Ask someone what they think about Facebook, and chances are they'll give you a long-winded response about its downfalls.
People will say it's addictive. That it's frightening that we'd give so much information about ourselves to the general public. That too many parents are on it. That too many people think they're important because of "likes" or shares.
But when I hear critiques and concerns that ignore Facebook's incredible technology, I'm reminded of the comedian Louis CK making fun of people who complain about flight delays. His message is simple: how can you be so upset with the absolute miracle that is hundreds of people flying through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour? How are you not just incredibly impressed all the time?
My question is similar when it comes to Facebook: how could we be so unimpressed by something that just 20 years ago seemed so unattainable? Today, there are 1.55 billion people who log into Facebook at least once a month. Thirty years ago, all we regularly used to communicate with people were snail mail and landlines. Now, with one completely free service, we get access to almost a quarter of the world's population instantly via pictures, videos, messaging, and now live video calls.
But connecting friends, family and strangers is only the foundation of what Facebook does. In a few short years, it has already evolved into something far greater than a regularly updated address book for dates or a way to keep in touch with college friends.
Today, Facebook has the ability to mobilize millions of people behind a movement. Look no further than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $115 million in just two weeks for a disease that kills 5,000 people a year. The ability to share videos of police brutality on platforms like Facebook helped fuel the activism of Black Lives Matter. In the wake of the Paris shootings, many saw users come together under the colors of the French flag and show their support for a country in mourning. In fact, those shootings in Paris illuminated another one of Facebook's noteworthy tools: the "marked safe" feature, which allowed Parisians to notify their family and friends in real time that they were OK.
Not long ago, the only way to get news was through newspapers, radio and television. Each of these mediums has one major theme: you're hearing your news from a single, unified voice. With the exception of radio, which made calling in popular, you seldom heard interaction from listeners or viewers. On Facebook, though, the fact checkers are more common than the people posting the news. Look at any controversial story posted by a popular news organization, and you're sure to find several well-thought-out rebuttals in the comments section (even if they are amongst trolls). Today, 61 percent of millennials are getting their political news from Facebook, and half of them are choosing not to identify with either political party. It just might be that the diversity of opinions we're seeing is also diversifying and nuancing our own political views.
If you're an artist, you should consider Facebook your best friend. Look no further than Justin Bieber, whose YouTube videos were shared so wildly on Facebook that he was catapulted into the fame he has now. Creator Natasha Wescoat wrote a post for the blog The Abundant Artist about how she made more than $50,000 selling her artwork on Facebook. A Plus even covered a homeless painter who went from obscurity to having her own art exhibit, all because of one Facebook post.
This kind of opportunity coming from a service that — other than the cost of Internet — is entirely free to the public should be one of the most astounding things since the Internet itself. But we've become so accustomed to the technology around us that we find ways to neglect the miracle of it all.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
My life has changed dramatically for the better because of Facebook. I am a more informed voter because of the news articles I see my friends sharing. I have a far greater knowledge of what my friends and family are up to because of Facebook than I would without it. I'm able to promote my own writing, follow the bands I love and use my wall as a soapbox for political opinions. I even broke the ice talking to my girlfriend by poking her on Facebook as a joke before we had even met.
But Facebook's something much greater than a tool for self-promotion. It's allowed me to travel the world with ease, coming in handy anytime I need to keep in touch with new friends or message old ones and organize plans. I use it to find advice about places to visit and store memories from everywhere I go.
In recent years, Facebook use has expanded far beyond the normal. A Welshman used it to call an ambulance after a spinal cord injury when he could only crawl to his computer. Citizens in the British Isles used Facebook to organize cleanups after a 2011 riot. An 18-year-old tracked down a mugger after seeing him in one of his sister's pictures. The website Socialblood is creating the largest network of blood donors, hospitals and blood banks on the web. And they're using Facebook to match people up. The list goes on and on and on.
So next time you criticize Facebook, consider this: Facebook has made the world a much more communal, informed place, and it has created endless opportunity for billions of people, all for the cost of Internet.
Unless, of course, you're in India, where Facebook is trying to provide Internet for free.
Cover photo: Chris Jackson / Getty