Happy birthday, Facebook! Ten years since the social media giant launched from Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room at Harvard, the company could not be in better shape at the start of 2014. It now has a billion-plus users, enjoyed a very profitable fourth quarter in 2013, receceived great publicity from the media’s coverage of the anniversary, and on top of all that, its stock price has reached an all-time high.
To thank its loyal users, the company developed LookBack, a feature on its website that creates a 102-second personalized montage video of a user’s activity over the years. And to no one’s surprise, hundreds of millions of users have already taken advantage of this new service less than one week after its release.
Facebook has had its fair share of social media competitors including Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. But despite the competition, Facebook unquestionably remains the king of social media among the millennial generation—and for good reason. It is simply the most effective, thorough and accessible way to connect with other people whether platonically, romantically or anything in between.
Facebook quenches our thirst for constant social connection to the outside world, via wall posts, likes, pokes and shares. It is an addictive social networking service. The couple of people I know who have deactivated their accounts to prove they can lead a successful social life without it have all come crawling back a short while later.
When we have relied on Facebook to market our social lives since our early teenage years, it becomes a hard habit to break. It’s really all we have known since our parents relinquished control of making our social connections through playdates.
A recent University of Michigan study revealed that the passive experience of Facebook activity can lead to depression and alienation amongst teenagers. Although for some this may be true, there’s no doubt that for most of us, the benefits far exceed the alienation. Maintaining an active user profile connects us in a genuinely fulfilling and definitive manner.
Facebook’s functionality for the college community provides a great commodity: the ability to fully control the presentation of our image in the digital world and how others perceive us. It’s why we are inclined to change profile pictures on a regular basis to keep our image fresh, and to post updates that reflect an ever-changing variety of interests and perspectives.
This same logic explains why we share photos of vacations, parties, and who we are hanging out with. And when that becomes boring, we connect to Instagram (a Facebook-owned photo-sharing app) or Spotify (a proprietary music-streaming service app) directly from Facebook just to spice the experience up a bit.
If we meet someone new on campus that we like, we send a friend request his or her way as soon as we get back to our computers. Some of these friend requests prove to be more meaningful than others, but ultimately, it’s a stamp of approval in the social media platform that declares, “I know this person.” And we might not admit it publicly, but deep down we are grateful that it helps us interact with people to whom we are attracted. Liking the same pages as a Facebook friend lets us know that we have something in common and announces the opportunity for a future connection. As an added bonus, Facebook’s messages give us the option to keep in contact with a wide range of friends not in our college circle, allowing us to stay in control of the different facets of our social connections.
The influence of Facebook’s power to unite the college community has been very evident to me in my six months at Bowdoin. After returning to campus from my Pre-Orientation trip, and before I even unpacked the things from the trip or took a shower, my Facebook notification button turned red, letting me know I had received Facebook friend requests from buddies on my trip.
Although we all had barely settled in, we didn’t miss a beat in making our social media presence known to others. I suppose back in the old days a phone call or note under the door would have been a fine option, but the immediacy of Facebook is a perfect fit for our increasingly networked world.
College Houses, clubs and sports teams promote their events on Facebook with the hope of attracting students to attend. The page “Bowdoin Missed Encounters” allows us to anonymously post about our real life interactions in an online forum, sans responsibility for what comes out of our mouth.
And of course, Bowdoin and practically every other educational institution have Facebook pages that they encourage college students to like, as they know it’s the best way to get their message across online.
In addition to the material aspect of the website, Facebook promotes the work and interests of valuable enterprises that we are connected to. This is why the White House and just about every corporate and philanthropic organization uses Facebook and other social media tools—to get the word out in an effective manner for a target audience of varying ages.
Despite predictions by some that Facebook may soon fall from its vaunted position, I don’t see the networking king losing any traction anytime soon due to its large volume of loyal, college-aged users. Its applications have become a part of our hectic, interactive lives. Yes, lingering questions of privacy settings and the consequences of diminishing social skills are real concerns, but for the next several years, Facebook has nothing to worry about. Facebook’s commitment to continued growth and expansion tells me something without doubt: the seductive partnership between college culture and the Facebook is sure to continue for a long time.