About ten days ago the social media behemoth, Facebook, celebrated its 10th anniversary. On that day, Facebook gave each of its over 1.2 billion members a one-minute video that featured their top Facebook moments; a feature they call “Look Back”. To access this Look Back video, which is tailor made for each user, you simply go to www.facebook.com/lookback. You can also edit the video if you feel that the moments it selected do not give a particularly flattering view of your past. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, revealed that almost 200 million people had watched their Look Back video a week after the feature’s release.
Now, all this got me thinking about Facebook’s future. Firstly, I believe Facebook has managed to grow so phenomenally because it has managed to tap into a primal human emotional need: the need to be heard, accepted and connected to other humans. At our very core as humans, we are social beings with an innate need to connect, and Facebook has managed to remove many of the barriers to connecting with others. Secondly, Facebook has done all this with tools that are easily accessible to the average user: with a basic internet capable phone and a reasonable internet connection, anyone can get connected and start sharing their story. Consequently, Facebook has amassed significant amounts of data on the day to day social lives of about a sixth of the world’s population.
Given all the above, the release of the Look Back feature provides us with a glimpse of a potential future for Facebook. Consider the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: The year is 2074, I’m an old man, sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold night. I’m surrounded by my grandkids and above the fireplace is a large screen on which is streaming a movie of my life. My youngest granddaughter innocently enquires, “Grandpa, why did you dress funny?” as moments from my time in university flash by. I try to explain that during those days it was the cool trend. My grandson, always the inquisitive one, is excited to see photos of his great grandfather and asks me to tell them a bit more about how he was like as I was growing up. I fumble with the remote and switch to a video of their great grandfather’s video stream from Facebook and start telling them a great story.
Scenario 2: The lecturer stands in front of the class and asks if there are any questions. A timid hand goes up and the lecturer nods her head at the student to proceed. “Ma’am, can we go into the 21st century history in the next lecture?” The lecturer smiles, over the past few years they have been analysing huge amounts of data found in the archives of a company that was called Facebook. They think they have pretty much figured out how the culture of the previous civilisation was organised from aggregating all the user data found in the archives. It’s a good thing people documented their lives back then. Suddenly, she realises the class is quiet, waiting for her to answer; “Yes, yes, definitely. In the meantime I will upload a couple of videos from selected cases so that you may have an appreciation of how people’s lives were back then. Any more questions?”
Everybody wants to have their story told and history immortalised. Never in the history of the human race has data been collected about the daily lives of individuals at the scale at which social networks like Facebook do. It is very likely that in the years to come, these social networks will start curating and monetizing our biographies and history.
It appears we are creating the greatest anthropological collection in history every time we share a bit of our life on social media.