We commonly view social networks as transient. They’re temporary in the overall scope of our lives. The recent history of the Web is littered with a multitude of sites that have failed and vanished. Friendster and Myspace, among many others, have all met a similar fate. Facebook is the latest heavyweight, though popular media consistently forecasts a cacophonous doom. News websites ask, “Is this the next Facebook killer?”. Google+, Diaspora and Unthink are all new entrants to the social network race – a race that might be run multiple times.
Instead of asking when Facebook will be dethroned as king social network, we need to start asking, as a society, what will happen if it persists indefinitely? It’s possible that Facebook is the pinnacle social network of our time, fulfilling all of the requirements that we, as humans, have deemed necessary for online social interaction. Maybe it’s all that we need. Imagine that twenty years from now Facebook is still alive and kicking. How will it’s presence in our lives change or affect the relationships that we form? More importantly, how will it change the impression that children born today will have of their parents in the future? As a product of the millennial generation, many of my close friends are forming families. We all know our parents through photographs, distant and faded. However, our children will know us through our thoughts and feelings, as we broadcast them into public view and into the time-capsule of Facebook.
To me, my father is a hero. He’s a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has a law degree and has worked hard to build his own business. My view of him, as a person, is shaped by my interpretation of the stories that he and my mother have shared over the course of my life. I see him through photographs and the caption to those photographs I write myself, in my mind. Over the years, I have built him up as a giant and I work hard to inevitably become a taller giant than he is. But in reality, I have no idea whether the stories he has told me are true, or untrue. Are they embellishments? Are they outright fabrications? I’ll never know and I rather like it that way. The way I view my father has allowed me to set a mental image of the man that I hope to become in the future. Without that image, I’m not sure I would have set the bar as nearly unreachable as it seems.
In twenty years, when Facebook still exists, my children will be able to see my life, interests, and thoughts captured in the moment that they first hit the digital canvas. They’re not edited, glamorized or filtered through the lens of what I, as a future parent, will want my children to know of me. They’re just the truth, captured in a medium that allows for full honest interpretation by the viewer. My children will have access to me in a way that no other generation has had of their parents. And so, when the social network of the present, becomes the social network of the permanent, when technology begins to affect us over time, measured by generations, what happens then?