I did something today that I had not expected. I deleted the Facebook app on my mobile.
By all accounts, I’m still a Facebook fan (and an active one). I simply decide to access it via a laptop rather than my phone. But from a personal habits perspective, much will change. Since it is not so accessible, it won’t be one of the first things I check when I wake up nor one of the last things I check before I sleep. I won’t be able to sneak glances while I’m on the go or when I wait in line at the coffee shop. Without the instantaneity, I will miss those spontaneous instincts when I might post what’s on my mind.
In sentimental fashion, I looked up my Facebook timeline. I joined in August 2007, which places me somewhere between the 1st 20 million to 50 million users. By those stats, I was hardly a pioneer, but arguably an early native if you consider Facebook’s current user base of 1.3 billion (as of Sep 2014). I still recall the early days when Facebook was a quiet place: I had fewer than 20 friends. We would poke each other, and play with one another’s virtual pets (quite fun!).
As Facebook grew, it became a way to stay in touch with more friends and their important life moments (e.g. when they got married, had a newborn, or when the kids grew up and went to school). At times it felt a bit odd that we could know so much about friends we’ve not met for a long time, more than we might ever have known about them! When I came to the States, Facebook became an even more important platform to stay in touch with friends back home.
Facebook continues to fill those needs pretty well. At the same time, as it expanded its services to cater to a wider variety of needs, it began to look and feel different. Politicians and leaders began to use Facebook for public communication, and even propaganda. People began to use Facebook to share their favorite articles (which I appreciated), and to bookmark articles (which I did not appreciate). Facebook also started suggesting articles that I might like (which I did not quite appreciate) and advertisements (no!). It showed me what posts my friends liked or commented on (eh, no), and the pages they liked (e.g. Facebook’s Facebook page – NO). As Facebook made it easier to simply post, like or share things, many of my friends started saying less and less. At times, it felt like being at a party with lots of people, who simply put badges of approval (i.e. “like”) on others but with not a lot of conversation otherwise. It was still an opportunity though to selectively engage friends in private chat, but in recent months the Facebook “ushers” would to stop me and require me to install Facebook Messenger before I could chat with someone (or hear what he or she had to say). It became more difficult to be social, at least in the way I enjoyed being social.
A popular theory in social movement is Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovation, which explains “how, why and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures” (source: Wikipedia). Accordingly, a movement starts when a small group of innovators try something new. As they try and experience success, this gives confidence to the early adopters to come on board. The crux of the theory is the underlying social dynamics e.g. the early adopters do not come on board until they see the innovators in the game and experiencing success (and not a lot of harm). The theory has it that among the early adopters there are people i.e. opinion leaders who influence more people (i.e. in the early majority) to come on board. This growth curve has held up for many movements e.g. Facebook, iPhone, fashion etc. Even in an age of disruptive technology, technology may hasten the rate of change, but the social dynamics are what give the movement its distinctive shape.
As a movement grows larger, it may mean different things to different people. The story I shared about Facebook is illustration of how even as Facebook becomes even more popular it may start to lose traction with others. This is not meant to be a prognosis about the future of Facebook. In all likelihood, Facebook will continue to enjoy good growth especially as it enters relatively new markets such as Africa.
At the same time, it could well be that some of the innovators that had sparked the Facebook phenomenon and demonstrated its viability and popularity, could be on their way experimenting other things incl. potential new platforms. Perhaps the same for some of the early adopters who had appreciated the earlier, less sophisticated designs of Facebook.
Even as a movement continues to pick up momentum, more seeds may be sowing for new movements to potentially rise and compete for its place.