It’s been 8 years since Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook or stole the idea, depending on whose version of the story you believe. Whether original or stolen, Facebook is an extremely brilliant invention. Zuckerberg’s worth, following the IPO, is currently estimated to be somewhere in the region of $15 billion. Facebook has become an integral part of the everyday lives of its over 900 million active users. Few things have shaped contemporary culture in the past decade the way Facebook has. So central to our existence has Facebook become, it even inspired creative ways of embezzling public funds here in Nigeria (does “feeding” a Facebook account ring a bell?)
Here are some significant – yet somewhat understated – ways Facebook has changed our lives:
Facebook is the showman’s delight. How else do you explain how a girl hangs out with Banky W at the VIP section of Auto Lounge on Friday night and uploads 99 pictures taken in the course of the night by 9 am the following morning? If she had such a blast, she should still be reeling from a hangover, shouldn’t she? Well, she wants to show off, that’s why!
With Facebook, you can flaunt (at no cost) anything and everything you’ve got. Like most things human, showing off is vulnerable to both extremes, and what people show off ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. So I can understand why you have to upload pictures of the holiday you and your boo had in Maldives, but what’s with the picture of you beaming on the platform of a London Underground station?
Before you start thinking uploading pictures is the only means of exhibitionism available on Facebook, hold on. What about a status update that goes: “thanks baby for the best birthday gift ever”? Considering that you must have already thanked him in person (or at the very worst via a text or over the phone), isn’t it a bit too obvious that you put it on your Facebook wall simply because you wanted to gloat?
The point is that we all love to show off our possessions, particularly those we think (rightly or wrongly) that other people are not as fortunate to have. These possessions could be a fine babe, a sleek ride, Jimmy Choos, flat abs, a tastefully furnished crib, big booty, adorable kids or celebrity friends. And since the advent of Facebook, self-advertisement has never been easier or cheaper. Although disguised as “sharing” our lives with “friends” (majority of whom we care little about and barely know anyway), at the end of the day, it’s all about showboating.
The traditional voyeur was the guy who crouched at the window of his top-floor room, lights turned off, and peeked through a slit in the drawn curtains in order to see the girl who lived in an apartment in the opposite building undress. That form of voyeurism is now as dated as it is repugnant.
With Facebook, and thanks to the vast majority of its users who are bewilderingly generous with personal information, you get to know without asking that Ada has broken up with her longterm boyfriend (Ada is now single); that Tony’s Blackberry pin is 1290A1Z (because he doesn’t think its indiscreet to display it on his wall); that Funmi has completed her Masters degree at Warwick (even if you missed her “LLM, baby!“, there was no way of missing the graduation pictures she splashed all over Facebook); and that Dotun’s wife thinks very highly of him (“I’ve got the best hubby in the whole world!”); all of which are things you really had no business knowing except Ada, Tony, Funmi, or Dotun ranked among your closest friends.
That many of us, either out of ignorance or carelessness, do not make proper use of privacy settings makes things even worse. I know privacy isn’t as important to some as it is to others, but I don’t think the idea of Facebook is to make every private detail of our lives a spectacle for every Tom, Dick and Harry that signs up to Facebook to feast on.
3. Free Speech
Facebook has made it easier to regurgitate famous quotes and pass them off as ours. You no longer have to be a newspaper columnist to shape intellectual discourse; you’re likelier to get a rejoinder to a Facebook post than a newspaper opinion ed. You may not believe this, but there are fellas who consider the number of responses their Facebook posts (or tweets) generate a measure of their importance.
In summary, Facebook has liberalised intellectualism. Alas, wisdom is no longer the exclusive preserve of kings and scholars.
In the good old days, guys had no clue if she was single or hooked but set off bravely in pursuit nonetheless. Today, no thanks to Facebook, seeing she’s proudly “in a relationship” (or worse still, “engaged” or even worse still, “married”) is, except for the mischievious or foolhardy, a convenient excuse to chicken out. Facebook hasn’t only made the game too easy; it has also spawned a generation of cyber stalkers and e-predators, who skulk the web space, looking for men and women with statuses that read “single” or “it’s complicated”.
Facebook has altered the dynamics of romance. Wooing a girl has moved from being a daring, daunting quest to a calculated, low-risk venture. No wonder our fathers think our generation is soft!
My first impression of Facebook, I recall, was that it was the most ingenious invention, since the Playstation, for curing boredom. That rather cynical impression has since been watered down now that I have realised how terribly useful Facebook is for certain things eg. putting you back in touch with friends and acquaintances that seemed to have vanished from the surface of the earth, and getting reminders of birthdays I would otherwise have forgotten.
Having said that, considering that some people get on Facebook to declare how tired they are (and there are such people!), there’s no doubt that Facebook is for many, the ultimate boredom killer; and that by feasting on friends’ walls, profiles, posts and pictures, many folks merely seek an alternative to the humdrum of their own uneventful lives. Or how else do you explain someone who’s neither a school dropout nor unemployed getting addicted to Farmville, experimenting with applications that reveal what their names say about them or who’s been viewing their profiles, or such similar nonsense?
Come to think of it, if Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard buddies hadn’t been bored, would they have developed Facemash, the precursor to Facebook?
So has your search for a husband moved from singles’ fellowships to Facebook walls? Do you have 1,001 pictures of you on your profile? Do you click “Add Friend” without pausing to think whether you have a clue who the funny looking fella is? Are you one of those that give the prompter “what’s on your mind” its narrowest, most literal interpretation? Come on, let’s know what Facebook has done to you!
Postscript: This post first appeared as a Note on (yes you guessed right) Facebook on November 18 2010 (did I hear anyone sniggering?)The Facebook Files are a collection of rewrites of the author’s Facebook Notes.