When Ju and I were talking about her deleting her facebook account (I deleted mine ages ago), we both observed the fact that facebook is much like an online game. Regardless of whether one really cares, there is an innate satisfaction in collecting ‘likes’ and seeing people comment on stuff you put up. This very easily becomes a habit, and it’s difficult to see past it when you’re interacting with facebook on a regular basis.
There is a well known psychological technique used by people who write ‘freemium’ games – you know, the ones that are free to install but then try to get you to buy stuff in the game. The details are quite involved but the summary is that these games give people continual little ‘rewards’, occasionally interspersed with bigger ones, that make them feel as if they are not wasting their time playing the game. This technique feeds that part of the brain that accumulates points or status in one form or other and we are all susceptible to it.
Facebook have been very clever in that they have effectively turned their whole site into an online game. There are points to be gained in the form of ‘likes’ and prizes to be gained in the form of comments. It’s easy enough to get both, up to a point, but now and again when you post something that gets an unusually high number of likes or comments, your pleasure centre in the brain is stimulated and these occasional boosts to the ego reinforce your habit of playing the game.
The result is narcissism, and in some cases, self obsession. Facebook is training people (especially young people) to feel as if they need the admiration and approval of their peers, because this drives the feedback loop that makes facebook more money. Many people on facebook are effectively building their own brand, and spend more time maintaining this facade than they do interacting in a healthy manner in real life. Looking at it from the outside, it’s quite scary actually.
The truth is that in facebook’s case you are the product. They sell your information, and indirectly they also profit from the posts you put up. They make a lot of money from it. Facebook are also actively seeking and implementing ways to extend their ownership of you as a product, by proactively filtering what you see and hiding from you the things they are doing with your data.
In short, you are being manipulated, and many people seem not to realise this. Many of those who do go ‘meh’ and remain using it because of the established habit I wrote about above. When I left facebook (and I was already a cynic), even I found it hard to drop out of the collective for a week or so. After the initial habit wore off, I never looked back and somehow my life was better for it. I felt the same way when I stopped playing World of Warcraft, incidentally.
As a final thought, this struck me. You don’t need facebook, facebook needs you. The same is true of vampires.