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However much more authentic the selves we present on Facebook are than they were in the anonymous Internet wilderness that came before it, they still fall far short of our true selves, and confusing our Facebook profiles with who we really are would be a terrible mistake. We are running our social lives over the Internet, an infrastructure that was not designed for that purpose, and we must be aware of the distortions it creates or we will be distorted by them. The standard cliché for describing viral technology like Facebook has always been, "The genie is out of the bottle." But Facebook inverts that. Now Facebook is the bottle, and we're the genie. How small are we willing to make ourselves to fit inside?
You don't hear these kinds of questions asked much at Facebook headquarters. The place hums with a sense of high purpose, a feeling that the world is changing for the better, and this is where the change is coming from. "It shocks me that people still think this is like a trivial thing," Bosworth says. "Like it's a distraction or it's a procrastination tool. I don't get it. This is so fundamentally human, to reach out and connect with people around us." Sam Lessin, Facebook's project manager, has known Zuckerberg since college. He left his own start-up to go to work for him. "You get at most one if you're incredibly lucky, two shots, maybe, in your lifetime to actually truly affect the course of a major piece of evolution. Which is what I see this as."
How big could Facebook get? It's big enough that it's starting to bump up against governments as well as other companies. Mueller's visit wasn't a one-off. He was there because Zuckerberg has a better database than he does. Facebook has a richer, more intimate hoard of information about its citizens than any nation has ever had, and the U.S. government sometimes comes knocking, subpoena in hand, looking to borrow some. "We feel like it's our responsibility to push back on that stuff," Zuckerberg says, "so oftentimes someone will come with a subpoena, and we'll go to court and say, 'We don't think this is enough.' Ultimately I think this stuff gets used for good."
Conversely, some governments fear Facebook's great database and the ease with which Facebook can be used to form networks and spread information. China has blocked the site since 2009. Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have all banned it at one point or another. Zuckerberg will be visiting China over the holidays his girlfriend has family there and you can't help but wonder if he'll be doing some stealth market research. That's almost a fifth of the world's population he's not reaching.
But even without China, there's a distinct feeling of manifest destiny about Facebook. Plot its current growth on a curve and it hits a billion members in 2012. There are 6.9 billion people in the world, 2 billion of whom are on the Internet. Is there a point at which all of them are on Facebook? "That's one reality that I think is totally possible," Cox says. "But Mark's vision is not that it's all happening in this blue-and-white zone that we built, but that it's happening everywhere. Literally everything you use could be a conduit between you and people around you. The television could. The GPS on your car could. Your phone could. iTunes could."
Zuckerberg is more cautious. He's noncommittal about how far Facebook can go. (Far, obviously, but to him it hinges on the ultimate extent of Internet penetration in the world, which in turn hinges on the adoption of smart phones in areas where Internet-connected computers are scarce.) Criticize Facebook and Zuck doesn't duck, exactly, though his positivity can be a bit relentless. For example: Isn't it possible that Facebook creates more interpersonal connections but that those connections are of a lower, less satisfying quality? "That's been a criticism that people have had for a while," he says. "But this isn't zero-sum. I think what we're doing is enabling you to stay in touch with people who you otherwise wouldn't. When I'm at home and I want to talk to my girlfriend, I don't IM her. I walk downstairs, and we talk." (Really? You don't IM in the house? "Only when you're in bed at the same time," he says. "Because then it's just ironic." And then he laughs in the easy, natural way he doesn't do much in public.)
All technologies come with trade-offs, but for now Zuckerberg just doesn't seem that interested in the other side of the trade, the downside. There are some eloquent, persuasive critiques of life on Facebook out there, including Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget and MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle's forthcoming Alone Together. But they don't fuss him, particularly. "They're just looking at it through a completely different lens," he says. "And I appreciate that. Because it would be impossible for me to dissociate myself to that extent, to get that perspective. I mean, people write all kinds of different things, from 'It's the greatest thing that's ever existed' to 'It's the worst thing that's ever existed.' "
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