On any given day, it is likely that the average college student will log on to Facebook at least five times. The site’s popularity as a social-networking tool, friend finder, photo and video sharing tool, event planner/organizer and device of ultimate Internet procrastination is virtually unparalleled. Facebook boasts roughly 800 million users, growing exponentially since its launch in February 2004, but most people already know all of this.
Facebook’s importance in the day-to-day lives of millions of people is no trifling matter. Although there are numerous other social networking and media sharing sites, Facebook occupies a singular place in the Internet’s collective imagination. Twitter, WordPress, Youtube, Flickr, Blogger and other social networking and media tools are all open for anyone to use, but they each occupy a specific place and serve specialized functions.
Only Facebook comes anywhere close to ubiquity because it alone out of a plethora of sites comes closest to enabling anyone who uses it to create and post a believable digital version of their life. This raises it up from the depths of humble Internet site-dom, and turns it into an essential, indispensible part of daily life.
Facebook has truly transformed the way in which the world looks at social networking, taking it from a website where college students post party pictures, to an extension of human ingenuity and a tool for democratic revolution.
So why should we care about a “digital paradigm shift,” an “Internet revolution” or “the rise of the digital age”? The inescapable fact is that all these things go to the core of modern civilization because they govern our social interactions down to the most microscopic level: how we contact our friends, plan birthday parties and get-togethers, get up-to-date information on a club or group of interest, look into the lives of public figures and celebrities and countless other daily activities.
Status updates and wall posts are Facebook’s heart and soul, and embody many of the changes indicated in this “paradigm shift.” These two seemingly inconsequential actions have changed the way in which we gather and process information, whether the post is a funny video or a hard-hitting article. Think back to any major world event during the past year, the 2011 Egyptian Revolution for instance. On Jan. 26, the government shut down Internet services in order to halt protesters’ ability to organize demonstrations through various Facebook groups and tweets. In the wake of the revolution, a plethora of groups and pages popped up, such as, “POWER-People Of the World for the Egyptian Revolution,” which has 18,509 likes, or “Egyptian Revolution” with 6,422 likes.
Yet Facebook hasn’t only changed the world on a large scale. The ability to share pictures and videos on Facebook has contributed dramatically to its success as a social-networking site, and governs the way we act in ways we often neglect to think about. Imagine going to a job interview, only to realize that floating around, somewhere out in that Internet ether are dozens of pictures of you tagged at last Friday’s totally rad party complete with beer bongs and keg stands. Feelings in such a moment would likely be of crushing panic, unique consequences of the Internet age. Although most Internet savvy people are familiar with the importance of regulating their Facebook profiles, the necessity for this kind of thinking did not exist as recently as one decade ago. Life retained a greater degree of privacy without the proliferation of picture and video sharing devices and websites.
In spite of the ways that Facebook has changed the way we interact with the world, it remains, as the rest of the Internet, a creature of our own creation. However, it seems that this creature has grown too complex for our understanding. Have we created a Frankenstein creature sewn together from the bits and pieces of life we choose, or some accurate digital transcription of ourselves?
The ability to construct digital lives of our own making, to create ourselves in our own image is unparalleled throughout all of recorded human history until Facebook’s rise to prominence among social-networking sites. The reason, then, that Facebook is essential is that we are it and it is us. Stare into the computer screen at the newsfeed or a profile page and think about what is there, blossoming amid the strange world of silicon and plastic and metal and glass.