How Facebook Has Transformed Our Culture Over The Past 10 Years

by Aaron Kaufman

Ten years ago, Mark Zuckerberg introduced “The Facebook” to the world.

In the decade since the site launched from a Harvard dorm room, it has grown into a preeminent force on the web, transitioning from a platform that served as a virtual meeting space for college students, to a global networking juggernaut, bridging geographical and cultural divides.

Its influence and reach has grown to 1.23 billion monthly users globally, roughly one-sixth of the world's population. That is up from the one million members who joined the site by the end of its first year.

The usage numbers are staggering, with 81 percent of its users residing outside of the United States and Canada. In America, Facebook is used by 71 percent of all adults and 73 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17.

According to the Pew Research Center, the average number of friends that an adult has on Facebook is 338. Those friends flock to the site in droves to submit their tacit approval of stories and events shared on their newsfeed, having clicked the “like” button more than 3.4 trillion times since the feature was first introduced on the website in 2009.

After a decade of unprecedented growth, Facebook has become one of the most valuable companies in the world, worth $135 billion with revenues of $7.87 billion in 2013, while amassing $1.5 billion in profits. Its evolution from a social novelty to an integral feature of daily life continues to propel its financial success.

Facebook has evolved, so, too, has our culture.

As the website moves from adolescence to teenage status, we take a look back at the transformative impact the social network has had on our society.

It's Changed Our Language

"Friending" someone is now an accepted verb -- so is unfriending. If you like something, it must be followed by the click of a mouse.

"Status" is no longer a term to define where you stand in a sociological hierarchy, but rather, a virtual outlet for expressing your interests and activities.

Poking someone in the past would be grounds for a fistfight; now, it's an act of affection or the first step in engaging someone in a flirty exchange.

Sharing is caring, but oversharing is grounds for unfriending. It was annoying enough when the only oversharer in your life was Uncle Ted after he'd thrown back one too many Johnnie Walkers at Thanksgiving dinner. Now you have to see post-op tonsillectomy pics from that girl you sat next to in freshman English.

A wall used to be a structure that helped keep the world out; now, it's the medium through which we broadcast our lives to that world.

Tag was a game we played on the playground; now, it's a way to prove that you actually have friends.

Trying to understand how our language has evolved to embrace new definitions for these terms? It's complicated, but not in the same way your relationship is on Facebook.

Personal Relationships Are Fundamentally Different

Getting dumped was never easy, but Facebook made it excruciating.

Relationships have come to be defined by a status. Couples meandering in uncertainty choose to label their shared understanding of the relationship as “complicated," fearing the consequences of becoming Facebook official.

That fear is justifiable. After all, a good many of those who monitor the status once it goes live are just waiting for the moment it comes down, hoping to either revel in your despair or to be the first to pursue your freshly minted ex.

For those who can't wait for the relationship to run its course naturally, the app market is there to help. Before, there was Breakup Notifier, which sent users alerts when someone changed their relationship status to "single." However, the since-disabled service was amateur hour compared to WaitingRoom.

That application not only allows users to monitor the relationship status of individuals, but it also enables them to let their taken targets know that if the romance goes south, they're waiting in the wings. With more than 60 percent of Facebook users listing themselves in some sort of relationship, there's plenty of “active waiting” to be done.

With the advent of Facebook, a little bit of privacy died, especially in the context of romantic relationships. Not only in the sense that exes can stalk your post-breakup activities with greater efficiency, but that companies can now better cater to your ailing heart.

According to reports, a Cornell professor and a senior Facebook engineer developed an algorithm that can identify who you're dating and whether the relationship will last based on a theory called “dispersion.” This information can be used to target advertising to users who might be in need of chocolates or a cruise after calling a relationship quits.

That incursion on privacy has been felt by all of Facebook's users to one degree or another.

Privacy Is an Illusion

Privacy concerns have swirled around the social networking platform since its debut a decade ago, but those concerns have only grown in concert with the site's burgeoning popularity.

Mark Zuckerberg has incorporated his philosophy, “Helping people become more open, sharing more information,” as a central tenant in every update that he has made to the platform over the years.

“When I made Facebook (in 2004) my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better,” said Zuckerberg.

That philosophy also extends to businesses that hope to better understand their target consumers. While users have the option of modifying their personal privacy settings, profiles are by almost entirely open by default.

Those who endeavor to maintain anonymity on the platform now face additional hurdles.

Last October, Facebook announced that it would do away with a setting that allowed users to shield themselves from searches by strangers.

This followed the quiet removal of the setting “who can look up my timeline by name” and a series of controversial statements by Zuckerberg where he insisted that people shouldn't be doing things on the web that they want kept secret in the first place.

Facebook certainly hasn't kept your secrets for you. The social network collects and stores user information, which it sells to advertisers looking to cultivate precisely-targeted consumer pitches.

Last year, when Consumer Reports released its annual report on Internet privacy and security, it centered on Facebook, offering a completely separate section in the report examining Facebook's approach to privacy, security and the sharing of personal information.

The report concluded that users are unaware of the degree to which their information is shared and that problems related to the site are on the rise. Additionally, it highlighted legal protection issues with the site, drawing concern from experts in the tech industry.

Trailblazer for Startup Culture… And Workplace Fashion?

Say what you will about Facebook, but it has created a business model that other entrepreneurs and startup companies have embraced and tried to replicate:

“I'm of the belief that values are only useful when they're controversial,” said Zuckerberg during a panel discussion at TechCrunch disrupt last year. “There are companies that write all these value statements that I think are kind of meaningless because they're saying the same stuff.”

Facebook has evolved our understanding of what makes a business environment flourish by constantly evolving its own.

“Your physical environment influences how you think and feel,” said Kate Aronowitz, Facebook's Director of Design. “If you want to build openness and collaboration, then the office must reflect that.”

Facebook set a precedent for those who hope to follow in its path, diverging from established corporate practices by constantly shifting its seating charts to encourage greater collaboration, while introducing design elements into the work place that make its workers feel like they're at home rather than in an office.

This button-downed approach is apparent in work dress standards, with Zuckerberg leading by example.

He has singlehandedly transformed our concept of the hoodie and jeans look. What was once an outfit more generally reserved for the stoner dropout in class is now the preferred business attire of one of the world's most successful CEOs.

In ten years, Facebook has consistently shifted the cultural paradigm. Given the site's extraordinary popularity, it's safe to assume that its impact will only be further felt over the decade to follow.

Top Photo Credit: Getty Images