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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Facebook Is Helping Us Disconnect From the World

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 12:41 PM


Does Facebook want to enable personal interaction, or provide an escape from it? Judging by the TV spots for its poorly conceived Facebook Home product, it's the latter. But that doesn't make any sense, does it? Facebook is, after all, a social media service.

One commercial, which Evan Selinger, writing for Wired, dubbed the "most egregious" of the campaign, depicts a dinner apparently attended by an extended family. As an older woman drones on about her trip to the supermarket, a young woman plunges into a better world: the world of Facebook Home, where her friends -- so much more interesting than her old aunt or the rest of her family -- are posting about the actually interesting things going on in their lives. Those things apparently include playing drums in a rock band, dancing in a ballet, and engaging in a snowball fight.

The message being: your family is dull, but you can easily ignore them, even when you're stuck in the same room with them, and pay attention to your much more exciting friends -- who are right there on Facebook Home, posting pictures of their much more exciting lives.

So the next time you hear Mark Zuckerberg say something about how Facebook helps "connect us all," keep this in mind. What he means is, he will connect us to the people who we think are more fun, and disconnect us from others -- like our families. How nice.

Here's what Facebook is telling us, according to Betabeat's Kelly Faircloth: "The world is bland. Only Facebook is engaging. Ignore your real life and merge wholly with the social network that'll provide everything real life can't."

The other ads are somewhat less awful, but nevertheless push the idea that Facebook Home is always more interesting than what might be happening around you.

Selinger thinks the problem runs even deeper than mere rudeness. The "the dismissive reviews miss an even deeper and more consequential point about the messages conveyed by the ads," he writes: That, "to be cool, worthy of admiration and emulation, we need to be egocentric. We need to care more about our own happiness than our responsibilities towards others."

For Selinger, "some convictions," like treating other people with a minimum of respect, "deserve to be innovation proof. In fact, these convictions are fully compatible with embracing social media, perhaps even making the most of its potential."

This is yet another example of Facebook not understanding its own place in the digital world -- or in the world at large. It introduced Facebook Home -- which is a layer that lies on top of the Android operating system and serves some of Androids own functions, and also acts like an app -- as being a branded guide to the mobile Internet. But who the hell wants their mobile experience to be branded by anybody, least of all Facebook? (Of course, it will be branded by whatever company owns whatever OS you've chosen, but somebody has to provide that service). It was reported this week that Facebook Home has been downloaded more than 500,000 (but less than 1 million) times since it was released less than two weeks ago. That's not a lot. And the reviews so far are not good: Facebook Home's rating on Google Play is a dismal 2.2 stars out of five, and more than half of the reviewers gave it one star.

What Facebook doesn't seem to get is that people generally do not love Facebook. They love their families and friends, who all happen to be on Facebook (which was mostly due to fortunate timing on Facebook's part). But Facebook itself, they mostly just tolerate, when they don't outright hate it for its ridiculously confusing, constant changes to its interface and navigation, and its intrusive and bewildering privacy policies.

These ads, and Facebook Home itself, reveal that the company actually believe that people love IT, Facebook, and not the connections to other people that Facebook happens (for the time being) to provide. If the company keeps thinking that way, the inevitable withdrawal of users (already happening among teenagers) will only happen faster. Nobody is ever going to be convinced that Facebook is actually better than real life.

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Dan Mitchell


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