I signed up for Facebook in the summer of 2007. It was a few weeks before I started sixth grade, and after I went to All Boys’ School, the idea of a co-ed class represented a rare opportunity to reinvent.
Before then, I, like most who grew up online, had experienced more effective patterns of online presence. I started with a Bebo website that was mainly about anime series Beyblade. I used anonymous personas on MSN messenger and in forums, where I have to lie about my age in order to gain access. Even on Myspace, where I uploaded real pictures of myself, my picture was heavily eclectic – reflecting the person I wanted to be seen (in this case, an emo skater) for a small group of friends.
But Facebook changed all that. Instead of highly customizable wallpapers and features, everyone was given the same ultimate profile. No more auto-playing music, no more highly customizable fonts, no more “top 8”. The way to “reinvent” yourself via Facebook was to upload more photos of yourself, share all your thoughts and feelings on wall posts, and meet more people on the platform.
The advent of Facebook has been important to how we perceive social media. Almost every platform we use encourages us to share as much of our personal lives as possible, motivating us with more features, filters, and monetization tools. Instead of the conscious regulation that characterized social networks in the past, these platforms continue to promise users that if they simply post more about themselves and their friends, they can have more satisfying social experiences.
However, in recent years, public conversations about the darker elements of social media platforms — from data collection and privacy issues to fake news and propaganda — have led to more thought about how they should be used (or even if they should be used at all). In the next decade, as we reassess our relationship with social media — and by extension, the big tech companies that run it — we’ll see more people leave public platforms entirely, and instead commit to small communities and friendship groups on more private platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal.
But this would be a luxury that few would be able to choose. After all, for many of us, social media is not just an integration into our social life, but also an intertwining of our economic life. After Covid-19, as more companies and businesses expand to incorporate remote workers, social media will be essential as a form of job search and application, but also to screen potential employees and contractors well before any formal interview.