Watch this at The Onion. Report: Every Potential 2040 Presidential Candidate Is Unelectable Due to Facebook.
A few years ago, if you received 100 birthday wishes, you would feel like a minor if not major celebrity. Nowadays, Facebook friends shower such attention on each other that a first birthday celebrated on the social grid can be a bit overwhelming. When you receive greetings from all parts of your life from all over the world, you realize how small the world has become as a result of the proliferation of Internet technology.
By your third or fourth birthday celebrated on social media, you begin to get a little skeptical that all these people are really thinking of you and wishing you a happy birthday. Automated services that wish "happy birthday" to Facebook connections make one cynical. This year on my birthday I got good birthday wishes from my teenage son who is at a wilderness camp in the Western U.S. and I know he is not online for six weeks. David Plotz in Slate added to my cynicism with his funny piece, "What happened when I celebrated my Facebook birthday on July 11. And July 25. And July 28."
I've been on Facebook since mid-2007. In five years I've posted nearly 1,000 photos, and 50 videoclips; 150 photos of me have been posted. At 14, my son was fairly indifferent to Facebook -- he rarely checked his wall or newsfeed -- and yet 256 photos and 13 videos (totalling 26 minutes) had been posted of him by family members or friends. Has he lost complete control of his image (or never had it)? Probably so. Just like nearly every other teenager.
If just 25 photos a year (a very low number for most teens) are posted of my son online for the rest of his life (assuming he lives to just 70), by the time he reaches the Biblical three score and 10, he'll have a collection of 1,375 photos. In sharp contrast, only a couple of dozen photos of my maternal grandmother's ENTIRE LIFE survive to this day; less than a dozen photos of my maternal grandfather survive; and maybe six photos of my paternal grandparents survive from their ENTIRE LIVES. Certainly more published photographs exist of the average teenager today than of celebrities from the 20th century like Charles Lindburgh or maybe even Marilyn Monroe. Nearly everyone nowadays has to fight off the paparazzi.
Does the proliferation of digital photography and public display of formerly private family photos foster narcissism, vanity and an emphasis on appearances? I dunno. Looking over the photos of myself posted by friends and family members from years ago, I see myself in a different light. Some photos of events, in my mind's eye, were during really happy times, yet in the photos I am grimacing, frowning or looking uphappy. Other events in my mind's eye I remember as during a difficult period of my life. Yet in the photos I look like the picture of happiness. So we shouldn't automatically assume that one picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures are simply snapshots of a moment in time and can be unrepresentative of events, how you're feeling or what you're thinking.
One thing is certain: Bill Gates' prediction in his 1995 book, "The Road Ahead" that we would achieve the "totally documented life" has certainly come true.
[T]he highway will also make it possible for an individual to keep track of his or her own whereabouts--to lead what we might call “a documented life.” Your wallet PC will be able to keep audio, time, location, and eventually even video records of everything that happens to you. It will be able to record every word you say and every word said to you, as well as body temperature, blood pressure, barometric pressure, and a variety of other data about you and your surroundings. It will be able to track your interactions with the highway--all of the commands you issue, the messages you send, and the people you call or who call you. The resulting record will be the ultimate diary and autobiography, if you want one. Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (New York: Viking, 1996), p. 303.
Tammy Erickson at Harvard Business Review observes that for the new generation of "digital natives" -- those who cannot remember a time when the Internet did not exist - - physical space has been devalued. "Technology connections are how people meet, express ideas, define identities, and understand each other."
This brave new world in which we are all mini-celebrities -- "famous" to a few hundred or a few thousand people -- is probably changing us in ways we can only begin to perceive. Like other transformative technologies like the automobile, air conditioning, motion pictures, and television, It will be years before we know the full impact of social networking on humans.