PBS Frontline for 2/18/14 aired the documentary Generation Like about how teens are using the Internet to be liked, and how corporations are using this mass movement to their advantage. To be honest, the report claims teens are quite savvy about how they are being manipulated by marketing gurus and feel they are playing the system right back at them. At best it’s a symbiotic relationship. The funny thing is the documentary makers asked many teens to define “selling out” and they couldn’t, yet corporations have a new mantra, “your consumer is your new marketer.” This show is about the need to be liked, the need to sell, and how society is changing when everyone is selling themselves.
I found Generation Like quite amazing, especially as a 62 year old guy who knows damn little about modern teens. The change in teens thriving on the internet is as profound as the baby boomers experienced in the psychedelic sixties. I’m curious how representative this report on teen life is to the average teen, and luckily at the PBS Frontline page provides some statistics at “What Are Teens Doing Online?”
Even though Frontline does a fantastic job of covering the topic, I was left with many questions. Is this melding of marketing to teens wanting to be liked while they struggle to find their identities an American phenomenon, or is it worldwide? What impact does it have for kids who don’t get hundreds of likes, and what does it mean for popular kids with hundreds of likes to know that some kids gets millions of likes? Has popularity ever been so quantified? Is this the start of a hive culture? And can a hive culture work when all the individuals are promoting themselves? Are we at the start of a cultural transformation or a fad that will go away?
Many of the teens talked about their talent, but weren’t specific as to what that was. Others, like the 13 year old Baby Scumbag was quite aware of what got hits, and was expecting to make money. If Hollywood was a driving force for fame in the 20th century, the Internet in the 21st century will be many magnitudes more forceful. And these kids want more than 15 minutes.
I remember the pressure to be liked as a teen, or even to be popular, but it was nothing like this. I was happy to have one or two good friends, and pleased when others knew my name and said hi. From the outside looking in, it appears these teens feel like struggling actors trying to get noticed. How is that changing the nature of friendship? On the other hand, many of the teens profiled, helped each other in real life to create their internet lives, so they are still socializing in the old way.
This documentary is the tiniest tip of the iceberg at exploring the new online world. I barely know how to use Facebook. I have a Twitter account, but I only use it to remember what I’ve read online. And most of the other social media sites this film explored I’m clueless as how to use and what they do. Will adults slowly absorb this Like Culture? I do blog, and I do get Likes, but not many. But then I don’t crave them like the teens in this show. The show ended with this wonderful visual. A young girl is all animated while producing her video for YouTube, but when she turns off the camera, she sighs, deflates, looks very bored, and the film ends with the sound of her fingernails clicking distractedly on the camera. Will being on for the Internet become a kind of social crack, and normal life a kind of lonely withdrawal?
You can watch the entire film here. See I’m doing the same thing as the teens. I’m marketing for PBS, and liking their show.
JWH – 2/19/14