Earlier this year I saw a YouTube video in which a man walked round New York doing various jobs and wearing a pair of glasses. Ordinary enough. Except, NO. The errands he was running were all perfectly normal, but his glasses -his glasses were magic.
I’ve broken to another paragraph now to heighten the amount of time you thought that a man actually possessed magical glasses. These weren’t really magic, these were glasses whose lenses were also clever screens connected to the internet. The video was shot in first person, so this man is helped around the streets of Manhattan viewing maps and taking photos on a pair of glasses. He tries to go into the subway and receives a notification that the line is suspended. RATS! Crucially, though, this guy is connected to a social network, Google+, which helps him avoid the catastrophe of having to stand somewhere on his own waiting for a friend. The glasses are made by Google and might well become something that idiots actually go out and buy at some point in the not too distant future.
This is just one example of how social networks, mostly Facebook, are trying to muscle in on real life. First came the website, a dedicated space for connecting with those you know in a variety of ways. Fine. Next came the mobile applications. Again, fine. You are out and about, you want to check Facebook. I get it. Hell, I use it. Here, still, Facebook is still a well cordoned off section of your mobile space.
Not for much longer. In his first public appearance since Facebook’s hilariously bad Stock Market flotation in May, Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he wants Facebook to become “deeply ingrained” into all devices.
I cannot be the only one who finds this this statement more than a tad ominous. Firstly, what on earth does The Zuck mean by “devices”? Is this just internet enabled pieces of technology like iPads and Smartphones, or does the Machiavellian nerd (a la The Social Network) want to create Facebook implants to solder into our retinas?
The latest version of the iOS software that will soon run on your iPhones and iPads is gladly helping Marky Z achieve his goal of omnipresence by integrating Facebook more, they might say seamlessly, into itself. This signals the end of Facebook as a definite online social area, always a click away but which apparently is now a bit too 2005 for the tastes of Silicon Valley execs.
We have to step back for a minute and ask what this means. On the whole, I like Facebook, I guess. I certainly use it enough and no one can doubt its usefulness. What I really like(d) about it, though, is that I can leave it be if I want. What Mark Zuckerberg wants to do, it would seem, is to make it nigh on impossible to ignore Facebook. This is bad, and not because it means kids will do worse at school or anything moral. This is bad because it means it’s harder for people like me to ignore those niggling Facebook messages to which we can’t be arsed replying. If you have an iPhone, it’s already hard enough to make the excuse “I haven’t checked my notifications” fly because the software dutifully informs you of even the most minor update to someone about whom you know little and care less’s profile. If Facebook is no longer a standard application from which we can just log out my entire operation goes tits up.
You’re right, I should just appreciate the wonders of 21st century connectivity and actually respond to my friends when they make the effort to contact me. But we all know that sometimes it’s just easier to leave someone hanging. My own niggling grievances aside, it’s pretty transparent that this is a move that seeks to make Facebook more indispensable to 21st century life than it already has become, by making it harder to get rid of.
It’s not a move made out of any real desire to connect humans further. It’s honestly really easy already, try it. This is a move carefully orchestrated in order to entrench Facebook’s market position and to inspire some confidence in its bankability after a rocky IPO. I’m not saying it’s useless, but from where I’m standing it seems a bit cynical. I just want Facebook to stay in a tab on my computer, not take over my life. But what do I know? By my age Zuckerberg was wooing Rooney Mara with his knowledge of Chinese IQ scores… and doing other stuff, too…