Every generation stakes its claim to things unique to its experience, and nowhere is this clearer than in technology. Younger generations will always be the early adopters, whether it’s Beatle wigs, the Rubik’s Cube or Instagram.The hallmark trait is that it remains uniquely theirs. Once something enters the mainstream and achieves popularity outside that age group, it hits an invisible wall that hermetically seals it off from any “it” factor it might once have enjoyed. I call this pivotal moment when something turns from “trendsetting” to “toxic” the Granny Point.
Social media is the generational battleground upon which Granny Points are established with alarming speed. There was a time when Facebook was considered the metric by which kids could measure both their popularity and parents their technological savvy. It hit the Granny Point years ago, however. My 85-year-old mother checks Facebook, for instance, if not necessarily willingly (it’s the only place she gets to see all the pictures of the grandkids we keep forgetting to send). When I ask my middle school students about whether they use Facebook, they look as if I’ve just asked them if they own tax-sheltered 403-B accounts.
Snapchat is a recent example of how something arrives at the Granny Point. It sprung out of a collective teen resentment that mom and dad now had Facebook accounts, much like previous generations stopped buying Paul McCartney records after hearing Mom humming “Silly Love Songs.” Its popularity was based on the short lifespan of the pictures and videos stored on it; they supposedly disappear forever seconds after they’re posted. This, of course, opened the door for kids to post inappropriate things while under the false impression that other people viewing them couldn’t simply take pictures of their screens with another device.
The app appealed to a demographic devoid of sustained attention spans and exploded with the introduction of picture filters that allowed users to put masks and other markups to the pictures they shared. It was the very introduction of these filters, however, that heralded the arrival of the Granny Point. Baby Boomers everywhere rushed to find out how their nieces were sending those pictures where their faces were superimposed with bunny ears and whiskers. The interest of anyone over 35 signals the death knell of an app’s “cool” factor. In the time it takes Uncle Eddie to tweet a video of himself juxtaposed with a grizzly bear filter, Snapchat will hit the Granny Point. Keep your eyes peeled, kids — it’ll happen soon.
In the same way Tumblr was the place for teens to flee after blogging sites like eBlogger hit the Granny Point, tumbleweeds will eventually float through the unused accounts of currently popular apps like WhatsApp, Instagram and WeChat as kids flock to Whisper to unload their confessionals or Houseparty for group video chats. Impermanence is the calling card of youth, and nowhere is this more evident than in their choice of technology.
Yes, there are outliers. YouTube has managed to avoid the GP even though it’s used by people of every age. Much of this is due to the fact it serves as the Internet’s repository for videos shared on other social media; you don’t look down on Gram-Gram while she’s handing out birthday money. In the same way, Twitter has positioned itself as the platform of choice for celebrities to speak their minds. As long as Taylor Swift continues to post, she’ll keep her 88 million young followers stuck to the platform like so many prawn. (By the way, she’s only made a grand total of eight tweets for all of 2017 — sell your Twitter stock if she doesn’t post soon.)
The Granny Point, like death itself, is inevitable. So is the fruitless attempt to “keep current.” To my friends old enough to remember when you had to actually be home at a set time in front of the TV if you wanted to watch your favorite TV show: we’ll never catch up, so don’t even try. Like the hula hoop and the Spice Girls, some things just aren’t meant to last. The kiss of death for any social media is the use of the platform by those of an older generation … say, a 70-year-old man bypassing his press secretary to tweet opinions on TV show hosts. (Um, did you sell your Twitter stock yet?)