But TheFacebook borrowed some of the intimacy of the college environment to make this fairly radical step away from privacy feel safe. So people at Harvard, and then elsewhere, started giving more and more of themselves to the web.
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“We were so open. For a while, anybody who ever went to Harvard could see whatever I posted,” said Natalie Bruss, a partner at the venture firm Fifth Wall, who was also in Zuckerberg’s class.
And so it went from school to school, establishing a new norm of how to be on the internet that was firmly enmeshed with how to be in college. An early marketing innovation, according to Marks, was that the company’s founders created demand at a school before launching there. “It meant people were dying to be on Facebook, so it launched with this high density, and that brought all this engagement early on,” she said.
A launch of TheFacebook created a frenzy. Who had time to think about the theoretical relationship between one’s online persona and the offline self? Later, there would be the real-names policy and Cambridge Analytica and the creeping understanding that we have all given the most sophisticated advertising mechanisms in the history of the world all the information they need to sell us things. Kids would get smart and switch back to usernames and private, ephemeral messaging platforms. A new, savvier generation is creating new norms. That’s good, but that’s not the same thing as returning to the world I took for granted until February of my senior year.
To watch these dynamics play out on ever-larger scales has been disorienting. The world should not be this perfectly fractal. And normally, it is too huge to comprehend: the millions of ways to live and talk and eat, the forgotten corners, deserts, farmers, bayou dwellers, towers in Singapore, welders in Accra, vaqueros, fly-fishing guides, hole-punch manufacturers, rare-earth-mineral-mining children, chocolatiers, shamans, and painters. But with Facebook, my dorm became coextensive with the world. This whole jumble of 2 billion people share something now, this thing called Facebook. There is almost nowhere on Earth that you can definitively say: There is no Facebook here and Facebook has changed nothing. Even the uncontacted indigenous people of the Amazon have gone viral.
I have wondered through the years whether another group of people could have accomplished this so quickly and so thoroughly. Was Mark Zuckerberg the only person who would have made this particular mark in the world?
And should I have seen it in him? When I was passing him on the way to a late-night bagel or some popcorn chicken, should he have glowed, predestined, charmed?
He really was just a guy. Cheever, a serious ultimate-Frisbee player, tells a funny story about Zuckerberg. He had met a great ultimate-Frisbee player, Mark Zuckerman, whom he wanted on the team, but at a tournament, Mark Zuckerberg signed up to play too. It was a windy day, and as Zuckerberg warmed up with a teammate, a gust of wind sent a Frisbee crashing into his nose. Bleeding, the poor freshman had to be driven to the hospital.