Beware the writing on the Wall

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 05, 2012 19:40 hrs

For all those like me who are fascinated by the rapidity with which new technologies are impacting our lives, here’s some fodder. An acquaintance from a decade ago, who befriended me on Facebook recently and whose life has now become a part of my daily consciousness by way of photographs and status updates, messaged me last week on the social networking site: “Need to speak. Please send me your phone number — I don’t have it!”

Apparently, through a few years of supporting each other through tough times, “liking” each others’ family and holiday snaps, offering congratulations and birthday wishes, and generally feeling in close contact with each other, the thought hadn’t occurred to us, even though we lived a few kilometres from each other in the same city. Neither of us had felt the need to call each other on the phone! Facebook had vanquished one more bastion of social interaction.

Enough has been said about Mark Zuckerberg’s ubiquitous invention and how it had replaced face-to-face human contact. People found it much easier and more fulfilling to sit ensconced in their own homes and offices communicating with each other virtually. But that the social networking site could put paid to even the need for cell-phone communication was a new revelation altogether!

What does this say to all those who have invested their lives and energies in mobile telephony? And once Facebook gets its own Skype application (as we are given to believe it will), will there be any amongst us who will opt for calling people on their cells any more?

The irony in all this is that Facebook’s growing omnipresence in our modern-day lives in no way ensures its market capitalisation. Its recent IPO did not live up to expectations and reports suggest that the company is still trying to figure out ways to tweak its business model so that it can cut down on its dependency on advertising which accounted for roughly 84 per cent of its revenues in the last quarter.

My personal view is that Facebook users, having got used to its free platform, will resist all the company’s attempts to cash in on their dependency. Already, the writing on the wall (and how Facebook has changed the meaning of that phrase!) indicates that the social networking giant’s site has fostered a deep sense of “ownership” amongst its user community. Witness the ire with which Facebook members responded to the recent changing of its Timeline interface. Or its attempts at censorship. People reacted almost viscerally as though their personal space had been invaded.

It will take many years of research on the part of behavioural scientists, sociologists, market researchers and psychologists to understand this strange new beast called Facebook.

Meanwhile, happy billionth-user milestone, Mark! Here’s looking at you kid!

Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer

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