The New York Times is now reporting that Facebook has 175 million users. If it were a country, Facebook would be the 6th largest in the world. Currently, its half the size of the United States. With a reach like that and its amazing News Feed and Mini Feed applications that push content and interactions directly to a user’s profile page, is it any wonder that Facebook has become a marketer’s dream?
Facebook has started to replace phone calls and email inboxes as the preferred method of communication. It’s messaging system allows an IM like experience with your network of friends. It’s instant – and easy. As a result, people are spending more time using it. I keep it open on my desktop for hours a day because that’s how peers and clients communicate with me.
I use Facebook primarily for business. As a public relations and communications consultant, I work in new media and have accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and actively write two blogs. I also have accounts at Technorati, Digg.com, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Delicious (although I’m not as active on those platforms). Social media is part of what I do.
Yet as Facebook becomes more mainstream and stretches its demographics (right now the fastest growing segment is people over the age of 30), I worry about the uncharted territory we’re heading into. We have yet to realize the full societal impact of a platform like Facebook, which for a new generation of people already means never having to say good-bye to anyone – ever.
And that might not be a good idea. Life is segmented on purpose. A person isn’t the same person in high school as he is in college. People in their 20s are different when they reach their 40s and 60s. All of us change and evolve. Part of that natural growing process is a result of cutting off ties with the past. There’s a reason why we lose touch with acquaintances from high school. There’s a reason why we didn’t stay in connected with co-workers from our first job. A person has to let go in order to grow — to become who we are right now.
Will people still be willing to take chances? Experiment with new thinking and lifestyles if they know their old boss or Aunt Betsy is watching? By letting go of those people, we also open up to make room for new relationships. Facebook and other social media platforms eliminate that process. Now everyone from your life – no matter how peripheral – can remain intimately connected to you. They can share in your photographs and videos, see and befriend your new relationships, experience your spouse and children. Go too far down this path and it can get downright creepy.
Besides, how much capacity for intimacy does one person have? Is it possible to be “friends” with several hundred or even a thousand people? Is that even desirable? So it will be extremely interesting to watch how the younger generation manages their lives in the age of Facebook and to witness what happens when a bunch of middle-aged and older people discover each other again (and realize why they let go of these people in the first place).
Be prepared. Facebook can be an incredible tool — but it can also be a time machine. You’ll probably awaken old friendships, but you’ll also dredge up painful memories and be whisked back to places you might not want to revisit.
It’s going to be quite a ride.
Read our post on Confusing Privacy with Security
Read our post on Privacy and Facebook