Today, Facebook has launched over 60 new apps that are designed to bombard your shiny new Timeline with a constant jotting of your daily activities. It wants you to catalogue literally everything you do in life, ever, and give everything a star rating or a quantifiable digit.
But… Well… Why? It strikes me that this spread of incessant, boring information is exactly the sort of disease the social network has always tried to avoid…
It’s not like that at all…
If I think back to when I first joined Facebook, I remember a time when it had to be explained to me that it wasn’t just a website full of people writing about how they’ve gone to the shops or eaten lunch.
That sort of useless waste of bytes wasn’t what it was about at all, I was assured. Facebook’s about connecting people, they said. It’s about putting your social life online.
And so I weighed in, soon parroting this message to anyone who didn’t understand its merits. It was, if I recall, exactly the same as with Twitter’s birth.
People have a tendency with social networks to assume that they don’t need them in their lives until the moment they accidentally join, at which point they become so transfixed that they assume they probably weren’t actually alive up until the point of registering at all.
The problem for most people is always the fear that Facebook and its contemporaries would just turn into a useless feed of people telling you that they’d done something, rather than a place where friends could communicate. In that light, I find it weird that the biggest social network in the world is taking a step towards being what it shouldn’t be.
My life is an Open Graph
Let’s look at these new apps. There are already splotches in the right-hand ticker and on your Timeline that tell everyone you’ve been listening to Westlife all afternoon on Spotify, but a huge influx of new apps has aims on taking that idea to an absurd extreme.
Named ‘Open Graph’ (which is depressing, because it makes out like your life like is a quantifiable chart), the update brings apps that tell people what you’re cooking, eating, drinking, buying, what you’re watching, where you’re running, what car you’re buying and which gigs you’ve just bought tickets for.
Aside from the obvious privacy, burglary and identity concerns that come from telling everyone exactly what you like, what you’re doing and where you are at all times, I feel like the Open Graph apps remove the main virtue of Facebook: the ability to hyper edit your life and only share what’s really important.
The idea is that Joe Facebooker can see what you’re cooking, click on it and get the recipe himself, but surely some of the joy comes from being able to hand pick what you tell people about and then to put it in your own words?
There’s a certain amount of pride to come from alerting your friends to that one amazing song; when it’s drowned out by the 97 others you’ve churned through today it loses its worth.
Auto-feed my life
The same applies to most things in life. I don’t know about you, but when I come back from a holiday I pick which photos to put onto Facebook rather carefully, as opposed to just vomiting up all the duplicates and the ones where my thumb’s over the lens.
Open Graph apps encourage you to do exactly that; if you install even a handful, you’ll remove all the fun from the Facebook experience by letting a machine auto-feed your life and turn it into data, rather than experiences:
If you have these little nanobots forever auto-posting what you’re up to for you, what are you actually going to post about as a status? Nothing. You’ll not be able to tell anyone anything new or interesting because it would have already been clogging up their ticker.
Then, presumably, we’ll all just stop posting status’ altogether. Your life, or moreover your Facebook Timeline, will just become and infographic full of meaningless stats and numbers, rather than the hilarious, often embarrassing and heartfelt diary of ‘you’ it probably should be.
My boring legacy
Assume the internet remains as is and doesn’t implode on itself, and assuming that Facebook only goes from strength to strength. Do you really want your grandkids to be able to look back at your life only to find a ream of impersonal, numerical statements that you went to a movie, or cooked a meal, or shopped at Starbucks?
No, because it’ll make you seem boring. What I want is to be able to look back on this virtual me with pride, anguish and laughter at something altogether more human.
You could argue that your stance on these new apps depends on what you’re on Facebook for. Certainly, I know a lot of people who use the website differently to me, but I can’t help but think that Mark Zuckerberg wants you to treat it like a sort of diary, or else the redesign from your Profile page to your Timeline would never have happened.
By its very nature, Timeline encourages you to be careful about what you upload. When it first appears you’re given ample time to spring clean, edit and remove all your exes. So why now this ethos on religiously transcribing all of life’s most mundane experiences?
One thing’s for sure: Open Graph apps are only going to become more and more numerous. They’ll completely eat up the right-hand ticker and tell you everything people are doing at all hours of the day, but it won’t be the people themselves telling you; it’ll be a little robotic counter.
Facebook makes it clear that you can edit who can see these apps, but if you have to do that, why bother in the first place?
I don’t want my Facebook filled up with useless, endless info. Likewise, my friends don’t need to know that I’m eating a sandwich or going off for a run. When Facebook launched that ticker I thought it was an interesting idea, but it’s about to turn into white noise.
It’s the worrying start to a weird sort of dehumanisation of Facebook, and a spreading virus that’ll shift the social network towards becoming the kind of boring ‘I’m going to the shops’ drip-feed of nonsense that I was promised it wouldn’t ever be. Do you agree? Let me know your thoughts below…