Facebook and Writers’ Status Messages

My last post on Facebook led me to think a bit more its–current and possible–integration into our lives, especially those conducted online.

As ‘net users are by now aware, almost any site you visit on the ‘net features a Facebook button so that you can indicate whether you ‘Like’ the page and thus, share it with your ‘Friends.’ Of course, in so doing, you also leave a digital trail of sorts, indicating what you have read, what music you have listened to, which videos you have viewed, which jokes you found funny, and so on. As Eben Moglen put it rather memorably at a talk at NYU a few years ago, (and I quote from memory):

In the old days, the East German Stasi used to have to follow people, bug them, intimidate their friends to find out what they read, what they got up to in their spare time. Now. we have ‘Like’ buttons that do the same for us.

The surveillance, the generation of data detailing our habits, our inclinations, our predilections, is indeed quite efficient; it is made all the more so by having outsourced it to those being surveilled, by dint of the provision of simple tools for doing so.

I personally do not get very creeped out by the notion of hitting ‘Like’ on a article that I enjoyed reading–though, struck by Moglen’s remark, I have not done so even once since returning to Facebook in 2010. I do however find it very creepy that Netflix asks me if I would like to share my movie viewing preferences with my friends on Facebook; that seems excessively invasive. 

In any case, I do not think the limits of this kind of ‘integration’ of Facebook with the information we consume and the software we use have yet been reached.

Here is at least one more possible avenue for Facebook’s designers to consider. Many ‘net users access it via an ‘always-on’ connection. Thus, even when they are not actively using an Internet application–like say, a word processor, or a spreadsheet–they are still connected to the ‘net. In the not so distant future, these programs could be designed–by close cooperation between Facebook and the software vendor in question–to supply information about our usage of these applications to our ‘Friends.’ On a real-time basis.

Thus, for instance, when I would open a file on my word processor, my ‘Friends’ would be so informed; they would then learn how long I had continued editing, how many breaks I took, (and of course, if those breaks were online, they would be told which pages I had opened, and how long I had spent there), and so on. Our software would come with this feature turned on; you would have to opt-out or customize your sharing.

This way, all those status messages we are often treated to on Facebook: ‘Hooray, first draft complete!’ or ‘Finally got five hundred words written today’ or ‘I just can’t seem to get anything written today’ could be automated. Extremely convenient, don’t you think? Examples like this–for other kinds of applications–can be readily supplied, I’m sure.

5 thoughts on “Facebook and Writers’ Status Messages

  1. I joined Facebook purely to create a place-holder for my name. I don’t otherwise use it. I disagree with the concept behind it, which is that everything we do should be preserved in perpetuity and in open public gaze – at times, I believe, without us knowing it has been kept.

    I never say never, of course; maybe somebody can convince me it’ll have a use as a way of – something. Enhancing my social media platform? Contacting new people? Maybe. I have made some wonderful contacts via blogging. Could Facebook add a dimension? Possibly.

    I can conceptually understand the notion behind it; the idea that we should all be open with each other – that we can live together, ‘liking’ things we do and interacting with clear and transparent conduct. That, in many ways, is laudable. The issue is not that Facebook does this within the very limited – almost ‘graphic novel’ caricature of persona that its framework system of ‘like’ and ‘follow’ permits. Such matters are transient; the truths of the people we interact with, I suspect, emerge from further contact. The problem I have is what happens if that information – or any aspect of our ‘digital footprint’ – is mis-appropriated at some later stage, by some unknown party with their own purpose or agenda.

    The issue in this regard is the old false-premise notion beloved of the STASI and earlier police-state enforcers – ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’, closely followed by ‘if you desire privacy, you must have something to hide’. From such thinking, too easily, follows ‘false positives’ that criminalise and victimise the innocent – that drive accusative behaviour in society and which draw out the darker side of the human condition.

    That is the reality of history – and I do not just refer to the twentieth century. Elizabethan England was another example, among many. These aspects of mass behaviour are a reality of the human condition, along with the mis-use of data collected for quite different purposes at earlier times. I think it would be naive to suppose it would not happen again in future.

  2. Did you see the article in the NYT this weekend called “The Plus in Google Plus”? The tracking Google can do with it’s one-account-to-rule-them-all model might well scare the bejezzus out of you.

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