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How Facebook changed our lives

In just a decade, the social media juggernaut has transformed the way we interact

The calendar may say 2014, but in tech culture this week actually marks the year 10 A.F - After Facebook.

What did we poor humans do before the advent of Mark Zuckerberg’s collegiate brainstorm? Let’s see, we smiled when we “liked” something, we dialed the phone to “update” friends and “tagging” was a kids’ game.

The upside of those innocent pre-social media times: intimacy. The downside: intimacy. If you wanted to reach a huge group, it meant sending an e-mail with a cc list that looked like the phone book.

Then came teenage Zuck and his shrewdly rolled-out vision for a new kind of digital club where you played bouncer, all with a Machiavellian backstory that eventually merited its own Oscar-winning movie, The Social Network. Facebook haters crowed after its hyped IPO last May quickly went sour, but the company has bounced back with a fiscal vengeance.

By the end of 2013, its turbo-charged stock had made founder Zuckerberg, 29, a $31 billion man thanks to $7.9 billion in annual revenue, a 55% jump over 2012. Fueling such growth was rapid mobile adoption, which last quarter accounted for 53% of all advertising and paves the way for a bullish new year.

At the heart of this business boom is a service that over the past decade has revolutionized and expanded - for better or for worse - the way humans interact. A million of us liked the site in 2004, then 250 million five years later. Today, Facebook has 1.2 billion users. Even if the site were to disappear or wildly reinvent itself in the next decade, our habits are forever altered.

“The biggest impact of Facebook was that it broke us out of e-mail jail,” says Paul Saffo, a longtime Silicon Valley futurist. “E-mail implied you had to reply, Facebook did not. E-mail is formal, Facebook is a salutation. E-mail you send, Facebook you broadcast. It’s simply a new social medium for which we’re still learning the social norms.”

While Facebook has spawned plenty of unappealing habits - oversharing perhaps topping that list - its genius was in creating a platform that allowed people to connect over long distances and reconnect over lost years. It tapped into a yearning that grew with the geographic scattering of the nation’s workforce.

Your childhood neighborhood may be but a memory, but it could gather once again on Facebook.

“In the recent past, if you left people physically for a job or marriage, you simply moved on, but Facebook made maintaining those relationship easy,” says Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research and author of the forthcoming book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

“The important takeaway from Facebook’s rise is that people have a desire to connect broadly,” she says. “For the longest time, technology limited communication to one on one; just think of the telephone. But now our worlds are complicated networks that overlap. The implications of that have yet to be fully realized.”

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