Aside from the expected non-stop wave of stops and applause, there was one line from the State of the Union address delivered last night by President Obama that stuck with me.

“None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.”

– President Barack Obama, The State of the Union, 1/25/11

The technological revolution we are going through is being spoken of in the same context as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.  It is just further proof that the advances in online interactivity are something profoundly significant.  That the President choose to highlight these corporate powerhouses, both still in their relative infancy, as the new vanguards of the American economy and American ingenuity is worthy of a moment of discussion.

If our chief export is to be defined as innovation and ingenuity, it is impossible to avoid certain concerns.  We’re not talking about easily quantifiable products that will boost company revenues because we’re shipping more units and earning more money.  But the success stories of Facebook and Google are to be lauded because they are highlighting a new sort of social export that proves that America still has a lot to offer to the world, and will remain relevant and powerful on a global level thanks to sites that quite frankly, many people cannot live without.

We all love their products and can clearly point to a point in our lives before and after we began using them.  I’d wager that most folks would say that their lives have been improved (either subtly or significantly) thanks to either Facebook or Google.  But the truth is that one of the key selling points to both Google and Facebook is that they are both free.  Would you use either if they started charging?  Before you answer, seriously think about it.  Of course it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction of mock disgust and dismay.  Pay?  For Facebook?  For Google?  Absurd.

But is it, really?  Think of the ease of information afforded to you by Google, and the convenience of contact that Facebook cultivates.  How much is that worth to you?  Something tells me it’s more than the whopping zero dollars we’re all paying right now.

I’m going to shift gears away from these hypotheticals, because luckily for us all, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing either site behind a pay wall in our lifetime.  If ever.  In fact, there have been so many nonsensical “news” stories claiming that Facebook will start charging, that the site recently changed their login page to reflect them:

Notice the pledge on the right hand side above the sign up fields that the site will always be free.  They needed to put that out there right in front to supersede all the bogus claims of turning into a paysite.  But those claims are based in the reality that, Facebook is probably indispensable to a large enough percentage of their user base that people would find themselves willing to pay.

But we won’t have to, and that’s a good thing.  The American economy is on its way to righting itself, and the future is looking bright.  We have companies innovating on a scale so massive that it is changing the way the world interacts and learns more than anything since the telephone.  State of the Unions are always a time for Presidents to put a positive spin on things, even if the situation is particularly dire.  But for once, I’m inclined to agree.  Things are changing for the better, and thanks to innovations by Facebook, Google, Apple, and companies we haven’t even heard of yet, they’re changing at a rapid rate that all but guarantees an exciting and unpredictable future.

Shawn Abraham is SPS’ Virtual Campus Manager, which means he gets to have a lot of fun building an online community for the school.  He also has a lot of fun reading books about zombies.  These two things rarely intersect.

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