Facebook is no more than a phase
The Onion recently ran a satirical piece entitled “Every Potential 2040 President Already Unelectable Due to Facebook.” It was a joke, of course, intended to say that Facebook will change the way we look at the lives of politicians in the future, but it’s a great example of an assumption that everyone seems to take for granted: The idea that Facebook will still be around in 2040.
I find that extremely unlikely.
It’s easy to see why some people might think Facebook is immortal, some kind of permanent shift in the way we interact with each other. After all, it is riding high at the moment. We just found out this week that it has 1 billion active monthly users. Facebook has received a lot of hype over the past couple of years surrounding the fact that it was used extensively to organize protests in Egypt and elsewhere during the Arab Spring.
Some commentators are talking as if we have entered a new age of social movements with Facebook leading the change in the way people organize.
But when it comes to organizing things – from going to the bar with friends to a flash mob protesting against an oppressive regime – Facebook is really just a glorified telephone. It does the exact same thing that a phone does: It lets you contact people and coordinate things with them. The only real difference is that Facebook offers a faster way to keep in contact with many people at once. It’s the digital equivalent of a conference call. While it is useful, it is not any kind of quantum leap in the way people coordinate movements.
The fact that people used Facebook to organize marches, protests and occupations during the Arab Spring is no more surprising than the fact that they used telephones in the Russian Revolution 100 years ago. People will always use whatever means of communication are available, and one platform can easily be replaced by another. Although good communication is important, no one has ever overthrown a tyrant with pure speech. What matters is having people in the streets. Facebook – like the telephone – is just something that can help to get them there.
I remember the time when MySpace was the big fad. It was the platform everyone used to stay in touch with friends online (and generate high school drama). I remember when Facebook was small and insignificant by comparison. That wasn’t so long ago – just seven years, in fact. Will Facebook still be the king of social media seven years from now? Maybe, but probably not. It certainly won’t be around 28 years from now in 2040.
What makes me so certain? Well, the world is changing a lot faster than many people seem to realize. Twenty-eight years ago, it was 1984 and world politics were being shaped by the Cold War, Reagan was president of the United States, China was only just starting to build economic ties with the West, the Soviets were the ones fighting a war in Afghanistan, and everyone expected Japan to be the great superpower of the future.
There was no Internet, and therefore no online games. There were no chat rooms or forums or dating sites, and no way to get the news except from TV, radio or print. Mobile phones were the size of large bricks, and most people didn’t even have one. If you wanted to call someone when you were not home, you had to find a payphone. There were no CDs or DVDs. The most advanced portable music player was the Walkman.
If all that changed in the past 28 years, who knows what the world might look like in 2040. The Internet went from an obscure new invention, to being an essential part of our lives in just two decades. It’s entirely possible that people in the year 2040 will not be able to imagine life without some device that was invented in 2020. I am certain that our version of the Internet and social media will be considered as outdated as vinyl records and VHS tapes are today. People will see Facebook the same way we see the Yellow Pages. That is, if they even still remember the social media website.
Social media is not going away. Human beings are social animals and we are always looking for better ways communicate and share our lives. I see no reason to expect Facebook to be anything other than one short episode in the story of human communication. By 2020, let alone 2040, we will move on to the next big thing.
Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.