It will take something rather crafty to make Facebook meet its grizzly end
Just how infectious has Facebook become? A group of Princeton researchers has predicted that, within the next four years, this giant of social media will have fallen, Humpty-Dumpty style, by the wayside. Comparing it to a contagious disease, the report suggests that users will soon jump ship, abandoning the host to ‘like’ its own colourful, tinted images after everybody else has gone. 80% of its users will “die out like the bubonic plague” by 2017, they claim, because “ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out”. As “idea manifesters” lose interest and begin to reject the idea, they become immune to it.
All very well, but the type of sea-change this study relies on doesn’t take into account the one, immutable constant holding Mark Zuckerberg’s venture together. Facebook users will only reject the medium when something else takes it place. If plagues or tuberculosis have taught me anything, that’s how science works. That’s how things are kept in balance. The crunch is that there’s no cure for what Facebook provides, and provides so well: that is, the window into each individual user’s utopia of vanity.
The site’s become a verb in the way that similar platforms never quite achieved: “I Facebooked her the link”, “have you added me yet?”, “he de-friended me”. It’s crept into modern parlance by osmosis: nowadays even those who aren’t signed up will understand these points of reference, maybe even unwittingly use them in everyday conversation.
The professors of Princeton claim that other sites – notably Twitter, Snapchat and Whatsapp – will take the place of Facebook’s jaunty thumbs-up. Snapchat, an app that like Facebook encourages the sharing of photos, is used primarily among younger demographics, but it’s gaining popularity. The notable similarity amongst these examples is their ability to transmit information quickly, with an immediacy Facebook has never needed to employ. It was never used as a primary means of breaking news, or to send private messages amongst friends. These social media align in their mutual appreciation of the brief: an image tapped and witnessed for ten seconds; a thought, idea or opinion condensed into 140 characters.
A friend of mine recently said that whenever a relationship has ended in the last three years, she inevitably finds herself trawling through her own posts, photos and comments on Facebook. “To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift,” Aldous Huxley said, and the recently-added ‘View As’ function on Facebook seems to be edging towards this ideal. At the click of a button, we can see the person we project onto social media: one tenth of the true portrait, the rest left to conjecture. True, this can be manifested through Twitter, but only to a certain degree. Tweets are disembodied stories, hanging off one another and often disconnected. Photos are scant, and when they are used they’re of a very different nature to those posted on Facebook.
Amidst reports that we’re becoming increasingly reluctant to leave the office behind, addicted to weekend emails and ever-contactable, the fall in Facebook users might be less to do with ‘ideas’ or ‘infections’. Instead, it’ll reflect how long we spend not doing those things Facebook’s intended to document. The list of people using pseudonyms on the site is increasing; employers will stalk the accounts of applicants before offering interviews or jobs. As personal and professional lives become increasingly blurred, perhaps it’s understandable that an external image becomes less important than a professional reality.
What strikes me most about these predictions is the fact that everything simply seems to be getting smaller. MySpace, once so popular, was a social media platform dedicated to music-sharing, interesting photography and new writing: kooky teenagers communicating through the ether, all night long. If Facebook does dwindle down, it’ll be replaced by something pithy and snappier. Now, everything must be shorter, lighter, smaller: from tablets to high-street models, and the thoughts we transmit. Yes, Facebook may be a haven of vanity but it’s still a photo album to flick through and as valid a visual journal as any other. The less time spent seeing things through the filters we impose on them, the less space we have to create a dialogue – that’ll be a disease worth worrying about. But, for now, where Facebook’s concerned, nothing else will quite cut the mustard.