I usually check my Twitter feed before I go to bed. I’m not really sure why I do it, other than out of habit. A few nights ago my feed was full of panic. It wasn’t over some natural disaster or act of terrorism… but rather because Facebook was down.
“It’s been down 20 minutes!” “30 minutes and still nothing, what’s going on?” As is the norm these days, the event spawned its own hashtag—#facebookdown. As the crisis wore on, more and more of the comments became self-deprecating. “How will I like what my friends are doing?” “How will I post pictures of my cat?” (Instagram, which Facebook owns, was also down.) Luckily both services were back after about an hour, and the world made sense again.
At first this was little more than a comical example of just how much we rely on social media, on how integrated it is in our daily lives. But then it got me thinking: how would our lives change if Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. were to suddenly disappear?
In Canada alone, 14 million people—that’s nearly half the country—log on to Facebook every single day. Most of them do it on their phones. Around the world, half a billion people are on Facebook. That’s a lot of people who would suddenly be without their newsfeed.
Of course, the impact would go far beyond people checking in on what their friends are doing. We’ve spent the past few months looking at the remarkable ways that social media has revolutionized how we interact with each other, from business to politics to social change.
Remarkably, despite the Web 2.0 revolution, there are still those who dismiss its impact. In response to a wave of online criticism earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed social media as nothing more than “electronic graffiti.” That comment was roundly condemned, both online and offline.
The truth is, social media has revolutionized communication and self-expression. Sure, we can dismiss the lasted Instagram photo of what you made for dinner as frivolous—it certainly is. But it’s hard to dismiss the way social media has helped empower individuals and changed the way businesses operate. It’s helped us understand our world better and it’s even helped bring down dictators.
Which brings me back to my original question: what if all that were to suddenly disappear? I could probably do without checking my Twitter feed before bed. And I certainly do think that we could all use a little less time in front of a screen and a little more time outside, in the moment, or with loved ones. But to disappear completely? It’s hard to imagine.
I’ve heard of people giving up Facebook for Lent. Could you do the same? Could you resist the temptation to check in on social media for a while, or is it just too much a part of your life?