As Facebook celebrates 500 million users (yes, that’s half a billion), I’ve been thinking about the impact of this 5 year old website, which is now so much more than just a website. It’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, just 26 years old (a year younger than I), has relentlessly steered his company through numerous twists and turns with more often than not a deft hand for creating a globally successful product.
In Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2010 article (naming Mr Zuckerberg as the accolade’s holder), a few startling facts stand out which help in painting the picture of the sheer scale and reach of Facebook. Currently 700,000 people every day are signing up to Facebook. Each month an additional 1 billion items of content are added. Facebook has been translated (and is used) in over 75 languages, and if it were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.
Zuckerberg has turned down numerous offers for the company, reaching $1 billion not so many years ago. He is clearly not motivated by the pull of wealth. No, he seems solely focused on building an ever more successful product that encourages its users to be ever more open with their thoughts, preferences and lives.
What impact is/will Facebook have on our society? On Facebook everyone that you are connected to is labeled with the singular mark of friend, although we all have different depths of friendship, and some Facebook friendships are little more than outdated notions of acquaintance. Does Facebook encourage me to be more open? Perhaps not, but maybe it does provide me with a more convenient way to push my thoughts out there, letting others decide which of those they wish to consume. It is certainly a more liberal approach to friendship.
Browsing through endless photo streams and keeping an eye out for other users’ activity can be an addictive pass-time, it can certainly feed boredom. Despite its liberal tendencies, it does not well facilitate intelligent discussion, more simply a juvenile expose of the latest thought that drops into one’s head. Considered opinion and researched thought do not find an easy home on Facebook, and so as a measure of our maturity and our society’s ability to build philosophical views, it is grossly devoid of such wrangling, instead valuing every thought and emotion as equal.
For those who can discern the difference this is of little problem; we know when there is a time for presenting our minute old feelings and we know where to go for meaningful discussion and debate. But for the generation growing up with Facebook, will they know any differentiation? Will personal trivia become the staple diet of our relational connections?
Having now finished reading “The Facebook Effect“, it is clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s deep conviction is to encourage openness, and contrary to Google’s approach of pulling information, Facebook allows individuals to push the information that they wish to share, and decide who they wish to share it with. The later of these emphases is held lightly by Zuckerberg, with the long-run hope that people will become less concerned with whom they are sharing with, and make such left wing contributions for the good of the world.
As Facebook sets its sights on 1 billion users, we will need to question even further our identity, and just what we are projecting through electronic forms, and of that projection, what are we willing to stand for in the flesh.