More Americans Are on Facebook Than Have Passports (and What It Means to Our Brains)

Yes, that is a true statistic, according to a report I found today from Social Times, where they created some bullets and presented some interesting statistics, which it turns out they grabbed from a huge infographic from the team responsible for a new and not-yet-launched site called Tripl. Check out the ginormous infographic yourself here, or I can summarize that part of it really quickly for you:

155,000,000 Americans are on Facebook communicating with friends & family
but only
115,000,000 Americans own a passport and can travel outside the U.S.

So if I'm understanding this infographic correctly, 50% of the U.S. population is on Facebook, yet only 37% have a passport.  (You know, if you haven't yet, take a look at it — it's an impressive infographic, I have to say. And there's a lot more information than just about Facebook and passports. You can find out what percentage of the social networking travelers connect to their social graphs while traveling, which airlines have the most Facebook likes, etc, etc.)

And when I first saw that headline, I was intrigued. Wow, that's really something, right? But now that I've got it sorted out, pondered it for a minute or two, I have to say what I'm thinking, which is, "So what?" At the end of the day what am I going to do with that information? I can tell you. Absolutely nothing. At some point, I might say to someone in a conversation, "Oh, I saw these statistics online that showed that more people are on Facebook than have passports.", but I guarantee you that I won't be able to state the numbers right then and there, because they never actually settled in — I've bookmarked the article for if I ever need the information, so I'm done with it.

An article in the San Jose Mercury News published on 7/14/2011, Google is changing your brain, study says, and don't you forget it, confirmed something that I'd been thinking, at least about myself, for quite a while now, which is that in our now 24/7 wired world, we no longer need to memorize or even know facts and figures if we can look them up. The article confirms this, saying:

When we know where to find information, we're less likely to remember it -- an amnesia dubbed The Google Effect by a team led by psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University.
Goodbye, soul-searching; hello, facts-at-fingertips.

The finding, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, doesn't prove that Google, Yahoo, or other search engines are making us dumber, as some have asserted. We're still capable of remembering things that matter -- and are not easily found online, Sparrow said.
Rather, it suggests that the human memory is reorganizing where it goes for information, adapting to new computing technologies rather than relying purely on rote memory. 
We're outsourcing "search" from our brains to our computers.

 So we're not getting dumber, we're just outsourcing some functionality. Whew, what a relief! :-)

How Facebook Has Become Today's Village Well

Hmm. I really never thought I'd write a headline like that. But I was catching up on Facebook posts, and realized just how true it is.

Well before the invention of the printing press, news was passed along in letters by the elite to the elite, but for the common people — most of whom were illiterate — all news was communicated verbally, face to face. (It does make you wonder about the veracity of the news by the time the last person got it — thinking of how the game of Telephone always worked out when we played as kids.) And what better place to meet and share news of the day than at one of the common destinations of villagers — the community well. Water for the household was a daily need, and when you get down to it, so was the social connection — the life and breath of a village or community. Reputations were made or broken, alliances forged or dissolved, news and gossip were shared. All around the simple task of getting water from a well.

Jump forward hundreds of years to our current lifestyle. Illiteracy, while still an issue, is the exception rather than the rule. Neighborhoods were built around the car and the wide streets it requires, not the footpaths and walkways that encourage walking and biking and neighborly interaction. Often neighbors don't know each other more than to wave in passing. Colleagues and friends are spread across the globe. But throw in this newfangled set of communication channels known as social networking, and all of a sudden, our large and disconnected world has become smaller, more connected, and more personal again. Many would argue that if it's not face-to-face it's not real, or it doesn't count, but I would argue that it does — we just happen to be connecting across long distances and different time zones, virtually. And communication is communication — whether it's face to face, by phone, by Skype, by handwritten letter or postcard, by email, or by social media channel. Sarcasm is the one tone or emotion that doesn't travel well via the online communication channels, but hope, joy, happiness, anger, disappointment — the entire range of human emotions travel quite well. (Sarcasm doesn't travel well across languages either, so it seems best used sparingly except for face-to-face interactions with close associates.)

On the serious side of personal news, I found out a friend's father in another state had a medical setback, but is now doing well — via her Facebook postings. A colleague's mother passed away several days ago, and again, I found out from Facebook. I know when my father passed away seven months ago, one of the few people who'd actually been notified by phone posted her condolences on my Facebook wall, and it saved me the many, many calls I wasn't up to making or receiving the first few days, yet people found out about our loss, brought dinner, sent flowers, or sent along their thoughts and prayers, which made me feel connected and cared about in both my virtual and real communities.

 I love logging into Facebook in the morning — checking to see what's been happening while I've been away, and whose birthday it is, who from my past or present has tracked me down and requested connecting. I had a birthday last week, and of course Facebook told all of my friends. And I have to admit, it's a great feeling to have so many people all over the world acknowledging your existence and wishing you a wonderful day, lol.

Am I giving up face to face interactions or phone calls? Not on your life — I cherish all of my personal connections, it just doesn't matter to me whether they're sitting at the table across from me, or sitting at a computer across the world. We're still connecting, and that's what it's all about.