Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Facebook. That prompted founder Mark Zuckerberg to pause and pontificate:
I remember getting pizza with my friends one night in college shortly after opening Facebook. I told them I was excited to help connect our school community, but one day someone needed to connect the whole world.
I always thought this was important — giving people the power to share and stay connected, empowering people to build their own communities themselves.
When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.
The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.
While some doubted that connecting the world was actually important, we were building. While others doubted that this would be sustainable, you were forming lasting connections.
We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.
That’s why I’m even more excited about the next ten years than the last. The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems.
Today, only one-third of the world’s population has access to the internet. In the next decade, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to connect the other two-thirds.
Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems.
But Facebook already answers questions and solves complex problems, such as the supposedly secret recipe for Red Lobster cheese/garlic biscuits, what Star Wars character you are (in my case, Darth Vader, but I suspected that already) and what career you should really have (in my case, astronaut).
I’ve been on Facebook shortly since this blog started, largely because it was suggested that being part of what would be the world’s third largest country if Facebook was a country would be a good idea for networking. As of yesterday I have 443 Facebook Friends, some of whom are actual friends of mine.
As part of the Internet, Facebook at its least objectionable is entertainment. It can be informative, though as with anything “facts” on Facebook require a degree of caveat emptor. (I think I just used a Latin phrase as an English noun.) Facebook specifically and social media generally have also been avenues for cyberbullying, though that’s the fault of the bully, not his or her tools.
Less serious, though annoying, is Facebook users’ ability to generate offense in others, because of something you say or do (for instance, pass on a message that offends someone else’s views), or don’t say or do (for instance, fail to pass on a religious message). Again, that’s not really the fault of Facebook; it’s the fault of its users for an exaggerated sense of offense, an intolerance of views that aren’t theirs, and an inability or unwillingness to argue differing viewpoints.
Because I am allergic to hype, I think Zuckerberg overstates the impact of his creation. Facebook is a way to connect with people, including those you don’t actually physically meet, but it’s sort of like an electronic bulletin board viewable by invitation. Facebook has helped this blog reach a wider audience, though it probably also has contributed to some of my Friends deFriending themselves. (Friends can be friends, and friends can be Friends, but if you deFriend someone, were you really ever their friend?) I’d call it a faster method of communication (similar to email) than telephone calls, letters or face-to-face conversation, but the term “communication” is supposed to be between at least two people, and tbat obviously don’t always happen.
Last week, I read a blog that suggested that people need to stop telling lies on Facebook. (To which I replied: Note to self: Take my three Super Bowl wins off my wall.) By “lying” she meant not telling the truth, exactly, but posts that depict our lives as fault-free and idyllic, with exotic vacations and children who excel in everything they do.
I decided against sharing her blog because in finding one fault of social media, she committed a double-faceted fault of her own — excessive sharing. Reading her blog, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about how she discusses human biology with her children, not to mention additional details of her life she probably should have kept to herself. Excessive sharing can mean not just bragging about how great your life is, but moaning about how bad your life is.
Excessive sharing is really not the fault of Facebook specifically or social media generally. Tools are almost never at fault for the faults of the user. Social media makes sharing easier to a wider audience. And of course on the Internet, nothing really goes away permanently (except, apparently, the late Marketplace Magazine’s late online presence.) Excessive sharing probably is the result of some people’s need for validation from others, an excessive regard for others’ opinions of yourself.
An example that things you posted can come back to haunt you (and I certainly hope the aforementioned bloggers’ children never read that particular blog) comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web Today (which I read before Facebook existed):
The concluding item in our July 17, 2008, column referred to an article in the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va., by an author with an unusual first name. We assumed the author was male; this past weekend she wrote to inform us we assumed incorrectly. We’ve corrected the item’s pronouns.
The author of that article added: “This is something I wrote when I was 17, yet when employers search for me, this negative feedback is one of the first things they see.” We sympathize, so we’ve removed her name from the old column.
