Thursday, February 5, 2009

Five Years of TMI - Or, Facebook Turns Five

Given the low-key nature of the site, I'm not surprised by the relative lack of fanfare accompanying the fifth anniversary of Facebook's launch. A couple article's have noted the date, including ones from Gawker, CNN, and a host of other blogs and papers.

With the wider world crowing on and on about the death of print media and a bright, shiny future of digital content (all on demand, of course) at our fingertips, I'm interested to see where Facebook will fit into all of this.

Five years ago, it would have been impossible to tell that Mark Zuckerberg's soon-to-be monument to our generation's solipsism would have such a global effect. I joined Facebook shortly after gaining acceptance to a school in Boston, where the original spark was laid after Zuckerberg opened up his pet project to other area schools. When I arrived on campus, the Office of Admssions was still handing out a book with picture of all the incoming students with their pictures and home town info, the archaic wall-painting to Facebook's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. It made for a nice place mat. I don't think they even printed the book the following year.

Other sites like MySpace and Friendster all provided similar services to Facebook. But where those sites prided themselves on their inclusivity, Facebook was all about its exclusivity. For the first year and a half, you couldn't even join if you didn't have a valid college email address, meaning that Facebook was generally free of the unsavory characters you find on MySpace. They also had a much cleaner interface, meaning that you were looking at content, not ads. Since then, Facebook has done an admirable job of balancing the look of its website while meeting its user's needs by incorporating the innovations of other websites - the global market place of Amazon, the snarky, collegiate tone of The Onion, the user-generated content of blogs. In essence, Facebook is quickly becoming one-stop shopping for pretty much anything anyone could want.

More ink has been spilled in the past five years on the voyueristic nature of Facebook than any other online entity. But the fact is that Facebook didn't change human nature so that we stalk our exes, friends, ex-friends, bosses, family members, and long-lost kindergarten playmates online. It used to be you had to sneak into her room to see who it was she had been seeing since dumping you. Now, the Facebook NewsFeed does the dirty work for you. All of this has indeed radically changed the way my generation socializes. We tailor our profiles now as a resume of cool, rather than an accurate reflection of who we really are. The bands we like, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the litany of quips, quotes, and witicisms that make up our profiles are symptomatic of our generation's tendancy to overachieve. In the process, we all begin to look desperate and gasping for some sort of approval.

I'm not begrudging Facebook. I'm still on it, though I rarely pay attention to its goings on. Now that I'm out of college, for me the NewsFeed is less about gossip and more about keeping in touch with people. But I see the way Facebook's ability to create a rich online life for oneself has effected kids who are only a couple years younger than me. Kid's who joined while still in high school or younger who seem to live and die by what they learn from Facebook. In this sense, Facebook has taken on characteristics closer to that of an online "burn book" and when taken to its (il)logical conclusion, creates situations like Lori Drew.

As more and more people join Facebook, and traditional print media (allegedy) goes the way of the dodo, I suspect we will see it play a larger roll not only in journalism but in our daily lives as well. Is it that far off that rolled into our Facebook NewFeed we will have the top headlines from three major media outlets as well as our favorite independent blogs? Probably not. I doubt that print media will go anywhere soon, there's far too many people who enjoy the idea of having a physical product rather than little bits of binary posted on a screen. Additionally, I don't believe that low-cost indies like HuffPo or Talking Points Memo will have the overhead to provide in depth international coverage anytime soon. Whatever the case, I am willing to bet that Facebook will somehow be involved in the process of how we get and process our news; it already processes the way we interact.


On a completely seperate and far more sad note, Lux Interior of the great band The Cramps died last night from a heart condition. While I can't count myself as a super fan, I was always appreciative of their distinct approach to rock 'n roll and count an early adolescent viewing of their perfomance from Urgh! A Music War (which really needs to see a DVD release) to be pretty impressive.

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