On the week of its 10th birthday, Facebook introduced a new feature that gives users the ability to ‘Look Back’, producing a video which allows its audience relive their digital history on the social network. It’s a move that attempts to induce a sense of nostalgia, dwelling on the emotional tone that personifies them as a kind of hub for past memories. Facebook is a place we share some of our most intimate moments: births, marriages and death. But when I say “looking back on Facebook”, I’m not talking about ‘Look Back’ – I’m talking about its own history with us. Funny thing is, most users don’t want to look back in nostalgia. They’re not really bothered. They want to know what’s next — but they’re not sure what it is.
It’s hard to believe that Facebook is now a decade old, yet here we ten years later, fervently debating the future of the social network that has a $160 billion market value and is the 19th most valuable company in the U.S. Where do we stand within all these figures and dollar signs? What’s our actual relationship with Facebook? And in a company that wants you to keep looking back, where is it all going?
Thanks to Facebook’s emphasis on shareable content, the very concept of sharing images, words or videos has become universal across social media. But the real questions we should be asking have more to do with how much we are willing to share as a society, and how much of our online and offline identities are converging.
When it comes to understanding our relationship to social media, technogenic problems – meaning ones intricately related to technology – prevail. The history of who we are is tightly coiled around the history of technology’s own rapid evolution, but we’re not focusing on looking back; milestones such as Facebook’s birthday are asking us to consider the past, but we’re more interested in asking what might yet be in store. As Facebook celebrates a decade of life online, let’s start asking ourselves: Facebook has our past — but will it own our future?
Recent articles like “Is Facebook dead and buried?”and “Is Facebook dying?” assign Facebook with some form of consciousness, as if it’s a singular entity that lives and dies. We shouldn’t be thinking of something that occupies our lives so entrancingly in such light. If we’re going to reflect on Facebook, then let’s use it as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves.
Fundamentally, Facebook is just the sum of its parts — all of its 1.23 billion users. When we vilify and criticise social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, we must understand that we are doing the same to ourselves; we are the make-up of this network. If Facebook is binary at heart, then we are its biological core – and we also decide its future.
“Facebook doesn’t have to lose for other platforms to win, because there is no social media monopoly – they’re all in separate races "
That point of view offers a fresh perspective on surveillance: ‘coveillance’ — the way in which we are watching each other. The last ten years of Facebook have fundamentally consisted of users connecting, but consider the hours we’ve spent recording our lives through photos, events and statuses, essentially having our identity digitised by the company. Through the past decade the effect of ‘the social network’ has increased our transparency and the ways in which we present our identity on the web, so our participation in using Facebook means committing to being under surveillance – yes, by the NSA, but much more often by each other.
Since Facebook’s inception in 2004, platforms like Twitter and Snapchat have entered the arena, providing communication that focuses more on the present moment; people talk of “being in the now”. Yet these haven’t “killed” Facebook, nor enhanced it, but provided a different form of self-expression necessary when living your life online. Facebook doesn’t have to lose for other platforms to win, because there is no social media monopoly – they’re all in separate races . But people don’t care, they just want to be where their friends are: social media isn’t social without the essential interaction. Facebook, and other social networks provide the tools that society uses to participate in their own social interaction — but only the tools, the essence and value of the platform is provided in the participant – you. Founding Wired editor Kevin Kelly noticed that “the first person to buy a fax machine was an idiot — because he/she had no one to actually fax” and this rings true of modern communication platforms today.
Fundamentally, when we all stop logging in , then there’s nothing left to log in for – and when that time comes we won’t ‘Look Back’, just like we didn’t with MySpace, Bebo or Friendster. We just moved on. Right now, in this moment, the positives of using Facebook outweigh the negatives of our own participation, which brings us back to the ol’ technogenic problem: we can’t work out what Facebook will be tomorrow, however eager we may be. It will be influenced by the choices we make in the present – not by the past.
Follow Olly Osborne on Twitter here @OllyOsborne