Sunday, October 30, 2011


My sporadic blogging is annoying. Yes, even to me it's annoying. I often have ideas rattling around inside my head (see, when I shake it you can hear them rolling around like marbles!), but never seem to commit to them. 

But this idea is compelling me. You see, I must write about Facebook again. 

I know. I hear your groans and I feel your pain. But bear with me. 

I've written previously about my departure from Facebook. And about coming back. Yes, I know, I'm obsessed. But this phenomenon of social media has long both intrigued me and worried me.

I remember years ago when Facebook was still "new" (Abby was a baby), a friend of mine told me that she had posted pictures of my child (and other friends' kids as well) on Facebook. I was livid. I tore her up one side and down another and made her swear she would never, ever do such a thing again. I swore I would never join such an insidious website, as I saw very clearly the apparent dangers without every truly understanding what either Facebook, nor the dangers, actually were. 

Eventually, after being bombarded with invitation after invitation, curiosity got the better of me and I joined. And I was hooked. 

My own feelings of malaise and mistrust was replaced by, "Wow, look at how cool this is!" I posted photos of my kids. I updated my status umpteen million times a day. I watered my imaginary garden and served meals at my virtual restaurant. 

But then, one day, I had to turn it off. But by then, it had become so deeply ingrained in our culture and our daily lives that leaving suddenly left a void that was not easily filled. But I also felt a sense of freedom that I never realized I lacked. 

However, in the end, I relented to the incessant pressure and rejoined. I missed finding out the nitty-gritty details of the lives of my sister-in-laws. I wanted to enter contests that you must have a Facebook account to be enterable. I needed to know when playgroup as cancelled. We have lived an uneasy coexistence for several months again. 

But then two things happened. 

Firstly, I realized that the majority of my status updates came not from friends and family, but from businesses. Products, newsletters, media outlets, etc. The information I was consuming was not about the personal details, but about mass consumption. That bothered me, because the whole point of me rejoining Facebook was to have personal connections that were getting hard to maintain any other way. I was obviously deluding myself. 

The second one, however, I must credit Dan Meisner, the CBC Radio tech columnist. His idea was not new, and it was something I think I had intuitively concluded on my own, but he expressed it very succinctly in an interview. 

We are users of Facebook as much as we're the product that Facebook sells to it's advertisers. 

I'll say it again. We are the commodity that Facebook sells. 

That idea startled me. I know we often trade data in exchange for benefits. Things like Airmiles, PC Points, Aeroplan, all use your data to develop marketing strategies. In exchange, you get free stuff. I admit, I love PC Points. I get free chequing and have cashed in literally hundreds upon hundreds of dollars of free groceries. 

If I was truly concerned about my privacy, I wouldn't participate in those types of merchant-reward programs. I would pay everything is cash instead of using credit or debit. But I don't. I accept the trade. 

But somehow Facebook is different. 

Facebook is slick. You like a page? Click on the "like" button. It follows you around as you browse and live your online life, even if you're signed out. I have seen examples of this, and it disturbed me. 

Yes, I like it!
Unlike something like, say, Airmiles, where you have to actively submit your information by handing over your Airmiles card, Facebook collects data on you without you even knowing. And I know they're not the only game in town that does it, but they are very, very good at it. 

Everyone is so excited about Social Media and how powerful it is. It helped power the Arab Spring, and is a driving force behind the Occupy movement. But at the end of the day, it's just something else to be consumed, and to consume us. 

I don't really know how to finish this post. I feel like I have this valuable insight, but not sure how to use it. I find myself on Facebook less and less since coming to these realizations, but can't seem to sever myself completely. It has me thinking, however, about my privacy and my consumption habits, and wondering whether or not I will be consumed. 

I am reminded of the story of Lot, when he is fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels tell him: "Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city." (Gen 19:15) Perhaps there is a lesson there. He did flee with this family, and avoided being consumed in the punishment, but his story did not end happily. His wife, disobeying the angel's command, turns to salt. His daughters conceive children fathered by Lot, who went on to found new nations who were the enemies of Israel, and the enemies of God who were ultimately destroyed.


I shudder at what the implications of our consumption may be. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just don't like Facebook. I think I opened an account but don't use it. I prefer blogs myself.