Facebook And The Arc Of Coolness

There’s been lots of chatter lately about the future of Facebook. Millions of teenage users apparently are no longer using the social media network. Some Princeton researchers have concluded that social networks are like communicable diseases that infect people rapidly then just was quickly burn out; they predict Facebook will lose 80 percent of its peak user base by the 2015-2017 time period.

There’s no doubt that Facebook is not as cool as it once was, but that result always was inevitable — because nothing stays ubercool for long. The equation of coolness is simple: young people add to coolness, and old people who aren’t rock stars detract from it. Once Moms and Dads and people in their 60s started to use Facebook to post boring pictures, send inspirational messages, and attempt to make “hip” comments about their kids’ drunken selfies, any self-respecting youngster would realize that the coolness luster was gone . . . and move on to the next big thing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook is doomed. My guess is that Facebook wants to end up as a kind of utility — that is, an invention that initially is cutting-edge and used by only a few people and later becomes so broadly accepted that it is unconsciously integrated into everyone’s daily life, like the electric light or the telephone. iPads might not be as cool as they once were, but does Apple care if they are being sold by the millions to uncool people in the business community who love the idea of a lightweight device that they can customize to meet their unique business and personal requirements?

The key for Facebook, or for that matter any other form of social media, is whether it can make that transition. If Facebook sticks around and keeps that critical mass of users, will those coolness-sensitive teens return to the Facebook fold when they hit their late 20s and realize that the social media network is a really handy, one-stop place to keep in contact with high school buddies, college friends, and former co-workers, remember their birthdays, and have some sense of what they are doing with their lives?


When Can You Politely Hang Up On A Telephone Solicitor?

I was raised to follow certain immutable rules of telephone etiquette.  When you answered the phone, you identified yourself.  If the caller wanted to speak to someone else, you used phrases like “May I ask who’s calling?” and covered the mouthpiece when you called for your sister to come to the phone.  And you never, ever, just hung up on anyone, because that was the height of rudeness.

Do different rules of polite behavior apply to telephone solicitation calls?

When Kish and I got rid of our land-line phone years ago — one of the best decisions we ever made, incidentally — we ended the scourge of solicitation calls at home, but I still get them at work.  And, I still apply the same rules of telephone etiquette to those irritating sales calls.  I just can’t help it, because the old training is too engrained.  I’ve gotten better, because I can at least bring myself to hang up on the recorded calls about google advertising.  But when a live person calls, I struggle to find a courteous way to tell them I’m not interested and end the conversation.  I also feel sorry for telephone solicitors because it’s got to be one of the worst jobs ever, so I try to at least listen to the appeal and then politely decline.

Last week I answered the phone and there was a pause before the other person got on the line.  I got a sinking feeling, because that happens on calls from boiler rooms where solicitors are calling several numbers at once and will get on the line only when someone answers.  Sure enough, it was a woman who was trying to get us to go to New York to listen to a time-share presentation and who called me “Robert” in every sentence.  I don’t like being called Robert, so that put my teeth to grinding.  Even worse, all of my attempts to speed up the pitch — “I’m sorry, but I’m very busy.  What is it you want?” — were ignored, and the woman kept asking annoying, personal questions like “where do you like to go when you travel?”  When she finally got to the point and I said no, thanks, she responded:  “What’s holding you back, Robert?”

Arrgh!  My blood pressure rose, and I said “Sorry, not interested” and ended the call.  I felt guilty for hanging up — but I also was mad at myself for not hanging up when the caller first ignored my appeal for her to get to the point.  So I ask again:  does etiquette permit you to hang up on a telephone solicitor?  If so, when?