Along with a couple of college colleagues, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004. Its success was dramatic, for only three years later Zuckerberg was already a billionaire, aged 23: today, the 30-year-old is worth an estimated $33bn.
In June, 2014 it was estimated there were on average 890 million daily Facebook users.
But why is social media so important to so many people?
It might be simplistic to say that human relationships are at the heart of it, but that just about sums it up, and it has its practical uses too. For example, I grew up in north Belfast and my next door neighbour was my best friend. I moved away from the area in 1970, and a couple of years later Jimmy left these shores to start a new life in New Zealand. He was 22.
Decades passed and then one day I got a Facebook message from an elderly gentleman in New Zealand: ‘You wouldn’t happen to be the Addie Harbinson who used to live in Silverstream Avenue in North Belfast, would you?’
And we’ve been in frequent contact ever since, after a break of over 40 years!
But social media, sometimes chewing gum for the mind, can also be thought provoking. I came across a post a couple of weeks ago that lay in the back of my head for a few days before it really pushed itself on me.
It asked the question: ‘If you could speak to yourself 20 or 30 years ago, what would you say?’
So, what would you say? What bit of advice or guidance would you offer?
Well, I thought about it for a while and then, as I said, allowed it to slip away from my consciousness, but it jumped up again as I was having a meaningful conversation with my wife, on Valentine’s Day as it happens.
And the young Harbinson faced me down and screamed at me: ‘Well, what are you going to say to me, old man?’
The only two words I could think of were: ‘Don’t rush.’
Now, how I wish someone had given me that advice in the days when I ran around doing my headless chicken impersonations. So much like my father: tinkering here, exploring there, trying this out, wondering if I might succeed at that, when now I know that often the secret of success, however you might want to define success, is to take your time in finding something you like doing and are good at, and then stick with it.
But maybe I still need to hear those words, for even in the autumn of my life I still take on too much, I still want to save the world and remain so naive that I still think I can.
So let’s hear those words again: ‘Don’t rush! Visit an old relative in the nursing home, and sit there and listen. Buy some lonely person a cup of tea and spend time with them. Pause to look behind the eyes of a hurting prisoner and allow them time to answer that great unanswered question: “How are things?”’
Perhaps that’s the reason why social media is such a success: 890 million users a day, every day, many of them sad and isolated. All they want is to find a listening ear. And they turn to Facebook.
Sad, isn’t it?