up, while Google Plus and LinkedIn receive thumbs down.

In fact, Snapchat has become by many metrics the fastest-growing social media application, with an estimated 200 million users worldwide. That growth has come mainly from those outside of the Facebook generation. Approximately 80 percent of the users are younger than 26.

In a hilarious read at Slate.com, Will Oremus, 32, the organization’s senior technology writer, tackles the not-so-user-friendly Snapchat application. He writes, “It’s tempting to imagine that humans under the age of 25 are possessed of magical faculties that allow them to intuit the functionality of an app like Snapchat more readily than the rest of us.”

Snapchat likely will make its use much friendlier, but that may mean the social app becomes less cool and less hip. “It will gradually lose the aura of exclusivity that drew people to it in the first place, just as Facebook did before it. Tomorrow’s teens will move on to other things, and if there’s any justice in the world, today’s Snapchatters will find the next generation’s favorite apps every bit as impenetrable as I find theirs,” Mr. Oremus muses.

The 2016 presidential campaigns have started to use all sorts of social media, which will tax almost everyone’s spam filters.

As Dylan Byers notes at Politico, next year may be the campaign of Meerkat — not the cute little animal, but the social app, which allows people to launch live video on an iPhone through Twitter.com, although Twitter reportedly hasn’t embraced the arrangement. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul already have used Meerkat. Top political reporters are seeing whether the platform works for instant analysis.

Whatever the case, the digital divide will not be solved anytime soon, if ever. Each generation seems to create its own tools, which the previous generation struggles with. I guess that’s what called progress.

Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com and followed on Twitter @charper51.

• Christopher Harper can be reached at charper123@washingtontimes.com.

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