Mark Zuckerberg is in Roma (Rome) this week and participated in a Town Hall Questions & Answer session as Luiss University, where he was asked if Facebook has changed or ruined how people communicate with one another. This is a common criticism of not only Facebook, but of many ways that people communicate today including instant messenger services, texting, forums and of course, social networks. The person asking the question colored it by stating the extremely vague, "it's true that people used to communicate with real smiles, face-to-face more often than now." That the question was asked shows that the Town Hall Q&A sessions do not stringently vet questions before the event!
Mark tackled the question head on. He opened with the statement that he did not believe Facebook had ruined face to face communication and that if he did, he would change the product. The audience did not respond to his initial response so he elaborated, highlighting that people don't use Facebook for replacing face-to-face conversations and interactions but instead use it as a means for communicating with people that they would otherwise not. Mark highlighted that when he is with his family in the same building he did not go into the other room and communicate with them using Facebook. Mark went on to explain that his sister lived on the other side of the United States but he was able to keep up with her and her family via Facebook post updates, messages on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. He was able to keep up via the Facebook service but he would still spend time with his sister.
There are many people who see people using their smartphones in public, when commuting, waiting to travel, or hanging out with friends as antisocial but one of the many facets of human behavior is that the need to be doing something whilst waiting around is nothing new. Before the smartphone, many commuters kept themselves occupied with a newspaper. A quick Google Images search shows rows of people reading a newspaper doing other activities such as walking down the street, riding the train to work, waiting for the bus or at family meal times. Does this sound familiar? As a species we have a massive thirst for information, news or gossip, and Facebook is one such source for this information. Indeed, Facebook's changes to the newsfeed designed to bring back the local highlight the importance of local news to the service.