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Social media and other modern communication conduits have long been accused of killing people’s ability to interact in real life, and the age-old question reared its head again today when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg participated in another Townhall Q&A, this time at Luiss University in Rome.
An audience member asked:
Have you ever thought that Facebook has changed, or maybe ruined, how people communicate with each other … it’s true that people used to communicate with real smiles, face-to-face more often than now.
If nothing else, this served as a reminder that the Facebook Townhall Q&As — of which there have been quite a few in recent times — aren’t hugely vetted in terms of what questions are permitted. But it was also interesting to witness Zuckerberg tackle the question head-on, with the Facebook chief adamant that the social network doesn’t replace real-world communication, but augments it.
“If I thought that we ruined communication, I’d just change our product,” said Zuckerberg. “I mean, think about it … if you were working on something, and you thought that you’d broke something that was really important to the world, wouldn’t you just change what you were doing? I would hope so.”
After observing the “blank faces” in the audience that met this rhetorical question, Zuckerberg cranked into overdrive as he set about dismissing any notion that Facebook has been the death knell for real-life communication, and he does make some good points.
Here’s how I think about this. People mostly don’t use it [Facebook] for replacing the face-to-face interactions that they have. It’s for making it so you can communicate with people who you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to connect with. When I’m hanging out with my family, my wife, I don’t go into the other room and talk to them on Facebook. That would not be good. … nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. Although in the future, hopefully virtual reality will help get us close to when you’re not there.
But what it does, is it gives you the ability to stay in touch with people who you wouldn’t have the ability to do with otherwise.
My sister lives on the other side of the country from me. I want to know what’s going on with her kids, so I can see her updates on Facebook, and she can send me messages on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to keep me posted. And if she didn’t have those tools, I’d have to wait until she traveled out to California or I traveled to New York.
I definitely don’t think that’s [Facebook] ruining anything. I think that’s augmenting what we already do, where we have the tools to stay connected with the people around us that we love the most, but now we also have technology to help us stay connected with people that we love and care about no matter where they are.
The Townhall Q&As have helped shine a light on some interesting perspectives from the Facebook CEO, including why the company is hell-bent on targeting India and what he would do if he was Twitter CEO. Also at the Q&A today, he revealed plans to open up the Facebook Safety Check feature so that it can be triggered by users themselves.
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