Do you remember Bebo? Or MySpace? Or even Friendster? These were once the cool kids on the block, the platforms that everyone wanted an account on. Now they are long gone or sidelined by the likes of Facebook and Twitter, who have surpassed all of their predecessors in terms of their sheer size and power.
In 2012, Facebook reached one billion active users, and as of 2016, they have passed the 1.71 billion figure. This is impressive considering the site began in 2004 for students and was expanded to anyone with an email address a whole decade ago. Facebook is a world power to be reckoned with, something which begs the question: will its downfall be something our generation fails ever to see?
So why is it we are so committed to Mark Zuckerberg’s grand social network? And what does that say about the longevity of the project?
I think it’s about the sharing, the amazing power to share with friends in your town, and friends on the other side of the planet. Facebook gives us the power to capture a moment and share it with our loved ones. This ability combined with our digital histories on the site gives us countless reasons not to disconnect.
In fact, studies have shown that, on a basic level, the reason that we are so committed – addicted almost – to Facebook is that it makes us happy. Courtney Suiter looked at a few, saying that one particular study showed that “When we get positive feedback on Facebook, the feeling lights up this part of our brain. The greater the intensity of our Facebook use, the greater the reward.”
She also points to one that suggests that being on Facebook “evoke[s] what they call flow state”, which is “the feeling you get when you’re totally and happily engrossed in a project or new skill.” Facebook is apparently that powerful. The awesome strength of Facebook’s ability to make us happy reinforces the argument that it will be with us for a very long time.
There is no way we could continue to use Facebook until our 100th birthdays if it stayed the same. Its constant shifting nature occurs to keep us from getting bored, as well as to see off its competition. Its algorithms generate content it thinks we want to see, thus keeping us paying attention – keeping us committed.
With that in mind, do you remember when Facebook chat changed? Or when the beeping noise when someone messaged you changed? Or even when the famous ‘Facebook walls’ were replaced with ‘timelines’? At the time, these alterations may have seemed annoying – they may have even spurred on a Facebook rant – but now we barely think about them; they are just cogs in Facebook’s ever-changing mechanics, keeping us committed to the machine.
It is these changes that ensure we stay loyal to the brand. Innovation, along with the sheer size of the company’s network, keeps us hooked and might well result in us never seeing the back of this technological beast.
The future of Facebook
I obviously cannot predict the future, but there is compelling evidence that Facebook certainly has the capacity to outlive the generation that uses it most today. The fact it connects people from across the world and stores memories and photos from years of friendships shows how much we gain from having it and would lose without it. And, the company’s constant innovation, with its ability to adapt to the changing world, illustrate its potential to survive for decades to come. These facts, as well as evidence that we remain tuned into Facebook as it makes us happy, certainly show us that it won’t leave us easily.
Nevertheless, just because Facebook has had years and years of success does not mean that it will continue indefinitely. Just because something has always grown in the past does not mean it won’t one day turn in on itself and collapse. In the field of technology and the internet, monopolies can and do fall. Just look at the case of Internet Explorer. It was once the top-dog on the browser block with over 90% of all internet users using it in the early noughties, but now it shares the dominating position with Chrome, Safari and Mozilla, and had even had to reinvent itself as Microsoft Edge.
Furthermore, in politics, Scottish Labour seemed unstoppable in its monopoly over Scotland, but look at it now, coming in third place behind the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliamentary elections and losing all but one of its MPs in 2015. This is a different branch within the social jungle, but it shows that while market-dominators can last a very, very long time they can of course fail.
All great empires fall in the end. Just look at Rome, which fell from shining glory – or dare I say it the United States of America, a waning superpower at risk of turning in on itself and away from the world.
Facebook’s empire probably won’t last until the end of humanity’s existence, but there is the very real chance of it being something our generation takes all the way to the grave.
Do you think Facebook will stay with us until our very end? Or will something else emerge and overtake it, just like Facebook did with others before it?
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Social Jungle.