Facebook: Gameboy for the Over-40 Set

The news that older people are the fastest growing segment of Facebook users came as a shock to many, but not to me. You see, I live with one of them.

Of course I am also one myself, as my high school and college-aged kids would hastily point out. They have been kind enough to "friend" me on Facebook, but only in an ironic way, which doesn't make them less cool in the eyes of their friends.

Besides, I'm the type of Facebook user who doesn't poke others, doesn't engage in meaningless flower-sending or zombie wars, and doesn't care what the hell Catholic saint, ancient Goddess, Shakespeare character or natural disaster I might be. So they can live with me as their Facebook friend, provided I don't post too many embarrassing baby pictures or freak out when their profile pictures look a bit unclothed.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, could be a poster child for The New (Older) Facebook. His love of social networking has resulted in warnings by the Powers That Be that he was amassing too many friends. He is on his laptop before 7 am, commenting on everyone's status updates and new photos. By the end of the day he has caught up with friends from Russia to New Zealand, learned the names of their new babies and former lovers, and stored it all in the enormous part of his brain reserved for Facebook-related information.

I say this with a certain amount of awe, because while I would like to care about my friends that much, the truth is that I do not. In fact, his Facebook habit has made me realize just how little I care about my childhood friend's daughter's new swimsuit, my high school class reunion committee's progress, or just about anything not connected with my immediate family and environment. Does this make me self-absorbed and short-sighted? Or by ignoring its relentless newsfeed am I taking a stand against the Facebook-ification of daily life?

The other night we were sitting together watching TV, and during every commercial break he reached for his iPhone, turned on Facebook, and scrolled through the new listings of people's robot names, who liked whose links, and what new comments had been added to which photos. I sat there wondering where I had seen this behavior before, but it took me another glass of wine before I could put my finger on it: He looked exactly like an 8-year-old who just got a Gameboy and won't rest until he's won all the levels of every single game he owns.

Except the Facebook game has no end. It comes with a limitless cast of characters, is part schmoozy business network, part family photo album and part reality show, and offers just enough helpful information to give every user an airtight excuse to log in whenever they feel the need.

If this were one of my kids sitting around with a Gameboy, I could make up reasonable-sounding rules such as: no Gameboy at the breakfast table, no playing till you've mowed the lawn, all hand-held machines off after 9 pm. Chances are they would even follow them most of the time.

But Facebook is now being used by a generation that grew up way before handheld video games were invented. They have no natural or developed immunity to the medium, and no reason to curtail their Facebook behavior -- it is just too damn useful, and they are adults after all.

This Facebook craze among people my own age has made some parts of my life much easier, I admit. But I never imagined it would make me nostalgic for the days of the Gameboy craze.