5.09.2010

Facebook’s choking the golden goose

But the trouble is that the nature of the goose requires a bit of squeezing to lay eggs.

Preface: I know it’s a free service so if I don’t like it, I can simply stop using it.

In the last few months or so, it feels like the momentum has been shifting against the site. The cool thing to do now appears to be to complain about it and even delete one’s profile. I think we all know it’s due to Facebook’s trend of relaxing privacy. On top of that, the site is probably approaching saturation with 400 million regular users, as the site says so to continue growth they need to be changing things.

I joined five years ago and now I am centimetering closer to deleting it. In fact, I’m a smallest violin in the world’s length away. (In grade school there was a teacher who’d play the world tiniest violin, which was invisibly small, for you if you had an excuse for why you didn’t have your homework.)

With the latest revamp forcing all profile info into page links a few days ago, I let my profile go empty instead. Lucky for me, I had never put much info on it in the first place. As a matter of fact, it has a wrong date for my birthday; I checked, it’s not changeable. Never mind people I know who have put up hometowns and addresses, I’m horrified when I see people who’ve inputted everything including their complete employment histories.

Originally Facebook was neat because it was on the internet and limited to other college kids so it was completely private and there wasn’t much to worry about. But that was five years ago, practically the early Middle Ages in internet years.

What they’re doing, which is what hurts it, is that they’re now trying to bring the whole internet inside their site, the opposite of the original feature that got us all on there. It’s actually kind of interesting to watch and perhaps I’d make similar decisions if I were in charge of it. They’ve created their own system that monetizes what people have previously been doing since the beginning of time.

Now that they’ve got everybody’s info, people are stuck in their network—they own the arena, the ball, and the rule book. They’ve got everyone exactly where they want them to start turning it into money. In exchange for convenience of all our contacts and personal info in one place, they get data to sell to advertisers. Have you ever seen the “To serve man” episode of the Twilight Zone? But isn’t it strange? They’ve turned people interacting with acquaintances into a billion dollar business.

I say enough to people making money off me and my rather mundane interactions!

The only reason I haven’t left already is because I am afraid I will miss seeing what people I knew in high school and now, people from different phases in college, are up to from time to time. Then again, will I really? Most of the people on Facebook are getting married or fat, having babbies or going nowhere. I stay in contact with the much smaller group of people I actually care about outside the site in other ways. [I believe this counts.]

In that way, I’ve already long reached a state of equilibrium with a minimal presence on the site. Maybe I’ll just stay put, for now. In the long run, I haven’t been planning on taking it into my post-college adult life. My internet privacy is probably somewhat shot anyway, since I imagine a lot could be pieced together from all my bloggings. However, at the end of the day, I control the bloggings.

Dear readers: what are your thoughts on Facebook? Also, how do you foresee yourself with it a decade from now as adults long out of college?

How about how you could largely take what I’ve written back 200 years and swap privacy and information with clothing or food: “People are giving up their humanity for mass-produced factory-made clothing!” It reads like something Marx would have written.

It’s a natural cycle—as technology increases, people start ‘outsourcing’ things they’ve always done by accepting new services or products into their lives. None of this, whether it be Facebook or entertainment (tv, radio, movies, recorded music) or food bought from stores, has ever been forced on us. These new things do what they replace, but with less overall cost.

The twist is: who cares about clothing or food? This time we’re giving up something people have always sought to protect, privacy. And it’s not just simply allowing strangers into traditionally private spheres, it’s that it’s all on computers with enormous databases and processing capacity—there’s very little cost holding back interested parties. In the past at least there was a balance that kept public information from being so public—you’d actually have to drive to the courthouse, wait in line, and fill out papers to get public info, a cost in time and effort that kept people from doing it without good reason, but computers now eliminate all that.