When I first joined Facebook in 2004, I didn’t think much of it… basically it had all the flair of a business card. You couldn’t “Like” anything on someone else’s profile page. During the first few years there was no “neutral” area (now referred to as a News Feed), you could only view your own profile page (or “Wall” as it was termed then), and you couldn’t even post photos.
In those bygone days Myspace (which had a lot more bells and whistles) was king of the nascent social media upswell. Twitter had not yet made a peep. Google was just a search engine, without the Plus. But social media sites as a whole were still a tad on the fringe then, as most people seemed to prefer blogs and message boards. My, what a difference 10 years makes.
What started out as a way for college kids to network has more or less become THE way people stay in touch with (or stalk) each other. I’ve learned about births, deaths, divorces, and breaking worldwide events through the site. I found out about one friend’s “coming out of the closet” the same way I learned another friend’s change in religious affiliation: when it became “Facebook official.”
It’s gone from being “a place for friends” to how friends identify themselves to each other. Facebook is no longer just a bunch of profiles — an eclectic collection of online business cards — but is now, for millions, an autobiography in real-time. An autobiography in which all of our loved ones are able to contribute.
Just in the last 10 years, Facebook has opened a window into the day-to-day goings on of each of our lives, and the lives of those we love. We as a society are more accustomed than ever to knowing, moment-to-moment, what is going on in other people’s lives. In some ways, it’s as if we’ve come to expect it, and wonder about it when things aren’t happening.
A few weeks back a colleague of mine actually dropped by, “just to check” on me. His reason? “I noticed you hadn’t posted anything on Facebook in a while.” I found it endearing. My friend went from checking up on to checking in on me.
Almost everyone I know has a Facebook account, as are more than 70 percent of all Internet users and upwards of 80 percent of the American voting public. According to the 2013 Pew social media report, 57 percent of all U.S. adults (and 73 percent of those ages 12-17) are on Facebook.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing. After all, you’re bound to find plenty of devils anywhere you go looking for angels. Like anything else on the Internet, something so prevalent is able to be used for darker purposes than perhaps the designers intended.
There have been relationships torn apart, marriages ended and families ruined because of something posted or messaged on Facebook.
Crimes have been committed. Sexual predators have been given a rushing torrent of unlimited victims. Scammers have found yet another way to weasel their way into honest wallets.
Among some individuals with whom I am acquainted there is ceaseless drama, sputtering incomprehensible political viewpoints taken, and an almost incessant posturing — and I don’t just mean from my in-laws.
In thinking about this issue I’ve skimmed over voluminous articles, studies, and op-ed copy on every conceivable angle of the social media leviathan.
Does Facebook make us sad? Does it give us unrealistic expectations for our lives? Does Facebook make us jealous of others? Are we becoming more disconnected? Should companies fire employees over something posted on social media?
What impact has Facebook had on the way we remember events and people in our lives? How does it shape the way we talk and even think?
Looking back on my own 10-plus years of social media, I cannot help but wonder where it is leading us as a people. Are we becoming distracted from distraction by distraction? Have social media outlets like Facebook taken us somewhere we don’t want to go as a culture — if so, can we come back?
I don’t lament the site… I look at it as a tool, and like any tool it can be used to perform helpful tasks as well as destructive. The wisdom is found in knowing the difference.