What prompted this? Read the original:
When applying for jobs, the one place you do not want to call you back inevitably will. …
Of all the interesting, vibrant-looking places in my area that I could have worked, this was definitely my last choice. But the only other places I had wanted to work told me it would be a few weeks or months, and I had to have something ASAP so that I could pay the rent. …
First of all, some of my co-workers whom I met later are not exactly savory. They are much older than me and don’t seem to respect me at all, even though I am doing my best to comply with their every wish and to be the best employee I can be. The management also demands that I remove my lip rings while working–which is ridiculous considering how many people with piercings I serve every day. This makes things a bit difficult due to the fact that I don’t have the extra money right now to go out and buy spacers to put in the holes while I’m at work.
The one fellow employee that I really liked has crumpled under the awful pressure and quit, and I am being paid minimum wage–a fact I did not learn until the first paycheck came out.
But what makes the situation really unbearable is not the employees at Subway or even the stupid rules and pay, but the fact that I am barely getting any hours at this terrible job. At places like this, a worker is just a commodity, serving the functions of the business–not a person with needs that should be met. Six hours a week is not exactly going to cut it for someone who asked for more than 40 hours and has rent and bills to pay. …
To top it all off, the fast-food industry is wasteful and goes against even the most basic environmentalist practices. Mishandled food or food that can’t be served is thrown away, not saved to be taken home by the workers. Each sub is wrapped in paper and then placed into a small plastic bag–basically the equivalent of a grocery store giving customers one bag for each grocery. Even the apples we sell come sliced and packaged in plastic, although they would be perfectly sellable without any of that. In short, it is all about the profit and not about the overall good of society.
So what can I do about all of this? Well, apart from complaining in my column and trying to get another job as soon as possible, not much. I just have to keep going to work and hoping for the best. And maybe, some day, I will start my own restaurant, just to combat all the evil that I see in the fast-food industry.
The writer complains that “This is something I wrote when I was 17, yet when employers search for me, this negative feedback is one of the first things they see,” without apparently noticing that the original source still has her name on it. And doing a one-page Google search, guess what comes up? Yes, the original piece. Plus her piece with comments (in red) picking apart her 17-year-old thoughts like a knife through steak.
There is a lesson here, and it’s not just about excessive sharing. Post something online — a Twitter thought of 160 or fewer characters, a Facebook post or reply, or a blog post — and you had better be ready to justify it, or at least explain it, potentially years later. (Just like print, in which, as a former boss of mine said, you can’t unring a bell.) The intemperate rant of the aforementioned writer apparently has resulted in “negative feedback” for potential employers, which is no one’s fault but her own. (One wonders how long it took her to figure out that potential future employers might see a potential employee’s blasting her present employer as foreshadowing.) Is that unfair? Life is unfair, and it is reasonable to ask if the writer of such a snotty screed was merely having a bad day, or is really that self-centered and self-impressed (and thus a poor hiring choice) every day. The First Amendment guarantees the right of self-expression, not immunity from the consequences of self-expression.
(For those who care: I loathe people who devise arguments merely to be argumentative — for instance, a certain Northeast Wisconsin sportswriter who claimed throughout the mid- and late 1990s that the Packers weren’t very good, while they were on the way to back-to-back Super Bowls. I therefore resolved to not do that, and for my entire opinionmongering career, I have always written what I believed and believed what I wrote at that particular time, though I can change my mind.)
Facebook is also a mirror, for better or worse. Anytime you give people the ability to communicate faster, you give people the ability to speak (or write) before thinking. This blog requires me to think about what I want to say, and before publishing revise and edit how I say what I want to say.
The Internet did not change, and will not change, human nature. People make the right and wrong decision(s) every day. Yes, you can hit Send and then edit or delete comments, but in the worst case that can be like apologizing for offending someone — the apology has less impact than what you did that prompted the need for the apology. Hit Send, and it’s difficult to get an intemperate slam or a cutting remark back.
Facebook supposedly has a personalized video for its users made up of images from a user’s wall. Showing where I sit in the Facebook universe even before I wrote this, I have received no video as of this posting, although Facebook did put together this photo from my wall:
According to this, I’m still in the UW Band (hence the four hatted Bucky photos), I like the Packers (but you knew that), and I eat (and you knew that too). The interesting thing is that I didn’t post any of these photos; other people posted them on my wall.