Facebook: The Greatest Force for Good Since the Printing Press
A recent Forbes article said that new research is showing that Facebook is “dead and buried” to teens. You know what? Good. Great! I couldn’t be happier to hear it. The same way I don’t want a lot of teens in my favorite restaurant when I’m lucky enough to be out for a date night or attending a movie (which is why we now see movies only at iPic- a 21+ movie theater), I don’t want them cluttering up Facebook with all the inane actions and comments that are indelibly linked to teenage-dom. Teens- don’t go ruining on of my favorite innovations of the last 10 years.
This post is a love letter to Facebook, because I DO truly, love it. Not just for all that it has done for me personally- I love being reconnected with friends from all stages of my life. I love that friends who knew me as an awkward, nerdy, and know-it-all teenager, have seen me grow up into a (hopefully) more well-adjusted and thoughtful adult. I love being connected to more recent friends that, because of the hectic pace of life, I don’t get to see and socialize with as often as I’d like. I love running into someone at Target and being current on what joys or tragedies or maybe just recent food-porn they have posted. I truly feel like my life is better because of Facebook. Sure, it’s a time-suck and yes, it would be better without ads, but it feels like a fair tradeoff for how it has enriched my life. I think far too many people take for granted all the good it does in their lives.
Beyond what it has done for me individually, Facebook has become a tremendous force for good in the world. Now, like all technology, FB, in and of itself, is inherently neutral, but through its usage by millions of people, and careful implementation by the company- it has demonstrated its existing and growing power to be a strong influence for good- whether empowering people, exposing cruelty, or amplifying the voices of those who would otherwise struggle to be heard. Twitter is even more powerful in this respect. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Facebook and Twitter, as the foremost social media platforms, are on par with the printing press, given how they are transforming how we communicate, spread information, and exert a net positive effect in the world.
Take a step back and marvel at all the good things that social technologies have enabled over the last several years. Whether shedding light on revolutions, providing “eye witness” accounts of events, or spreading information faster and more effectively than any news outlet could hope for, social technology has been tremendously influential- and in a way that should make us feel better about humanity, the balance of that influence has been for good. It has been a stunning and magnificent transformation.
Yes- FB, Twitter, Instagram, and all their techno-friends are also littered (sometimes overrun) with the banal, the vapid, the incorrect, the angry, and ignorant, but the overall balance- at least from my vantage point, is one of positive effect. In a world with so many heavy, heavy things happening all the time, I am not going to begrudge folks their cat memes and even a Kardashian tweet or two.
I have often thought of reaching out to Facebook with the aim of suggesting a “social influence” or “social good” team. I don’t know if this type of team exists within FB, Twitter, or any other social technology company, but it should. The power wielded by these social networks is obviously world-spanning and frankly mind-blowing, so I hope and expect that a lot of thoughtful design is going into the social impact of every feature introduced. When we look back in 20 or 30 years, we will see that these social platforms have not only made the world a smaller, more accessible place- but a measurably better one.
Which brings me back to teenagers and their alleged absence from Facebook. Good! Go out and make mistakes and post them to Snapchat. Please, grow-up outside of my FB feed. I want your parents to post pictures of you at graduation, birthdays, Christmas outings, and getting that first car- but I don’t want to see all the heartbreak, dumb mistakes, and teenage drama that are the hazing Mother Nature designed for you on the way to adulthood. Feel free to join FB when you are 18 or better yet, 22 or 23. Until then, in this hyper-connected and documented world, I want young people to have at least a thin veil of privacy from adults. And it goes both ways- I don’t want you to laugh as I post about not being able to stay up past 11pm anymore or how much I love watching Downton Abbey or the travails of my commute. It’s not intended for you- at least not this year. Come back in 5 or 10 years and we’ll be glad to welcome you to the grown-up side of social media.