Have you ever thought about what would happen if Facebook simply disappeared from the Internet? Would you be relieved or would you be devastated? How much of your real life would cease to exist if your virtual life ceased to exist? Are these are the things that keep you up at night?
Well, they aren’t for me. To me, the idea of Facebook ceasing to exist is an exciting one. For one, those people from high school who I really don’t have any interest in but am too lazy to defriend would disappear from my world. No more waking up to engagement photos, ultrasound pictures or statuses about a new job or internship. Essentially, all that shameless self-promotion that is made so easy to do on Facebook would end. Ahh what a glorious thing. Some of you are thinking, “What are they waiting for?! Let’s shut it down today!”
But it’s not that simple. As isolating Facebook may seem at times, it has actually done a lot to improve our real-life relationships and expand our networks. Pew Internet Research did a study to try to measure how Facebook has impacted our lives. One of their findings was that, on average, Americans have stronger friendships now than they did four years ago. The study also found that when measuring a person’s network ties (including both online and real life network ties), the average Internet user has about 100 more ties than someone who does not use the Internet. Additionally, they found that while 15% of non-Internet users have no close ties, only 7% of average Internet users report that they have no close ties. But what about the social networking users, you ask. Only 5% of social networking users report having no close ties. 5%! Is it just me or does the fact that Facebook actually make people less isolated blow your mind? This Pew Internet Research study ultimately concludes that “Facebook use seems to support intimacy, rather than undermine it.” The study has also found that Facebook users get more support from their social network than the average Internet user and way more support than a non-Internet user. There you have it: Facebook users are more connected and more supported than those who don’t use Facebook.
So what does this mean for those of us so annoyed with Facebook that we hardly ever go on it anymore? I think it means that we need to reevaluate how we look at the social networking site. Instead of thinking of it as an annoying self-promotion platform, maybe we should think of it as a place where we can stay connected with the important people in our lives who may live across the continent or across the world. Maybe we need to consider the social support we have received on Facebook and evaluate if that support would have existed in the same capacity without the social networking site. Maybe we need to consider the level at which Facebook connects like-minded people who share common values. As we saw in 2011, Facebook is capable of assisting in the takeover of dictatorships across a whole region. If Facebook didn’t exist, maybe those uprisings would have never occurred and the change we see taking place in that part of the world would not be happening. If Facebook shut down today, I think I would be relieved at first. But then I would realize that without that cross-continental, cross-cultural connection, all the progress we are making as global citizens would come to a screeching halt.
What are your thoughts about Facebook? If it shut down today, would your life be better or would your world end?