Today I had a horrible idea:
Imagine 40 or so years from now, if political and economic policies maintain their current trajectory. Mark Zuckerberg has put his Ceasar-worship where his mouth is and Facebook has achieved something akin to statehood, lording over a global network of citizens from the stronghold of Menlo Park. Assuming the interests of future-Facebook remain the same as they are now, we can assume that the company-state has its own currency, a standing military and political sway on par with the world’s hyperpowers. It also maintains its monopoly on social functions, having absorbed the most other major platforms. In this future, the platform by necessity becomes the infrastructure of modern life: it’s the most reliable source of commerce, communication, ideas, security, entertainment, and social credit. No one else has the reach. The social network is the fabric of society.
I will be old by this point, and likely you will be too. The digital migrants will have been outclassed by generations who grew up fully immersed in social media as a lifestyle, and were not along for the ride during the experimental transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. In this future, the elderly populations are savvy enough as social media users, having retained our edge from the turn of the millenium, but we have held onto an antiquated mistrust of the state. We miss the world as it was, when the platform wasn’t something we vitally depended on. It was just an entertainment system we willingly sold our information to in exchange for the lols and the occasional mass radicalization movement.
I’m imagining, then, the launch of a sequestered and simplified version of the site called Facebook Classic, created as a panacea for the older generations to keep them as willing and pacified users. This is essentially a group where we all pretend to be boomers but for real, or the Jitterbug phone for aged millennials – a place for our memes and cringe personal posts without the transparentness of the company-state as a meddler in all our affairs. We can pretend the world functions as it once did; they can continue to pocket our data. The reach of the empire seems less insidious, and we willingly log on.
In that vein, I fully believe that Facebook will launch a children’s version as well. Given how YouTube has already sequestered its children’s programming, I can picture Facebook going the same route with a more tailored content stream to set itself apart from procedurally generated nursery rhyme hell – Facebook Jumpstart. Facebook Sprout. Facebook One. The logo in a rounded sans serif font. The fabric of society comes rebranded as an education aid, a social tool. “Give your kid the head start they deserve.” Get them savvy young, so they’ll be a good user in the future.
The core concept here is that no other website has managed to encapsulate such a large population within its user base, and that population is going to be broken into age-based subgroups with wildly varying usage patterns. I would venture that Facebook is currently the longest-running major social network with an active audience – all of its old industry peers, the MySpaces and the Friendsters and the Yahoos have fallen by the wayside and are either ghost towns or nonexistent. To keep its relevance in a world where its users are separated by their unique generational experiences, Facebook will have to diversify their content to keep all of their audiences engaged. Their current user base ranges from Gen Z to boomers, but extend it outward and you get Facebook from birth until death. Facebook for life. Facebook Terminus.