Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Scandalized teens unfriend Facebook

We've done it! Adults finally have broken the teen-age addiction to social-networking sites!

Unfortunately, however, as with many great victories, it appears there will be the usual slew of unintended consequences -- some good, most really bad.

FROM THURSDAY'S Omaha City Weekly:
A familiar sight from long, long ago has returned to the Plains, and you won't believe who's behind it.

If you step out into your back yard, or if you go for a leisurely stroll along one of Omaha's hiking trails, chances are you'll see this new-old phenomenon. No, it's not cold-blooded Nebraskans stoking the fireplace in the middle of August. And your neighbor Joe -- or your neighbor's neighbor Phil -- isn't grilling tonight, either.

But it just might be that Junior is talking with his friends.

Check the trend report: Facebook is out, smoke signals are in.

Now that adults from 25-34 have flooded the social-networking site and the 35-plus demographic isn't far behind, Facebook has got its "nerd" on. Suddenly, Facebook isn't where teens and college students meet up with, and spy on, their friends and classmates.

Suddenly, Facebook is where the parents are.

And with E-mail having lost it's "cool" long ago and multiple-party texting being a really good way to deplete a bank account quickly, teens are doing it old school. Really old school.

"A year ago, only a few old men still knew how to send smoke signals," said Winston Flaming Owl, a public-affairs specialist for the Lakota nation in South Dakota. "But now there's incredible interest in the old, traditional ways, and it's all young people hungry to learn about our Native American tradition."

Flaming Owl estimated that practitioners of smoke messaging, as far has he knows, has increased 24,000 percent in the last nine months alone.

"It's incredible," he said. "Who would have thought me and my old classmates getting on Facebook would be the thing to save one of our traditions?

"Not only that, but white people, too. If this trend continues, for the first time in the 500 years since the white man has been in the "New World," native peoples will -- well, in at least this one sense -- will have achieved cultural domination over Europeans. This could be the golden age of Native American culture."

It also could be the golden age of Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco and all the other formerly beleaguered purveyors of tobacco products. And the instant worst nightmare of anti-smoking activists.

Omaha police, for example, have noted a tenfold increase in the amount of citations officers are writing for both underage tobacco possession and violation of the state's Indoor Clean Air Act.

"With texting being too expensive for group application and Facebook being really lame now, there has been a massive increase in teen smoking," said Douglas County health chief Dr. Adi Pour. "Smoke signals is how kids communicate now. And, unfortunately, cigarettes are the perfect communication device for a generation who used to post to Facebook to message a friend just across the room."

Pour said the only bright side of the teen-smoking craze -- one she mentioned on reluctantly -- was that the drastic uptick in tobacco-tax collections will avert expected drastic cuts in her department.

"It's been completely off the charts. I'm just sick about it -- I can't even go into the ladies room anymore without choking on teen-agers' cigarette smoke. But at least we'll be able to treat all the indigent elderly emphysema sufferers now. I guess that's something."

But Pour added that if adults don't abandon social-networking sites soon, the future health consequences will be drastic, with a huge increase in emphysema and lung-cancer cases starting about 2035.

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