Self-admiration as the primary practice in 2013
I am 21 years old, I am a university student; after captaining a few Carnival teams I have several hundred pictures I wish to share and people I wish to talk to. So essentially I am the quintessential Facebook user that some combination of Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins were targeting at Harvard in 2003. However, I no longer reflect that ideal.
Facebook has changed, and I am not referring to the user interface changes that cause half of your friends to threaten to delete their account twice a year. No, the change is subtler than that; it is a gradual but decisive shift from socialization to a platform designed around self-congratulation. This is not a revolutionary idea, the internet has always created egos far in excess of what certain people deserve. LinkedIn is a platform based around making oneself seem like the perfect employee, endorsing others and yourself for skills you aren’t even sure they possess. Instagram makes its users feel like bohemian master photographers and Twitter instills in everyone that the minutiae of their day is worthy of interest with a few followers. However every one of these services share the same problem; if you are not exceptional, not interesting, not worth listening to, the size of your audience will reflect that.
Facebook however has circumvented this issue quite elegantly. This is because people like me spent the majority of their high school years accumulating Facebook friends. Because it was the way to share photos, it was how you heard about the parties happening that weekend, and eventually Facebook replaced MSN as a means of quick contact. Facebook was not a means of accomplishing a goal, but a method for socialization. Then, the advent of the smartphone began to redefine socialization; texting and BBM are faster and more direct than Facebook messaging and wall posts. These conversations no longer had to go through Facebook – creating a crisis for Zuckerberg’s baby. What was the role of Facebook in this new decade besides a framing device for various games and a way to disseminate baby pictures without carrying around a photo album?
However Facebook still maintained one advantage over the myriad of other networking sites – the friends list. Hundreds of people who chose to associate with you once upon a time have become de facto followers, and unless you’re particularly exceptional; there are probably more of them than your Twitter followers. It clicked for some that instead of writing statuses about “gearing up for the weekend” this could become an outlet, your method for gleaning the attention that the 21st century has convinced us that we deserve.
Now your status on the merits of Calvin Harris vs. Avicii reaches hundreds instead of your meagre amount of Twitter followers, and the sound of your internet voice can be heard loud and clear. It becomes easy to see the benefit of Facebook as your primary network when seeking social validation. Will these self-concerned entities cause people to realize they are abusing the system and move on? Not so fast as Zuckerberg’s monster has addressed this as well. By the same token that allowed this hypothetical person to access a massive potential audience, this person will likely maintain this contingent purely via nomenclature. These are not your followers, your subscribers, your connections, these are your friends. On Twitter, unfollowing an uninteresting, unfunny person carries no emotion and no social ramifications. Deleting a friend though still carries enough weight implying that you must be truly heartless to cut your friend out of your life. Even the truly idiotic and detestable are kept for the value of schadenfreude and self-congratulation by comparison.
It is admirable the way Facebook has transitioned its function from socialization to self-admiration to keep itself relevant. The intriguing question going forward is how lasting this new Facebook is in the face of increasing innovation. Whatever happens, we know that the big blue behemoth is nothing if not adaptable.