I was sitting at dinner the other night with some workmates (our background is in the legal/privacy fields) and the topic of conversation turned to Facebook. One of them posited that Facebook could potentially end up like Friendster or Myspace — sites that grew spectacularly but failed to capitalise on their success before dying a slow, wasting death. Several others concurred. I wasn’t so sure.
Facebook has become ubiquitous. There is a defiant minority who refuse to get sucked in (and who miss out on all the events now that they’re all organised through FB) and a small churn of people who quit, but they are not important (no offence). As much as we speak of a virtual space or virtual playground, this is it. It is where people gather to chat, to debate, to share, to join causes, to advocate, etc etc. It is the marketplace/forum of the 21st century.
With this online infrastructure in place, and with so many people heavily invested in it, I just cannot see Facebook ever going away. Yes, Facebook has copped flak for some of its egregious violations of privacy and yes, it really is creepy how it is seeking to become the centre of our lives, to know everything about us and collect every morsel of information that it can — our contact details and personal information, our location, our photos, our chat logs, our browser history (don’t click “like” on a non-Facebook website…). However, I just don’t think there’s much we can do about it, except keeping our privacy settings at a high level and get used to the targeted ads that are sure to come our way.
Sometimes I encounter arguments that go along the lines of: “if you don’t like what Facebook is doing, then don’t join it in the first place.” Proponents think that it is a magical cure-all. Actually, it is an extremely impractical and short-sighted solution. It is analogous to saying “if you don’t want to get run over then don’t cross any roads.” Sure, it is possible to live your entire life staying away from roads. It is possible to live your life barred from the online world that is Facebook. But anyone who does so would be severely socially handicapping themselves, just as anyone who avoided roads would find their life needlessly difficult.
For better and worse, Facebook is our new reality. All things considered (and with an eye to my privacy settings), I, for one, welcome our new online overlords.