I’m sure that sociologists and psychologists are studying the impact of Facebook and will do so for years to come. There are big effects — like the stories about so-called “Facebook divorces” — but I think the website also has altered our interactions with family, friends, and acquaintances in less noticeable, but perhaps more profound, ways.
Never before have so many people stayed in regular touch with so many other people. Isn’t it great to have so many friends, and in such a quantifiable way!
From the perspective of those us who grew up well before Facebook was developed, however, the website seems to have produced a curious phenomenon. We went to high school and college, moved on, and lost touch with high school and college friends. We took initial jobs, went to grad school, or lived in a particular place, moved on, and lost touch with people we knew in those contexts. In short, we have a past, with past friends.
If you grew up with Facebook, you may never have a past in the same sense. Instead, you’ll just have one long present, with a constantly accumulating list of present friends. You’ll always be in touch with that kid from eighth grade, or the woman who was on the high school newspaper with you, or that odd guy you worked with at your first job.
There is value in having a past, and leaving behind the people who remember all too well what a jerk you were in high school. The members of the Facebook generation may never really know the relief of seeing those awkward or embarrassing past incidents recede into life’s rear view mirror. What does it mean to always be in touch with people whose main connection is that they shared goofy behavior with you when you were a kid? Are you less likely to really grow up, or will you at some point feel hopelessly weighted down by your long roster of friends and want to sweep the slate clean? What will that constant, ongoing connectedness mean for the Facebook generation?