Facebook has Changed the World

Source: The Guardian, August 28

On Monday, one in seven people on Earth used Facebook – 1 billion people, according to founder Mark Zuckerberg. In a decade, the social network has transformed people’s relationships, privacy, their businesses, the news media, helped topple regimes and even changed the meaning of everyday words.

“A more open and connected world is a better world. It brings stronger relationships with those you love, a stronger economy with more opportunities, and a stronger society that reflects all of our values,” wrote Zuckerberg in the post announcing the numbers.

[Here is just one] of the ways his company changed everything – for better or worse.

Facebook has changed the definition of “friend.”

“To friend” is now a verb. And unlike real life when the ending of a friendship can be deeply traumatic, it is easy to “de-friend,” a word invented to describe ditching a casual acquaintance when they are no longer enhancing your Facebook newsfeed.

Although the meaning of the words “share” and “like” are essentially the same, Facebook has brought an entirely new weight to the terms.

High school and university reunions have become redundant – you already know whose career is going well, whether the perfect pair have split and you’ve seen endless pictures of your schoolmates’ babies. You won’t be surprised by an ex in the street with a new girlfriend or boyfriend: you already know they’re dating someone else from the romantic selfies.

But unlike in real life, Facebook has no hierarchy of friendships. A classmate from one project at university who you haven’t seen in 15 years, a friend-of-a-friend from a stag do, or a colleague you’ve never actually spoken to in person – they are all Facebook friends in the same way as your closest mate, or your spouse, or your mum.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we see them the same way. Prof. Robin Dunbar is famous for his research that suggests a person can only have roughly 150 people as a social group. Facebook hasn’t changed that yet, he believes, but in an interview with the New Yorker, Dunbar said he feared it was so easy simply to end friendships on Facebook that eventually there may no longer be any need to learn to get along.

“In the sandpit of life, when somebody kicks sand in your face, you can’t get out of the sandpit. You have to deal with it, learn, compromise,” he said. “On the internet, you can pull the plug and walk away. There’s no forcing mechanism that makes us have to learn….”

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4 responses to “Facebook has Changed the World

  1. henrylotin@rogers.com

    This article understates Facebook’s impact on our connectivity capacity. How many of us physically attend those reunions, but now can reconnect or stay in touch with those that were (human contact) friends and classmates decades ago? How regularly did we write or call a circle of friends in other countries? The creation of this “virtual common” or global water cooler removes barriers of distance and inconvenience to stay in touch with a wider circle from different aspects of our lives.

  2. David Schatzky

    Some people, even young ones, still know the difference between a real friend and a Facebook friend. A teenager told me if someone asks him to be their friend on Facebook he asks them if they know his phone number. If they don’t, he says, they’re not a friend and he won’t become their Facebook friend.

    Is Dunbar right about people being cavalier about their Facebook relationships? Many feel devastated if they’re unfriended by someone they may never even have met. Therapists hear about Facebook friend-related rejection, depression, anxiety and rage all too frequently. For that reason, many Facebook users are very careful about not offending members of their virtual community and will go to great lengths not to unfriend someone maliciously or carelessly, and to comment constructively or humorously on almost anything anyone in their circle posts on Facebook. They want neither to hurt or be hurt. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re an active Facebooker, and to keep up with the demands is very time-consuming, I’m told.

  3. henrylotin@rogers.com

    Would be interested to hear David Schatzky’s take on the influence of Facebook in broadening those we may stay in contact with, and the benefits this might accrue…

  4. Henry, sorry to have taken so long to follow up. What follows is not a direct response, but it does give some context: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34373389