Facebook has just done an about-face. After turning the world into one big, aggressive, competitive, depressing, hyper-connected community that shares tons of information nobody needs to know about their personal lives, the social network is now emphasizing privacy.
On Wednesday (March 6) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a post outlining Facebook’s latest pivot, away from the town square model of very publicly sharing videos, pictures, and status updates with everyone, to something more akin to your living room.
After 15 years of homage to the idea that more connection is always better, Facebook seems to be waking up to the reality that quality matters and humans are not designed to be hyper-connected. “Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks,” he wrote, suggesting of course that we have been very much not-ourselves for the past 15 years.
The question is whether trying to connect people in more intimate settings can promote actual social connection, which appears to be fraying in contemporary culture. Connecting is a biological imperative, honed over millions of years to protect us from being eaten by lions, but also to help us thrive as humans. Indeed, the absence of social connection can lead to profound loneliness, which is on the rise and deemed a public health threat by some countries.
“Humans need others to survive,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Regardless of one’s sex, country, or culture of origin, or age or economic background, social connection is crucial to human development, health, and survival.” Her research found that being disconnected posed comparable danger to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and was more predictive of early death than the effects of air pollution or physical inactivity.
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