My Letter to Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook has transformed how we communicate with our friends. Because of Facebook, we are able to reach and touch the lives of our friends beyond our own physical space. I have been able to keep touch with my Hong Kong University friends when I studied aboard in HK back in 2006. I have been able to see pictures of my students in Cambodia and the teachers whom I have worked with and became friends with when I volunteered as an English teacher in Siem Reap in 2013. I have been able to re-connect with my highschool friends who were once so important in my life, but with college and life drew us apart but Facebook has reignited that flame of friendship in new forms because we were able to stay in touch.
But what about my connections with the friends close-by?
Frankly, Facebook has drawn us further away from each other because we are constantly in touch. Seeing a picture of my friend’s picnic in San Francisco, reinforces the fact that they are okay. A quick “like” of that picture, signifies that I was with them and was part of their experience. But was it? Was it a real connection? I would argue, it’s not.
Facebook is designed to be focused on the “self” or the “ego.” Pictures people post, posts people write, videos people share, are mostly centered around the self. As human beings, we have a deep innate desire to express ourselves, and Facebook provides a means of self-expression to our friends. But how can we make that self-expression beneficial to our friends, our family, our community, and perhaps our civic engagements? Rather than just a mere need to show-off our luxuries of life.
Maybe the answer to building more powerful connections isn’t about investing in more immersive technology like VR/AR. Maybe it’s not making features and tools like a “like button” or “poke button” so easy to click. Because what does it mean to click that “like” button? It might seem like there’s participation, care, and love from your friend who “liked” your photo, but does it really?
Maybe we need to look back to the basics of human connections and socialization as a way to build technology that complements more face-to-face interactions and not replace. Maybe we need to explore writing or audio as a form of self-expression. I know this sounds backwards to the trend of videos, and more immersive technology, but as the saying goes, sometimes “less is better.” Expression through writing or audio can form connections that are deeper than visuals.
Beyond using technology to further our human connections, I envision one day Facebook being able to help us connect with others. I am not talking about our friends, but strangers, community members, and other people who don’t physically live in our space but somehow has a connection to us. Someone in need in India. Someone seeking knowledge in China. Someone who is learning Mandarin in US. And that connection is instigated by someone’s self-expression that allows another person to connect. That self-expression is not based on one’s interests, likes, socio-economic status, but a story of our common human experience. Wouldn’t that be an intellectually stimulating way of getting to know someone? Is when you are two strangers, sharing, consoling the sorrow and grief over the loss of someone you love? That connection is powerful. And that connection is addictive in a way that benefits us.
All human beings want to be loved. All human beings want to know they are being listened to. All human beings want to connect. My question for you Mark is how do we equip Facebook with the right tools to drive deeper human connections and make new connections never thought possible?
The world is in more need than ever to find an answer.