Facebook has become so ubiquitous it is used as a noun and verb.
Its co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has donated $100 million to the public school system in Newark, N.J.
A major motion picture loosely based on Zuckerberg has racked up Golden Globe awards and is expected to do the same in Oscar voting.
You or someone you know - or several someones you know, given that the site reaches more than 500 million people - have been goofing off at work today (be honest) to find out what a friend had for breakfast or to play weird games no rational-thinking person would ever touch, if not for Facebook.
Local politicians have used Facebook to gather the views of voters or to give constituents updates on personal matters. For instance, Tracy Edge, R-Myrtle Beach, asked his Facebook friends if they wanted him to dedicate time to a texting-while-driving bill and to tell them he was heading to a meeting with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
And media personalities have used it to gin up support for what they are selling, as have all sorts of businesses, charitable groups and media organizations.
Fortunately for us, there is someone along the Grand Strand who is becoming a recognized pontificator on all things Facebook. Coastal Carolina University professor D.E. Wittkower is editor of "Facebook and Philosophy" and has written for Speak Easy on the online version of the Wall Street Journal about the Facebook phenomenon. The Australian reprinted one of those pieces.
Those wanting better insight into how and why Facebook is taking over the world may want to catch Wittkower's book signing from 2 to 6 p.m. March 26 at Books-A-Million at Coastal Grand mall in Myrtle Beach or a Feb. 16 discussion at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center as part of the ongoing Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts Board of Visitors Community Dialogue Series.
In the meantime, he's graciously shared some of his thoughts with us:
Bailey: Why do people spend so much time playing those stupid Facebook games?
Wittkower: The social games ... which people really make fun of don't have creative interaction with others or particularly interesting game play. Farmville is the exemplar of this not-so-social kind of social game. There's actually some really interesting debate going on in game design and gamer theory circles about what to make of the trend. Are these games actually fun, or are they merely addictive? How did we manage to separate those two so thoroughly in a game? It's a kind of brain-hack, using parts of our impulses separated from the goals that those impulses usually serve.
Bailey: Goldman Sachs has said Facebook is worth roughly $50 billion. What does that say about the emerging industry of social media, and the power of Facebook in particular?
Wittkower: Facebook's underlying assets do not have a clear and stable market value. How much is all this user data worth? That depends on how our laws change year to year, and how our public perception of trust, privacy and the Facebook brand changes year to year, and of course, whether Facebook ends up with some meaningful competition this year, next year or the year after. Our market needs these kinds of valuations to function. But the numbers themselves mean very little. Right now, I think that $50 billion means Facebook has cornered its market, that this market is huge and that we can't foresee how the future could bring anything but an expansion of social media, with Facebook playing a central role in that expansion. But this future is still a very recent future, and very unstable.
Bailey: Beyond just being a social media site, how else has Facebook changed the way we do things?
Wittkower: Social media can be used to foster dialogue and democratic feedback in good ways or in bad ways, but in either case, there's a problem with sampling bias. Good kinds of uses engage users, "prosumers," or the public in ways that are empowering and respectful, and allow people to offer creative solutions, critical feedback and engage in a discussion.
Too often, though, social media is used as a mere extension of consumerism, where dialogue and user feedback mean little, other than allowing customers to select from a menu, to publicly praise a good or service, or to grant corporations the right to use their personal expressions for its interests only.
Better uses are more open, more responsive and more able to foster a real discussion of values, problems and goals. Political uses of social media fall into these categories as well. However we interact with the public through social media, it should never be ignored that we are not interacting with a representative grouping of the actual public. Those who seek out social media engagement are often those who already have strong relationships with the brand or politician or who have strong beliefs about the brand or politician's views.
Bailey: Is Facebook a net positive for society?
Wittkower: We don't know yet. Ask me again in 50 years.
Contact ISSAC BAILEY at 626-0357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.