On a seemingly regular winter morning, Facebook suddenly stops working. That’s odd, you think, but brush it off. They’re probably just doing site maintenance. You’ll return later, and get some work done in the meantime. Hours later, you check back, only to find the site still not returning your clicks. A little worried now, you check your favourite tech news site for any word on the breakdown. Nothing. You continue work, but concentrating is hard. What if something happened in any of your friends’ lives that you need to hear about? What about your social life for the next week?
Finally, you get the news that you feared. The site is still down, but the New York Times, of all places, carries the story. Facebook has filed for bankruptcy protection, and has shut down all operations, pending a complete company makeover. Apparently, the business model imploded, and too many users spent too little time clicking on ads and too much time playing Farmville.
Faced with the prospect of a world without Facebook, you almost cry, but inevitably the realisation forces you to consider the situation. What will become of the world, now that the glue binding us all together has evaporated? How will you keep in contact with your friends? How will you find Aunt Gloria’s phone number? How will you invite people to your birthday party? How will you stalk the hot girl from your sister’s gym? And how will you get anything done, now that you have no excuse for not doing so?
Oh, forget about the last one. Might as well do something to distract your mind from the painful reality. You mindlessly get into your tasks for the week, only to discover that they aren’t as boring as you thought they’d be. You remember a coffee date with an old friend, and call him up on the phone. Hearing a human voice feels oddly satisfying. You agree on a time and a place. When your birthday comes along, you send out invitations in the mail. People respond with enthusiasm, commenting how nice personal it felt to get an invitation on paper. At the party, people are chatting happily to each other, catching up on the latest news, mobile phones happily tucked in pockets and purses.
After a few weeks, you hear about a new venture. Some talented upstarts are building a new place online which promises to connect you to the world and create a seamless social network for the whole world. You are momentarily excited about the promised opportunities, but then you remind yourself that talking to people isn’t that hard in the first place. Forgotten skills like placing a telephone call, asking a favour, small talk and reflective listening have somehow re-entered your system. Faced with a seemingly endless amount of social connections and prospects online, you can’t help thinking to yourself: So what?