I have been working on a thesis for the past six months or so. After I defend it in a couple of weeks I will be put up a copy of it up on this blog for people who might be interested in reading it. As I got closer to the crunch at the end I was desperate to find some extra time to work on it so I cut a whole bunch of things out and Facebook was one of them. Here are a couple of things I noticed.
1. Facebook is not the Product; You Are
Every time I read that, “Facebook is going to start charging users” it makes me laugh. Facebook is never going to charge you to use its platform. Here’s why: In 2011 Facebook had a total revenue of 3.7 billion dollars, (see this report) which represented a billion dollar profit. With about 480 million users that works out to be $4.39 per user. You are worth $4.39 to Facebook, and the question is why? It’s because your attention is worth $4.39 to their customers, the advertisers. You and I are being sold to Facebook and we don’t even realize it. Now, I’m not saying, “Don’t use Facebook.” What I am saying, however, is that you need to understand what Facebook is or it will be dangerous for you to use it.
2. People Massively Misunderstand What Facebook Is
Timelines, and an increased level of advertising were both introduced while I was gone and like every time there are changes to Facebook, people complained. Most people groused and complained for a while and then just continued as they were. Part of the reason almost nobody left Facebook is that, for the more compulsive users, Facebook represents something for them that they aren’t willing or able to get anywhere else.
Author Sherry Turkle, in her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, writes that Facebook has become for most of its younger users an “Identity Workshop.” People make statements and leave comments trying to craft a fiction that they would like to make true. Jaron Lanier writes in his book You Are Not A Gadget on p. 71
“The most effective … Facebook users … tend their doppelgangers fastidiously. They … manage off hand remarks and track candid snapshots at parties as carefully as a politician. Insincerity is rewarded, while sincerity creates a lifelong taint. Certainly some version of this principle existed in the lives of teenagers before the web came along, but not with such unyielding clinical precision.”
On Facebook I will tell you that,” I am up ten times a night,” because I want to be the poor frazzled person who is up ten times a month. I want you to back up this image by saying, “sorry to hear that. Hope things get better tonight!” Or I will make the smart aleck comment and try to get people to comment because I want to be seen as the smart aleck guy with the witty one-liners. We are constantly trying to reinforce the preferred notion of our self and we need constant feedback to do it.
The problem comes when this pattern becomes compulsive (which it does in more than 10 % of the cases). If I constantly need that feedback, my identity fails to have integrity. I need feedback, therefore I need Facebook to know who I am. Without it I wouldn’t have any identity at all!
That is where the danger lies. I think every Facebook user out to decide how they use Facebook rather than have it rule them. This can either come in the form of a specific time you will check it (e.g. only after the kids are in bed for no more than one hour), it could also be in the form of a fast (no Facebook time for Lent).
In order to reinforce your identity apart from Facebook it is vital that you have an identity apart from Facebook! So be proactive about your social media use instead of being reactive. Choose your level of engagement and stick too it. P.S. It is a tremendous time waster. I finished a thesis by not using it for two months. Imagine what you could accomplish!