There are roughly 2 billion people who actively use Facebook. By contrast, almost 3.5 billion have access to the internet (though not necessarily broadband). Given the usefulness and apparent ubiquity of Mark Zuckerberg’s creation, what explains the size of this un-Faced market? The biggest part of the answer must be the more than 800 million internet users who live in countries where internet use is restricted for reasons of censorship, but this still leaves a gap 800 million souls wide.
One of the wonderful things the internet has made possible is for people who are somehow like-minded to get in touch and share their thoughts. Facebook offers numerous such groups, offering forums for taxidermy enthusiasts, depression chat rooms, and groups where conspiracy theorists can argue with one another until the cows come home. In addition, users can post pictures of their food and tell the world what kind of mood they’re in.
The Case for Online Introversion
There are several complex reasons why so many individuals choose to resist the pressure to join online media, one being concerns over privacy. Simply put, carelessly posting information such as what school your children go to, where you live and when you’re going on holiday makes you more likely to become a victim of crimes like identity theft and burglary. While the majority of people don’t seem to be overly concerned, it’s worth thinking twice before posting something criminals, future employers, and mothers alike will be able to see.
Privacy, however, is not the only factor at play. Social media addiction indeed becomes a problem in a small number of cases, meaning that a person begins to neglect work or off-line socializing in favor of reading and posting status updates. A number of studies have also indicated that frequent Facebook users tend to be less happy and less well-adjusted than other people, with a number of these claiming that it’s not just a question of unhappy individuals being more prone to log on – that people actually tend to feel more unhappy after Facebooking.
To be fair, the available data simultaneously points in the other direction: that having online connections actually increases a person’s satisfaction with life. The real answer may well be that using Facebook doesn’t necessarily affect someone’s mood one way or the other, but that the way in which it is used can impact on a person’s emotions.
Why not Be a Digital Hermit
Email, social media, and the cloud are all just tools, which can be used either well or badly. Facebook is only one example of a virtual place where people can coalesce around an unusual hobby, belief or interest. The aforementioned stuffed animal aficionados, people working in a specialized profession, and some who hold controversial opinions have all found a digital home – wherever in the world they might be located.
The culture and quality of these different opinion marketplace differ widely. Wikipedia, with its highly knowledgeable editors and commitment to verifiable facts, lies on one end of some notional scale of credibility, while websites trying to drum up recruits for ISIS or otherwise promote radical doctrines lie at the other. Others, like Quora, are designed to allow anyone to express their views as long as these are not spam or clearly offensive, meaning that the reader is left with the responsibility of making up his own mind in each case.
Aside from groups, chat rooms, and websites dedicated to the sharing of information and opinions, some online communities are designed to help users support one another emotionally or in some other way. Politically speaking, this may be one of the most important features of the internet age.
It’s difficult to imagine how the Arab Spring, the increased debate about LGBT rights, the Occupy movement and many other events could have occurred in quite the same way without social media. Awareness of numerous rare diseases, as well as the possibility of sufferers and doctors sharing information and stories, is now better than ever before. An untold number of people who previously thought that they were alone can now read the stories of others who have gone through the same difficulties.
The anonymity the internet offers has also led to the rise of message boards and chat rooms dedicated to the discussion of topics which cannot be discussed safely, or without embarrassment, in daily life. Some of these are arguably bad for society, such as whatever goes on in dark web marketplaces for drugs and purportedly worse things. Elsewhere in the deep (as opposed to dark) web, law enforcement workers, and abused spouses can talk freely about the trauma arising from their jobs and lives, which would get them fired or worse if the wrong person heard. Even on the surface web, anything from drug addiction to suicidal thoughts can be discussed without ever revealing your name, usually within a supportive environment populated by people in similar situations.
Each little piece of the web ends up being exactly what its users make it. Please try to be a good netizen today.