Facebook Inc. goes public this moring with an initial public offering (or IPO) that will potentially raise $18 billion and give the company an estimated value of $100 billion, according to news reports.
Many people throughout the world will scramble to buy shares so they can make money from the social media boom. Others will try to buy a few shares just to be part of this historic event.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we are at a turning point in human history. Facebook is a significant actor in that story; not only as an innovative technology business, but as a shaper of the human person and of society.
Facebook has over 800 million members, which is a significant portion of today’s world population. Now it will be one of the wealthiest companies in the world. Facebook’s IPO is an iconic event because of its potential social ramifications, particularly regarding how people globally will communicate, form relationships, and interact with each other.
Like LinkedIn, Facebook becoming a publicly traded company is a milestone in the acceptance of social media as a “natural” aspect of families, communities, and the workplace, and its integration into the very fabric of what it means to be a 21st century person. Brick-and-mortar store fronts have been replaced by Internet websites. Geographical neighborhoods have become virtual communities. Shopping sprees are done by surfing the Web for hours. Engaging with others via the Internet and digital devices is now just part of life and how we understand ourselves as social beings.
In a Forbes article published this week, technology reporter David Kirkpatrick speaks of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a social revolutionary who developed a company that “plays a larger role in human interaction worldwide than any other company” that currently exits. Zuckerberg’s said several times that his “dream” is to make the world more social and more connected. His online company has created what Kirkpactrick called the “Facebook Effect”, a dynamic viral communication platform and virtual process that enables people to continuously network with all of their contacts and personal friends where ever they are and whenever they want. Socializing no longer need to depend upon being physically present, just being connected. As long as a person has an Internet connection, he or she is in a network of companions.
The infusion of investor money into Facebook’s IPO gives the company more power than before which, in turn, will provide new product development avenues and opportunities. It will also afford Facebook the ability to greatly leverage its existing role in the daily life of millions of people. The decisions that Facebook leaders make regarding the product will shape how people engage with each other, develop relationships, and prioritize their time for several years and several generations. They will significantly influence how human socializing is perceived and what will be considered the natural ways people are to connect and be present with each other.
Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor of sociology and technology, has been studying digital technology for more than 30 years and is the leading expert of technology and culture. Viewing social networking as an avenue for people to explore their humanity and develop themselves as individuals and social beings, she is an advocate of thoughtful and responsible technological development and its application in society and organizations. She echoes the perspective I offered in a previous blog that technology holds great promise, but must be designed and deployed cautiously while being guided by values that foster positive human development and enhancement of the global community’s quality of life.
Exploring how people relate to digital technology, Turkle has become conscious of how modern electronic devices are radically shaping the way we envision ourselves and changing our behaviors. In a 2011 TED talk, she pointed out that technology has become an integral part of our lives. For some, it has become a major aspect of their personal identity. She notes:
- >> People shape technology and then it shapes them.
- >> Modern digital technology “has become the architect of… [human] intimacies.”
- >> While searching for camaraderie and companionship in “always on” virtual networks, people have become overwhelmed and find themselves faced with a new type of solitude. Though connected, they are alone.
So as Facebook becomes a publicly traded company that will continue to play a fundamental role in the evolution of how humans connect and interact, as well as how they will choose to be present and engage with one another, it is critical to ponder:
- >> While Facebook has been functioning as a for-profit business from the start, how will it handle the added pressures of being a member of Wall Street where competitive advantage and high profit margins are not only sought after, but expected by investors and the economy?
- >> What now will be Facebook’s potential impact on world societies and the future of humankind?
- >> Who will be the primary shareholders in Facebook?
- >> What will they ask of Facebook since they will not be customers but investors who have a personal interest in the company’s success and profitability?
- >> If a financial bottom-line approach is favored over a triple bottom line perspective that values people, planet, and profits, what direction will Facebook pursue? What will be its impact on the future of society and human evolution?
- >> Will shareholders just be focused on the money they can earn? Will they be blinded by the possibilities of technology and the social media craze or will they call for Facebook to make a contribution to establishing a society that is authentically interconnected and more interdependent?
- >> What social, organizational, and professional values and principles will need to guide Facebook’s leaders and investors so they act responsibly, enhancing the human condition and creating a creating a sustainable future?
Facebook, along with its shareholders, can choose to be profitable while benefiting the greater human community by enabling people to:
- >> Develop meaningful and purposeful relationships;
- >> Network and become authentically interconnected;
- >> Become more interdependent and involved in each other’s lives; and
- >> Be more concerned about each other and caring.
The challenge is for individuals and civic communities to be courageous and create a dialogue with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook leaders, and the company’s investors about ways they can enable the world to be more social by utilizing human-centric technological systems that create authentic community.