Ten years of connectivity

February 2, 2014

Ten years of connectivity

In 2003, when Mark Zuckerberg wrote a programme called ‘Facemash’, he probably had no idea that his programme intended to connect people, and later on -- with considerable redesigning and a whole lot of controversy -- would become one of the most powerful, and perhaps life-changing, tools in social media.

Initially brought up as a site to determine whether someone was ‘hot or not’, Facemash was developed through the sheer skill of what many may deem illegal: hacking.

Within a few days, Zuckerberg faced expulsion after being charged with breach of security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy by Harvard administration.

Later on, he launched thefacebook.com.

The rest is history.

With a glance over the past 10 years of Facebook, one can easily see how rapidly unavoidable it has become. Whether you think it is a vortex of rants and flame wars or a temporary medium to vent from, Facebook certainly has established its relevance in millions of lives. Some have even argued that the social network is designed for humans as it satiates our inherent need to connect -- at least according to neuroscientist Matthew D. Lieberman, director of UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab. Apparently, as Jeremy Bentham said, our brains are not as simple as mechanisms reacting to pain and pleasure but wired to connect. This might even explain the obsession some have with social networks like Facebook.

However, after a decade of likes, photos, videos, updates and those ever-changing memes, we need to critically think about Facebook specifically and social media in general. What was called a ‘data revolution’ by Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics is now fast becoming a headache and even danger for many users.

Facebook has generated some of the most unbeatable memes of pop-culture, connected long-lost friends and separated the closest ones. It comes down to how you use it as well as how Facebook uses you.  

The issue here is not the wastage of time or trolling that Facebook users complain about but the many mishaps that we have seen through mis-information and bite-sized updates that often lead to confusion and even offline harm.

One of the most recent and insidiously violent trends we have witnessed on Facebook is the emergence of missing girls’ photos. In the United States, many gangs have uploaded photos of young women claiming they are missing and solicited information of those people to "save" them. Users, out of concern, quickly provide addresses and phone numbers which put those clueless women directly within the reach of rapists and assaulters.

In Pakistan, only recently did we find out about young men befriending women only to kidnap them.

So, you see, Facebook has a dark side too.

After 10 years, let’s just take an eagle eye view of the website that has made (and even destroyed) many lives.

The good side? It’s cathartic. If you have had a bad day or an unpleasant exchange with a co-worker, maybe you feel blue or the weather and you just don’t agree, you have Facebook to go on and let your thoughts out. One of the most fascinating aspects of the network is the almost instant reaction you receive. This is something that marketers have quickly followed up on with creating and spreading business ventures on Facebook. About 93 per cent of marketing companies rely solely on social media for pooling in potential clients and Facebook remains at the top of their list of the best websites for winning subscribers. So, in a way, Facebook has helped companies thrive.

The bad side? Cult-like personas and unnecessary hype. If you believe in moderation, Facebook is not your go-to place. Because the internet provides a degree of anonymity and plenty of space for exaggeration, it has given platforms to people who -- otherwise average like you and me -- feed on social media users and their approval.

And, with Facebook introduced in the arena, the possibility of seeing a plain Joe or Jane pretend to be someone they are not grows by 10 times.

The good side? You can block it. There is no denying that social media generates fatigue and Facebook has been, as many users and ex-users have claimed before, a source of unwarranted tension and drama.

In the six years that I have used Facebook, I have had more prolonged durations of breaks than constant use. And it helps to tune out to tune into something more significant. For instance: That long and slightly intimidating to-do list on your desk.

As someone who studied media as an undergraduate student and focused primarily on the pros and cons of conventional media and social media emanation and usage, I have learned that the saturation of information generated by Facebook in the past 10 years cannot be encapsulated as entirely good or entirely bad. Of course, its appeal can be understood in terms of connecting people rapidly over the past 10 years but it also comes at a price -- and that, too, a hefty one.

Only recently -- almost a decade after Facebook came into being -- one of the most critical issues media scholars and social activists have raised is the accumulation of your personal data extracted by the National Security Agency’s PRISM programme through, quite simply, your Facebook (it’s not just Zuckerberg’s alliance with NSA -- Google, Microsoft, etc. have given in as well).

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Pakistan or the United States, your privacy online has been purchased at $100 billion.

There is also the question of its psychological impact. Facebook can be understood as a website that can easily bring your spirits up and down within a few seconds. You see an image of a lovely kitten followed instantly by a news update accompanied with a photo of a decapitated man. The visual overload of images and information like that can take a toll on your emotional health. There is a reason why psychologists who study the influence of Facebook and other social networks on mental health have often pointed toward the inevitability of desensitisation to stimulus. In simple words, you gradually begin to lose the ability to react differently to different stimuli. It’s all the same to the user -- that is what makes it disturbing.

At the end of the day -- or 10 years, to be more precise -- Facebook has generated some of the most unbeatable memes of pop-culture, connected long-lost friends and separated the closest ones, has led to the spreading of accurate and even terribly inaccurate information and has even driven some up the wall. It comes down to how you use it as well as how Facebook uses you.

If you’ve been smart these years, rejoice and update your profile with "Feeling Good" and if you haven’t made wise decisions on it, it’s time to take a little break.

Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay for a while.

Ten years of connectivity