Social Outcasts in the 21st Century

The thought process leading up to this post was inspired by those parents who set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for their babies from the day they're born - and sometimes even before.

It runs the gamut, from people who use photos of their baby or child as their own social networking profile picture, to whole accounts written first-person as though their offspring is just a character to be portrayed online.

Now, I'm not actually judging people for doing that - it has its benefits for friends and family, as you can keep everyone updated without having to email out endless baby photos and make hundreds of phone calls each time the thing burps or sleeps or cries.

Rather, I'm wondering about the babies who don't have profiles set up for them. Like a grown-up who's never had a credit card, and finds themselves refused for a loan due to having no credit history, will these forerunners of the new generation find that their lack of a Facebook timeline will ultimately turn them from outriders to outcasts?

The Value of Social

People are often confused by big-money internet buyouts. Why pay a billion dollars for a social network? Well, the value isn't in the network itself, but in its potential - and there's nothing unusual about buying something on that basis.

You buy food for its nutritional potential, but the way you prepare it and the parts you discard can affect how much fat and protein is in the finished dish. A carpenter buys wood for its potential to become furniture - but until he's carved and joined it, it's not going to make him any profit.

It's the same online, whether you're talking about an entire social network, or a single account. Almost a year into my freelance career, I'm nearing 1,000 followers on Twitter. My account has to be worth more now than it was a year ago, when I had, like, seven followers... right?

In my case it's more clear-cut - I actually do make money from people I've met on Twitter becoming paying clients. It's hard to put a figure on it, but I'm appreciative of having it there as a way to make new contacts, both as clients and within the freelance copywriting community.

Who Are You?

All of those are business concerns really, but socialising is increasingly measured using web metrics - number of Facebook friends, number of Twitter followers. The 'cool kids' are the ones who get replies from celebrities, or who have the most followers. And those things take time to establish - believe me, I've been running since 1998 and longevity alone has made mine a name that Donna Air recognises.

So if you wait until your child is 13 before getting them a Facebook account, have you held them back from over a decade of social network growth? Particularly in light of the introduction of Facebook Timeline?

I can't help but feel, balancing the need for an online presence with rational parental fears about paedophilia and other online nastiness, that creating an account might actually be the best approach - like a social trust fund for your child, you can retain a degree of control until they reach a certain age, and then gradually hand the account over to them as they reach maturity.

This isn't the conclusion I expected to come to, but I can foresee a world where follower counts are a common feature of CVs for people who are particularly well connected, whatever industry they may be in. I'd hate to think I'd held my child back from over a decade of early-years networking, while other babies' parents gave them a headstart in an increasingly web-dominated world.