Do you feel vulnerable? Many of us do after the Facebook fiasco.
What is the Facebook fiasco? The company gathered information about us we did not choose to reveal. They sold that information to others. And now they know more about us—our health, our political views, our family status, the kind of food we like— than we imagined.
It’s scary. But I think the Facebook fiasco also illustrates a deeper truth. We are in a period of rapid and extraordinary change: change in the ways we communicate, change in the way work, change in the way we learn, change in the way we experience life.
The change has happened so quickly that we have not really reflected on it. What does it mean for you?
600 Years Earlier
Its closest comparable invention is the printing press. It drove the Protestant Reformation. It led to the Scientific Revolution. That was all good. The shared knowledge it allowed has improved quality of life in ways unimaginable to those alive when it was invented.
But those changes took time. Gutenberg created the first printing in the middle of the fifteenth century. But even now, only about 84 percent of the world’s adults are literature. That’s almost 600 years.
The Internet, on the other hand, began in 1991. Today Facebook—one part of the Internet—has over two billion users. That’s 25 percent of the world’s population. That’s in less than 30 years!
Consider what Niall Ferguson has written: “Google started life in a garage in Menlo Park in 1998. Today it has the capacity to process over 4.2 billion search requests every day. In 2005 YouTube was a start-up in a room above a pizzeria in San Mateo. Today it allows people to watch 8.8 billion videos a day.”
Facebook was dreamt up at Harvard just over a decade ago. Today it has close to 2 billion users who log on at least once a month. And a hundred times that number of emails are sent every day.”
It’s not just the change that is frightening. It is the speed at which we are experiencing it.
The 3 Lessons of Rapid Social Change
I’m still grappling with what the Facebook fiasco and this rapid change mean for us. On the one hand, remember the old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
On the other hand, change is natural God created a dynamic world. One Jewish teaching says God creates the world anew every day. We can embrace change knowing that God is always with us.
So assuming the Internet and rapid change are here to stay, what has it taught us about ourselves? Can we harness the change for good works?
1. We are not as selfish as we seem: A recent study said the most popular Facebook posts people write are about other people! We value our human connections. In other words, selfies are less popular than communities!
2. But we like echo chambers: We tend to like posts echoing our point of view. That is not surprising. That is human nature. We find security and comfort with similar people. But the danger is that we confuse our bubble with the real world.
Part of the problem with social media is its economic structures encourage these echo chambers. Facebook knows we will like more of what we already like, so they encourage that behavior and then tell advertisers they have lots of people who like a particular product or person.
I’m not sure if we can change that structure. We can simply recognize it and try to experience religious, intellectual and social diversity.
3. The early optimism of a connected world was naive: Remember the song from the Lego movie, Everything is Awesome? Well, some of the Internet’s pioneers saw its future in that same way. Everything would be free, and fun and honest. The world would be an infinitely better place.
In some ways, they were right.
Everything is Awesome?
It’s awesome that my kids can talk with their grandparents on the other side of the country at virtually no cost. It’s awesome that we can access teachers of faith and wisdom from around the world.
But the more interconnected we have become, the more vulnerable we are as well. We’re vulnerable as individuals, as communities, as a country. That’s become clearer every day.
We have much more to learn from the Facebook fiasco. But the more we change we experience around us, the more we need to focus on what matters truly within us.
Inner wisdom captured Micah 6:8 never changes or grows old. It speaks even more powerfully in the age of social media where distractions beckon us constantly and a lack of humility lets feel entitled to know eeverything about us: “What does God require you? To do justly; love mercy; and walk humbly with your God.”
Do you feel more vulnerable in an interconnected world?