Facebook - The symbol of postmodernity?

Term Paper, 2011

15 Pages, Grade: 8,5



1. Facebook & Harvey’s concept of the ‘time-space compression’

2. Facebook & the formation of identity and lifestyle

3. Facebook & multiple identities

4. Facebook & the perception of ‘the other’




It is the “world’s largest social network” (Stross, 2010) connecting over 600 million users from more than 200 countries on an Internet page that was founded just 7 years ago (Socialbakers, 2011a). The founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was named “person of the year 2010” (Grossman, 2010) by Time magazine and is ranked number 40 on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people with a net worth of approximately $13.5 billion (Forbes, 2011). Facebook, the social network this paper is dealing with, has become part of the daily routine of many users sometimes influencing their purchase decisions or even the way they perceive and see the world. Moreover, it has become an Internet brand which can now be regarded to be on an equal level with Amazon, eBay or Google.

Without doubt, Facebook has to be regarded as an important feature of growing inter-connectivity which was made possible through the rise and spread of the Internet. The social network enables people to get in touch with each other, find so-called “friends” all over the world and to create a personal profile representing the user within the Facebook network. Facebook’s self-stated mission is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” (Facebook, 2011). Of course this ‘mission’ is not a revolutionary new idea in the World Wide Web as several social networks and micro blogging websites like MySpace, LinkedIn or Twitter show. Still Facebook is the most widely-known, preferred and fastest growing social network of today’s world. As a matter of fact it is also often claimed to be the most “influential social network” (Brennan & Schafer, 2010, p. 19) of our times.

These times, sometimes labeled “the age of Facebook” (Arrington, 2010) imply certain ideas and features which can also be found in literature on postmodernit y. The new buzzword for the time after modernity is vaguely defined but in its most simplistic presentation David Wells defines postmodernity as “the general description people give to this particular period in our culture” (2006). Many authors have contributed to a broad range of features, conditions or consequences of postmodernity in order to describe and explain today’s world. Concepts like Harvey’s ‘time space compression’ or the idea of ‘multiple identities’ put forward by Hall, Held and McGrew as well as Bourdieu’s work on the creation of an identity shine some light on postmodernity. Interestingly, these concepts and developments can be found within the cosmos of Facebook. Therefore, this paper aims at analyzing Facebook in the light of postmodern developments and consequences for our identity and lifestyles in order to investigate whether Facebook has become a symbol of our, of today’s world of postmodernity. It will be shown how Facebook connects users all over the planet and integrates concepts of the process of identification. The paper will give several examples on the usage of Facebook so that the reader can easily follow the analysis and the applied concepts become more evident.

1. Facebook & Harvey’s concept of the ‘time-space compression’

David Harvey’s concept of the ‘time-space compression’ is one of the most widely used characterizations of postmodernity. His concept emphasizes the “speed-up in the pace of life” (1989, p. 240) which is a major feature of the history of capitalism. Harvey points out that the most crucial effect on people is the way they perceive and interrelate to time and space. Due to new and spreading means of telecommunication “space appears to shrink to a ‘global village’” (ibid.) whereby also time is shortened to the here and now. Harvey derives several consequences of his observations stressing the fact that the pure experience of time-space compression can lead to different, positive and negative reactions. He describes that these reactions can be “challenging, exciting, stressful, and sometimes deeply troubling, capable of sparking” (ibid.) within political, social or cultural spheres.

Donelly summarizes Harvey’s characterization of postmodernity as “an era where there is an acceleration in time & space compression” (2002, p. 424) which is greatly represented by the social network Facebook within the World Wide Web. As outlined in the introduction of this paper, Facebook has more than 600 million users now and about 700.000 new users join the social network each day. It is claimed that Facebook is going to hit the one billion users mark by the end of 2011 (Akhtar, 2010). Given a world population of approximately seven billion people in the middle of 2011, Facebook would connect one out of every seven human beings in the world. Thereby it would create a network which comes close to Harvey’s idea of a ‘global village’.

However, it has to be emphasized that this global village is mainly inhabited by users from the Western societies up to this point in time. But this observation might soon be changing. Facebook growth rates show that it is not only the United States and Europe that get connected to the social network but that the countries with the highest user growth rates are actually outside the Western world, namely China and states of the African continent (Socialbakers, 2011b).[1] Also the numbers of users from countries of the Middle East are growing and political leaders like the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are lifting complete or temporary bans of the social network, allowing their citizens to use Facebook without restrictions. In light of the revolutions and protests in the Arabic world these measures were regarded as “apparent ‘appeasement’ measure[s], aimed at staving off unrest in the country following recent political developments” (Williams, 2011).

