Note: This is an excerpt from my new book SOCIAL STATE.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
In 2012, Facebook reached a milestone: 1 billion active users. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.
In an age where couples meet, date, and announce everything from marriage to pregnancy and divorce on Facebook, it is clear that social media has had a meaningful impact on how modern connected human beings live their lives. Facebook has become the de facto platform for sharing life’s most meaningful milestones. It is where our announcements become official, and where we celebrate our biggest accomplishments.
We already have too many photos stored inside our smartphones, digital cameras, laptops, email accounts, and external hard drives. The amount of disk space required to store a lifetime of photos seems to be outgrowing the abilities of our devices. Can you imagine how much more will be required to store the photos of a generation whose lives are being documented on a moment-to-moment basis? Will tomorrow’s tweens embrace our social media addiction, taking it to a whole new level by sharing their every action and thought seamlessly, involuntarily, and automatically with strangers, acquaintances, and friends alike? Or will they rebel against our ways and set out to create small, micro-communities where they can easily control how and when they are exposed to an outside world?
Before we think about the future, let’s consider how “old” the most popular social media sites are today:
LinkedIn: Born May 2003 - Almost ten years old
Facebook: Born February 2004 - Almost nine years old
YouTube: Born February 2005 - Almost eight years old
Twitter: Born March 2006 - Almost seven years old
VK: Born September 2006 - Over six years old
Tumblr: Born April 2007 - Almost six years old
Sina Weibo: Born August 2009 - Over three years old
Pinterest: Born March 2010 - Almost three years old
Instagram: Born October 2010 - Over two years old
Google+: Born June 2011 - One year and a half years old
It’s hard to imagine life without many of these web sites.
For an annual cost of $0, these social networks allow us to share our lives instantly, effortlessly, and with a whole lot of metadata. When aggregated, this paints a picture of who we are, what we like, and how we live our lives.
If someone wanted to go through our every social interaction online to create a comprehensive profile of our identity, it wouldn’t be difficult. They could compose a map displaying where we’ve been (whether we have actively “checked in” or not), what we’ve said (or agreed with), who we care about (and despise), and what we think about.
Our life, or at least the digital version of it, exists as rows and columns in massive databases somewhere in a “cloud” of computers that we will never see, hear or reboot. We simply know that our information is recorded somewhere in the mysterious global network we know as the Internet and that as long as we click “refresh” on our browsers, everything will be ok. And yet, this means that we do not fully have control or ownership over some of the most memorable recordings of ourselves.
The fact is that social media is both exciting AND scary.
From the early days of the World Wide Web, the Internet has consistently created both new opportunities and risks. The web allowed for an integration of life and technology, and social media represents an era in which Internet users have opted to reveal their true identities as they interact with the world around them. A more “open and connected” web, as Mark Zuckerberg likes to say, brings a whole new set of excitement and creepiness into an already complex digital landscape.