Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Facebook effect on the developing world's middle class

The recent investment that Goldman Sachs made into Facebook proves what kind of influence the social app has. The influence could be more than the $450 million dollars that Sachs put on the company, as it is influencing the middle class of developing countries.

The middle class in middle-income countries are looking at what their counterparts in developed countries are doing through Facebook. This makes the people in poorer countries aspire to have the same goods, and do the same things as their richer counterparts.

From the Guardian, writer Johnathan Glennie weighs the good and bad of this international "keeping up the Jonses" and how it could make those with less even poorer.

While it is usually discussed in economic terms, inequality is actually an issue of culture and identity. It seems to be fairly inherent in human nature to survey your peers and check how well you are doing in comparison. The key is who you think your peers are. Outsiders assume that the middle and wealthy classes in poor countries should be content with doing very well compared with those living in abject poverty, and that their relative affluence is fairly offensive as others struggle with next to nothing. But as globalisation has gathered pace, the aspirant middle classes in poorer countries do not compare themselves with the peasants or working classes in their own countries, but with the people they consider their peers in other countries – just as the elites have always done.

This is the Facebook generation. The success of Facebook across the world is the latest symbol of a profound shift in global geography: the international middle class is now a meaningful category.

A few years ago we might have called this the Friends phenomenon, after the globally successful US sitcom that had twentysomethings across the whole world watching and wishing they lived in a small New York apartment near a relaxed coffee bar. But Facebook has taken them from watching affluence on TV to regular interaction with peers in other countries. The 19 million Facebook users in the Philippines, for instance, about 19% of the population, are generally comparing themselves to other Facebook users around the globe rather than the 50% of Filipinos living on less than $2 a day.

Facebook lets the aspirant middle classes log on and see what friends or acquaintances in more wealthy countries are up to. Maybe a weekend city-hop? Or one of thousands of hobbies that the affluent engage in to pass the time. Or cooking with the latest world ingredient. Rather than being at the top of the pile, the middle classes in the poor countries, and even the "elite", actually feel like they have a lot of catching up to do on quality of life.

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