What would a woman-led Facebook look like?
A couple of weeks ago, I heard about Facebook making some major changes in the way that it’s impossible to not be updated about even if you don’t want to. Everyone was composing clever tweets about it. I got standard breaking news push notifications from the BBC app on my phone but I didn’t bother to open and read the story. Mark Zuckerberg was up to something major again but frankly, I really wasn’t interested.
The first time I moved away from home, miles and miles away, I was young and painfully homesick. Video calling wasn’t a thing yet. Only Skype existed in a primitive version. It would be a few more years before smartphones morphed into the extension-of-my-wrist avatar we know them as today (I still had a flip phone at the time). And even longer before devices like the iPhone would become affordable enough to change how we communicate forever.
So Facebook let me keep in touch with friends back home with photos and silly comments recreating the banter I missed so much, staying awake until very late in the apartment I lived in on my own to be online when they woke up on the other side of the world. Facebook was my lifeline that connected me to everything and everyone when I felt so alone.
I still have an account. Like I was telling friends the other day, if I can’t find someone on Facebook, I see it as a major red flag. You don’t have to be active. But not having an account at all raises serious questions in my mind. Especially if you’re a millennial like me, Facebook is an almost essential, inevitable, part of your life, I would argue, its effect even more inescapable since it bought out Instagram and Whatsapp.
Facebook on its own though has gone past its prime, no longer as relevant either in my life or in my friends’ as it once was. So when all this major news was breaking…I just didn’t care.
Until I read Maria Shriver’s newsletter, which you can sign up to here. She spoke about many things, as she does each week but what caught my eye was this paragraph:
“But alongside that moment of joy, I also felt fear this week. I didn't feel fear for any personal reasons, thankfully, but I did feel it as I watched Mark Zuckerberg explain the “metaverse" and his vision for Meta, the new name given to Facebook, Inc. Zuckerberg described a virtual world where we would live almost completely online, meeting, working, and playing with our communities behind screens instead of in person. Listening to the description of it all brought me such disbelief.”
I felt disbelief too. Is this really what Mark Zuckerberg thought was a good idea? There’s so much going on in the world, so much that needs attention and money and understanding from people of influence like him but an even more connected world spent in front of screens at a time in history when we’ve all spent too long indoors and too much time in front of screens — why? And then I felt myself answer my own question — this was a plain business decision.
If Mark Zuckerberg got his way, it would mean many more billions and profit and happy investors and everything else that comes from making the kind of money he does. Which made me think — what would a woman-led Facebook look like?
Facebook was born in a dorm room at Harvard when the co-founders, a bunch of boys with too much time on their hands, decided to create an Internet directory of girls in their school that they could rate on “hotness” <insert eyeroll>. This is the foundation on which one of the most successful businesses of our time has been built. So how singularly focused the company’s vision is on business and profit shouldn’t surprise me. But it does. And it bothers me. And it makes me wonder what a woman in Mark’s position might have done differently.
So I googled it and found that the richest woman in the world, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the heiress to the Loreal empire, is using a significant portion of her wealth to restore the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Personal opinion about religion aside, she’s a wealthy woman using what she has towards improving a shared resource.
Why am I not surprised.
Because she’s hardly the first woman in her position of privilege to do so.
They’re all women known perhaps more for how much good they’ve done with the vast amounts of money they have access to even compared to their professional successes. And so I can’t help but think if a woman had founded Facebook, her reasons for setting it up might have been very different. And as the company gains the gargantuan proportions that we’re all familiar with, would her vision for how it grew in the world be very different too.
I’m thinking of this more as Mark Zuckerberg proposes what honestly sounds to me like some kind of dystopian nightmare. Why on earth would we want to spend a second more in front of a machine. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the ways in which technology makes our lives better. During the pandemic, I echo billions of people who felt the only source of relief when they saw loved ones squeezed into a tiny screen. But to envision a time in the not-so-distant future when we’ll all be living in front of our gadgets out of choice rather than necessity is plain awful and scary.
No Mark, I don’t want to.
I want to feel better by going for a walk outdoors, breathing fresh air and appreciating the shades of blue and green found in nature.
I want to feel the sun on my face, on the skin on the back of my neck, on my bare arms.
I want to hug the people I love and meet them face-to-face while sharing a meal, talking and laughing until the sun comes up.
I want children to know the joy of cutting paper with scissors, to feel those textures with their tiny fingers, as they build school projects from scratch.
I want to play an instrument. I want to take public transport.
I want to live in the real world with real people and real feelings that are as messy and imperfect as they are wonderful.
I do not want to live in a world so hyper-connected that it negates the parts of life worth living.
I don’t know that I’ll delete my Facebook account yet. I’ve been bored on Instagram but I don’t think I’m anywhere close to stepping away from it. I use Whatsapp so much that removing it from my life doesn’t seem like a possibility anytime soon either. But I will actively be resisting this complete tech takeover that makes me so uncomfortable.
Because Facebook might not be woman-founded, its focus might not be where a woman founder’s may have been. But it does have many woman consumers, like me. And these women can make more choices towards a future we’d like to see.
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