I’ve always been a Facebook enthousiast. As a relatively early (French) adopter, I also quickly became an early evangelist, urging my friends to sign up so they could check out my photo albums.
I deeply believe that technology is expanding human capacities, and in this case, social capabilities. I used to spend hours chatting on IRC, discovering new people, and connecting with them. It made me happy. Early 2007, these hours were then spent on Facebook, discovering friends of friends, an activity we now call Cyberstalking. At the time, it was new, it was exciting, I was excited.
Then — slowly and silently — I added every person I knew, and Facebook became this giant social retainer where I collect and store my social raw material. The service evolved, grew into internet’s social spin, and I spent more and more time on it while chatting, surfing friends’ profile or refreshing the feed. Facebook became e-ubiquitous.
And with this movement logically came the IPO, which was something Zuckerberg’s was reluctant to go with as he thought an IPO would “ruin innovation in exchange for doing what will please shareholders and drive stock prices”. It clearly meant creating a conflict between Facebook’s vision and Facebook’s stock goals. Again, you improve what you measure, and the stock market expects Facebook to win the battle for eyeballs in the internet display area.
I know that Facebook isn’t a social business, and that it’s purpose is driven by profits, nothing wrong with that. But it creates a misalignment.
Facebook is now working hard not to make the world more open and connected, but to always get more users spend more time browsing the service. And they’re good at it! So good that they tricked people into feeling that browsing Facebook made them less lonely, that being alone was something to eradicate, something made possible by Facebook’s omnipresence in your pocket (yes, mobile).
And now Facebook Home. A step forward in the competition for your time and your eyeballs. I invite you to watch this Facebook Home ad, it really sums it up. This time they’re not competing with Google, Twitter, or Skype for your online attention, they’re competing with you for your offline attention.
That’s an issue. For two main reasons:
First, we don’t have more time. We still have 24 hours a day, and a lot of contenders aiming for those 1440 minutes. The competition is so fierce that they start to compete with you by scrounging minutes out of your offline day. But your day is not getting bigger. The competition is.
Second, we now know that we are happier when we stay in the moment. The more our mind wanders, the less happy we can be. How is splitting up our time and attention with continual solicitation from our Facebook Home enabled phone is making us more present therefore more happy?
Peter Thiel’s early investment in Facebook was driven by the metric that — at the time — users spent more time on Zuck’s service than watching TV. Newsfeeding is the new zapping.
Where are we in all that? When are we alone with ourselves? At ease with ourselves? When lays our self-reflecting time?
To get some perspective on that, you may want to try a couple of things:
- Delete the Facebook App of your phone, only use the mobile web version. And notice this moment when you need to check your feed. Ask yourself why, and what you could do instead.
- Get a new first-website-you-type-when-you-open-a-new-tab reflex. Try opening TED.com instead of Facebook.com more often.
I tried it for the last couple of months, and I love it. I’ll be pleased to hear about your opinions and experiences!