The Facebook Generation: “Move Fast and Break Things”

Apple was too rich. And everyone used Google and Amazon: it didn’t require much personality.

But at the turn of the 21st century, when today’s twentysomethings were making their “generational debut,” crossing over from college and into the real world, Facebook was both free and personal. Think Chris Andersen meets Bono (both, as it were, early investors).

I’ve followed with curiosity the progress of Facebook toward its first IPOs–and not because the markets particularly interest me, but because people do. (As does the wonder of their grassroots endeavors: will they flounder, will they fail, will they achieve world domination even if it’s fleeting?) One wonderful author I work with believes the most distinguished companies have always been reliant on great leaders, born of an “innate desire to create change.” I loved that unquantifiable, human element that defined successful business. I loved their rags-to-riches stories; or in Mark Zuckerberg’s case, not quite.

But whether you believe every word you hear from Mark Zuckerberg or not, he is still an icon of so many post-Gen’s. (Since we haven’t yet figured out the name, let’s call it this, for now). Young nerds who became “accidental billionaires;” who also inspired, in Zuckerberg’s case, the hottest movie of the year. It’s the ultimate cultural studies paradigm (Cultural Studies, something you could actually major in as a college student in the 21st century): a business that touches both art and human communication.  A recent profile of the Facebook IPO in the Business Section, for instance, focuses on the graffiti artist who made rich in choosing Facebook stock over thousands of dollars up front for painting Facebook’s headquarters.

The whole “we are the people, trying to be a democratic leader” thing resonates not so much, particularly after this week’s horrifying exposé. But I’m not sure ideals of changing the world is what captures the majority of post-Gen’s. Elitism works for Harvard grads, and even more so, drop-outs: Harvard intelligence is still valued. I’m sure a whole book has or could be written on the basis of how well Harvard dropouts have fared! The interest of this generation in Facebook’s founders is in how damn rich they became, so young, in doing something cool, and letting all of us non-Harvard groupies be involved in the process.

There’s a longer essay to be written on why social networking is particularly defining of post-Gen culture, but the thesis has been written a hundred-fold, and I wanted to say something different, about people. After X, after Y and even The Millennials, post-Gen’s struggled to find their own name–and what does that say about us? Maybe that it’s no longer about others ascribing labels to us, but rather labels we happily give ourselves. It’s “My” Facebook Generation: because Facebook made it possible to claim ownership of nearly everything.

Facebook’s counter-culture, less Be Social Change, more “if I were a rich kid,” (yaddi yaddi yaddi ya) will be remembered long after the counter-culture of say, Zuccotti Park — because even they use Facebook. Post-Gen’s will be defined by one powerful man-child who let us believe young entrepreneurs could prevail, that ambition and risk were the most important tenets of business philosophy, and that “moving fast and breaking things” was so much cooler than tradition.

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I’ll post later on why authors seeking publicity might consider giving up any notion of privacy in the world of Facebook, Google, and others to come. 

Do you think Facebook is good or evil? Comment below.

Susan Peirce Thompson

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