Facebook Then and Now

By: Sandford BorinsFacebook has been in the news a lot lately, particularly as the Web site that university students turned to regarding the Virginia Tech massacre. The stark difference between facebooks then and Facebook now is a clear illustration of how dramatically the Internet is changing our culture.Let's go back to the early Nineties. Harvard undergrads from second year to graduation live in dorms, or houses, of several hundred students. Early in September, each house would publish a hardcopy facebook, with names and pictures of all its students, cross-referenced by suitemate groups, academic majors, extracurricular activities, hometowns, and even birthdays.The objective was simple: to let students look up one another and make in-person connections. (Personal disclaimer: I spent the 1993-94 academic year at Harvard as a visiting professor, and as a senior fellow resident at Quincy House, I had my own page in its facebook).Fast forward to 2004. Two Harvard students, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskowitz, took the facebook idea online, calling their site a “social utility that connects you with the people around you.”Online networking for millions is entirely different from in-person networking for a few hundred in a dorm. For example, online networking includes hero-worship – political and otherwise – and contact with people whom you will never meet face-to-face.Fast forward to last week. What happened at Virginia Tech was every university's worst nightmare.Every student has their own moments of isolation and knows a lonely guy who lives down the hall. Students turned en masse to Facebook to hear the news, identify the shooter, visit the pages of those who were murdered, and share their thoughts with close friends, family, and online contacts.Leave it to the academic studies for confirmation, but the reaction of university students to Virginia Tech demonstrates how central online communication has become in their lives.

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