Consequently, the dense network of Facebook becomes tightened by a growing number of users willing to register for the webpage that comes closest to the ‘global village’. The network allows people to interact and communicate through every time zone and geographical border. The real-time interconnection of the internal Facebook chat system represents the fastest way of communication whereby commenting and posting on user walls is not directly linked to an awaited answer leading to a conversation. By these means Harvey’s concept of the ‘time-space compression’ becomes visible. Nevertheless, Facebook does not stop with the classical usage of websites which are accessed with a desktop computer or a laptop. Facebook aims at a more dynamic and therefore more frequent use of the network with the next generation technology of mobile phones: the so-called smartphones. Equipped with the latest GPRS and UMTS technology, smartphones allow their users to access the Web from almost anywhere. As a consequence the Internet inherits a new dynamic which is not bound to a static place where one can surf the Web. Facebook effectively uses this rather new way of Internet accessibility by providing Facebook applications for smartphones and enabling users to directly connect and interlink their mobile devices with their Facebook account.

Currently about 200 million users access Facebook via their mobile devices and interestingly, these users “are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users” (Facebook, 2011b) which emphasizes the perception that being online and connected is becoming a permanent condition. It not only seems that Facebook uses the means which lead to Harvey’s ‘time-space compression’ but that the company expands the range and depth of being connected to the ‘global village’. This becomes most obvious when taking into account that nowadays manufacturers of smartphones closely work together with Facebook in order to produce special “Facebook phones” (Warman, 2011) which deeply integrate the network into the daily life of the users.

Moreover, this trend of mobile connectivity used by Facebook is perfectly in line with the perception of Lash & Urry that “modern society is a society on the move” (1994, p. 252) and that movement is “central to the idea of modernity” (ibid.). They point out that modernity has tremendously changed the way we experience movement and travel. The conception of travel which is based on the movement from one place to another has changed in the way that travel and movement are given routines in modern societies. Connectivity and availability have become necessities during travel in order to work, communicate or simply relax within the huge network of the Web. Facebook successfully manages to offer its users these possibilities and thereby compresses time and space even more by connecting users on the move.

2. Facebook & the formation of identity and lifestyle

The question how our identity and lifestyle is created and shaped has been a highly discussed topic in sociology throughout the years. The rise and spread of the Internet fostered these discussions as a new dimension had entered the sphere of personal identity. At first, this dimension, often labeled ‘virtual identity’ has been neglected by scholars because the Web has been perceived as an anonymous space where users could hide behind artificially created identities and pseudonyms. However, this has changed with the uprising of social networks and more personalized websites which allowed social contact with the person behind a certain username (Schwabach, 2006). Facebook, as outlined in the previous section, is the biggest social network on the Internet and includes many features and possibilities to create and shape a Web-based identity that is able to represent the personal identity of real life. Facebook enables users to depict their lifestyles and cultural preferences, which allows users a one-to-one transfer of their personal identity.

Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist and anthropologist, points at several factors which contribute to the formation of identities and lifestyles. Due to Facebook’s efforts to represent one’s personal identity within the social network these factors can also be found within the Facebook cosmos. First of all, Bourdieu emphasizes that identity is in part based on cultural preferences which support the formation of identities and lifestyles. These preferences include arts, music, food, clothes, cultural traditions or sports. The distinct and individual mixture of cultural preference helps people to form their own identity (Bourdieu, 1986). This feature of identity formation can also be observed on Facebook. Most importantly, Facebook enables users to set up a personal profile which can show the real name, birthday, hometown, current educational or working places and a short ‘about me’ section on the profile’s basic information. Moreover, the user can upload a profile picture and is therefore able to be represented in the network the way he wants. It is important to point out that user can freely decide which of these, if any, information will be shared on Facebook.

Furthermore, Facebook allows users to create and join groups which represent topics of their choice and represent their set of preferences. These groups range from free-time activities to political topics or the worshipping of certain persons. The user can join or create these groups in order to actively participate in group discussions or the groups are simply used as means to represent certain concerns or interests. With the option to actively create groups, Facebook offers the possibility to include an unlimited set of preferences to a user’s profile which constitutes an individual mixture for each profile.[2]


[1] The statistics are based on the growth rates of Facebook users in countries over the last six month

[2] The creation of groups is only limited to the extent that groups have to follow the Facebook Terms of Service

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Facebook - The symbol of postmodernity?
Maastricht University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
486 KB
Facebook, Postmodernity, David Harvey, David Wells, Social media, web 2.0
Quote paper
Tobias Henze (Author), 2011, Facebook - The symbol of postmodernity?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/211204


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