Is Facebook influencing world cultures for the better or worse?

There’s enough commentary out there about the new interface changes of Facebook and its new Time-Line centered social activities. I had a thought this morning that I’m trying to reconcile and figured I’d share it here and see if anyone else shared my concern. I’ve had the timeline for a few days now and I actually quite enjoy it. But I wanted to play devil’s advocate and argue a different point of view.

Celebrating micro-achievements is a distinctly American trait. For example, celebrations such as pre-school graduations, middle-school graduations and such are a very American trait. I grew up in India and I can tell you when you passed one grade and entered another, it wasn’t (still isn’t) made a huge deal of. I don’t have kids but that’s how I prefer it. Why must children be rewarded for their job? Or what’s expected out of them? I’m not sure if I’ll be able to escape this trend once I have my own children and if I decide to raise them in this country.

But I’m using this anecdote to make a bigger point: every single milestone in America is magnified and turned into a celebration. (There are both positive and negatives to this)

Like many other companies, Facebook is an American company that has global users. And this is important to not forget. With its new time-line feature, it is essentially introducing this very American trait of celebrating micro-achievements to the world stage. Time-lines offer users an exaggerated sense of their life and its milestones. It gives them a platform to celebrate and commemorate the most insignificant details of their lives. (Yes it has its benefits but I’m playing devil’s advocate here so let me run with it.) This isn’t entirely alien to the Americans, it’s more of an extension of how they’ve been raised and taught to value. But to Facebook’s heavy users in other countries (and I’m only intimately familiar with the culture in India so I can only speak to that) what does this signify or symbolize?

Will we raise an entire generation of Indian children to think, talk and celebrate their micro-achievements as American children do? Will there remain a unique cultural imprint on these children that have been raised on a steady American diet of self-exaggeration ?

Also as my friend Ryan pointed out, do these exaggerated celebrations chip away at the real sense of achievement that comes from doing hard work and earning something?

Just something to think about. If you come from a different background or culture, I’d be interested in hearing your perspectives.

2 Comments

  1. Gautam September 28, 2011

    Yes. I agree with you. Never got a gold star for every single thing I did when I was young. But I also think it comes down to how the tool is culturally appropriated. And that’s the best part about technology – unlike media such as TV, it is less imposing and more about what YOU make of it. Here in the US, the little achievements string together to become a supposed “life story”. In India, most of the Facebook activity is more about how you interact with your friends. It’s less about personal identity and more about friendly chatter. So, there is a possibility that Timeline becomes a “story of your friendships” instead of a “story of you”. Instead of elevating YOUR everyday achievements to a higher level – it might elevate the casual banter/silly little memes with your friends to DEFINE your relationships with people. Guess, we’ll have to wait and watch.

  2. Anjali Ramachandran September 29, 2011

    Really interesting thought Jinal. I think, in a rather curious way, that it plays to the fact that Facebook’s entire strategy board (if such a thing exists) – Feltron included -is 90% American, and I don’t think the question would have even come up for them. They were looking at visualizing people’s lives to make for a more engaging Facebook experience, which to be fair I think they’ve succeeded at.

    I’m sure you’ve seen the Mad Men/FB timeline video, which is rather spooky too. Some people *want* to see their lives as a celebration, while some would rather they just forgot about their past. That’s not going to change – it’s part of how humans differ from one another. I think the majority of Americans, as a culture, belong to the former group, and hence Timelines. But equally, and I’m totally just guessing here, the majority of humans across the world probably do as well. (For the record, I don’t!).

    Facebook usage has spread remarkably fast in countries like India – there is a universal element to it too. For better or for worse!

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