Mark Zuckerberg Breaks History, the Internet, & Civilization Generally

By Ayla Jeddy

When we think about the technological advances of the last century, we have little choice but to be astounded by the awesome power of human innovation. The radical changes brought to society by the introduction of the computer compiler, the microwave oven, or even the ballpoint pen are so deeply engraved in our lifestyles that we barely still notice their presence. In recent years however, no technology has played a larger role in shaping the world than the internet, or specifically, the vast and intricate social life that over fifty percent of the world’s population has been able to build through the internet.

In 1999, the first blogging websites became popular and revolutionized people’s conceptions of what digital interactions could look like. These blogs were by no means the earliest form of social media, but they were, at the time, the most freeing. The largest social media platform at the time was called Six Degrees and only allowed users to sign up if they were specifically invited by their friends. As a result, the nature of the interactions it allowed for was somewhat limited. For obvious reasons blogging was a completely different experience; any body could create a blog that could be read by anyone with a computer. There popularity stemmed from their accessibility, and their accessibility would become the model for every successful social media platform to date.

The introduction of MySpace in 2003 paired blogging with detailed profiles of individual bloggers making them and interactions their readers had with them more human, a concept which Facebook would eventually take to a whole new level 3 years later. ‘The Book’s’ immediate popularity (and Twitter’s in the same year) stemmed from the fact that it effectively merged the blogs that had gained popularity in the very early 2000’s with the chatroom of the 1980’s and 90’s. The internet had become a conversation fueled by a continuous influx of content -- a truly social network.

As of March this year, over 42% of the world’s population are active users of Facebook, and over 72% of the world’s population are active on some form of social media. Effectively, there are more people who have access to their friends online than who have access to toilets. As a result, the impacts of the ubiquity of social media are felt as deeply and are as seamlessly embedded within society as the impacts of the ballpoint pen.

Because of this, it is all the more jarring to realize that social networks have morphed from platforms for playful interaction into political tools that are, not only as platforms for debate, but also weakness that can be exploited by foreign governments to influence the election process of the proudest democracy in the world. Yet at the same time, it makes a certain degree of sense. While I vehemently disagree with almost every single one of President Trump’s policies (particularly his most recent treatment of children found immigrating illegally to the United States with their parents), there is an extent to which I appreciate the logic behind announcing policy decisions over Twitter, allowing those policies to enter the larger online discussion directly.

Whether you are constantly checking for updates from 8 different sites or haven’t been onto your Instagram in months, you can’t deny that the idea of “getting offline to spend time in the real world” has become obsolete. We live in a world where news is live-streamed and exclusively evolves in real time, where some of our closest friends can be people whom we haven’t seen face-to-face in years, and where we give private companies “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works” of our content while paying little attention to what that actually means.

In light of this, the question becomes what do we do now? When the very nature of our world and our interpersonal interactions has been unrecognizably transformed in less than 20 years, how do we regain some kind of control or sense of the future? The obvious answer, of course, is that we can’t. If a relatively unremarkable college student can get drunk in his dorm room one night and change the world, then we have no way predicting where ‘the next big thing’ will come from or what it will be, but we do know that it’s coming.

The 1920’s in America were a decade defined by xenophobia, disproportionate economic growth, and social revolutions, and as we enter come upon the eve of the 2020’s we see these factors at play in ways we never imagined possible. We as a single interconnected world of people who share our experiences online and even more specifically, we, the generation that learned empathy from seeing and hearing the experiences of others through the internet, are on the brink of a cultural revolution. More than any generation before us, each of us will have to play a role in adding our own experiences, stories, and opinions to the larger narrative of that revolution.

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