The headline on this piece - “What Took Us All So Long To Figure Out The Fatal Flaw In Zuckerberg’s Law?” - made me laugh, since that “us all” is doing some serious arse-covering work. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention ‘Zuckerberg’s Law’ since about a week after he coined it, or it was coined for him, and even he was surely being tongue in cheek, but perhaps in the marbled halls of Ad Age believers yet walked.
For the rest of us a brief reminder: Zuckerberg’s Law is - was! - the idea that the amount of stuff people shared would keep on increasing forever and ever. The point the article is actually making - that if this is true, filters also need to increase their efficiency year-on-year, or we all need to magic up more time and patience from somewhere - is valid, and I don’t remember people saying it much, so in that sense the headline is fair.
Beyond comedy “laws”, though, it does seem safe to say that a lot of people were (or still are) convinced of the idea of a generation which live their lives in public, sharing everything, heedless of the consequences.
And - following the Facebook IPO, I guess - in the last few weeks I’ve had several conversations with researchers talking about ‘facebook fatigue’ and people sharing less. My data-free suspicion is that this isn’t ‘fatigue’ exactly, just that people settle into a natural pattern of usage of any service, and it’s being noticed now because of the extra post-IPO scrutiny.
I think there’s a broader story, too, and one which is important to researchers.
Here are two things about people which seem to me fairly constant:
1. Some people - not all, but a lot - will talk about themselves and their lives, given the opportunity.
2. Young people calculate risks and weigh up consequences differently than older people.
The degree to which these things are true varies by time and culture, and the emphasis in number 1 particularly will vary (some people will frame their lives in terms of a community, family, etc.), but broadly speaking they’re constants.
And what happened with social media is that tools making (1) a great deal easier spread through the population, so people used them. And some of the young people using them seemed - to older people - more reckless than the older people, because that is what young people are like.
So given these things what you’d expect to happen in social media is roughly what has happened in its ‘mature’ markets - uptake rising and levelling off, different people finding the level and pattern of usage that appeals to them, and plenty of hand-wringing about the young people.
No surprises, you might say. But here’s where marketing types got involved. They came along with ideas like “Millennials” and “Digital Natives” as ways of talking about these young people.
Now, generalising about millennials was always going to happen: marketers love their generations. But Digital Natives was another matter. The point of digital natives wasn’t just “young people are different from old people”, but “this set of young people is different from old people in a way that it is impossible for old people to properly comprehend”. Digital Nativism took the standard age cohort of marketing and turned it into a Midwich Cuckoos scenario - alien kids raised by screens whose very brains had been reshaped.
The problem with this was all about framing, not data. Kids did use media differently to older people, and there was plenty of data about it. But by framing these differences as qualitatively, not quantitatively, different - part of an unbridgeable gap in mindset - Digital Nativism was pitched as something adults needed gurus and experts to navigate. Which in turn allowed said gurus to convincingly claim almost anything about these strange creatures. And so the idea behind “Zuckerberg’s Law” - a radically different, post-privacy, share-everything generation - was able to take root.