We as humans thrive through being social.
As a culture, we've known this for ages, and we structure our upbringing to accommodate that. That first day of preschool we play name games and are pushed to get to know anyone we haven't met before so we can grow accustomed to interacting with other humans. This continues throughout our primary education (in earnest) and onward.
Though this is nothing new, the advent of Facebook has revolutionized the way it affects our daily life. Where before we just had a mental list of people we knew, we now have a solid (and permissively public) catalog to browse and utilize. This simple register opens up so many awesome possibilities. Suddenly, we've got a framework to support apps like Lulu, Stik, and more.
Lulu is a service in which girls can review male friends so other girls know a bit about the men they're interested in before getting involved. 1 Of course, it's always been possible to keep such a log, but with this well curated black book, it's easy for your friends to keep track of exactly who you're informed on. This sort of service, while not explicitly necessary, is made possible only by Facebook's convenient scaffolding.
Stik provides a platform to seek out and review local professionals. The catch is that to review someone, you've got to be signed into Facebook. This allows for a connection of our real and online personas and provides validation and credibility to our reviews. It forces accountability for our words, something the internet typically lacks. Without Facebook, it would just be another antonymous Yelp clone.
Therefore, the most valuable service FB provides is a solid quantification of our friends. The quantity isn't the important part, but the ability to have a set of personal white pages to quickly reference anything you need to know about people you've connected with previously. Taking a trip soon? Facebook lets you know who's living there now and provides and easy mean to get in contact with them.
One of the most vocal criticisms of Facebook is that it weakens the friendships that we've made independently of Facebook. As a counter example: I met Shawn in fifth grade (or earlier, if you believe the stories) and we became fast friends. Between my moving away from Boulder and his taking a year abroad, it's been challenging to keep in touch.
Instead of feeling bad that we're not able to skype as frequently as I'd like, I'm comforted by the fact that I can check up on him periodically without going through the arduous process of figuring out when we're both free (while accounting for the cross-atlantic time difference). That's the beauty though: Facebook doesn't weaken our relationship because I haven't seen him in ages, it augments it.
There's been a recent trend of people who feel like Facebook takes away more than it adds. I've always argued against such actions because I feel like not having an account cripples your social presence in upper-middle class America. You miss out on parties, birthdays (because honestly, who knows more than 5 people's birthday? It's the phonebook problem: you don't remember phone numbers because your cell does it for you), and internet trends making their rounds. Yet, people still want out. The best argument I've heard thus far in favor of closing the Facebook came from my friend Al last semester over lunch.
"Not having one forces you to try to engage people, [which lets you favor] quality over quantity", he said. "To interact with friends, you can't passively read their status updates or where they check in you have to text them, call them, really want to see them". I felt like he was onto something, though I knew I'd never be able to follow suit because of how consistently I need Facebook to coordinate organizations (quidditch, a cappella, or otherwise). I should note that he caved and reactivated, but he still has experience that none of us can claim.
At the end of the day, Facebook adds a lot more to our society than it takes away. It also opens up a whole world of apps that need to know who you're friends with to be fully utilized. Love it or love to hate it, it's become a fundamental framework that permeates the majority of our social expansion. Furthermore, it's the fabric that connects each of our small patchwork squares into something larger and more beautiful.
- 2016 Note: Lulu's core functionality seems to have changed since I wrote this originally. It's now a generic dating site.↩