Soft stalkers

Some months ago Facebook started wishing me Good morning and hoping I had a great day. Yesterday it wished me a Merry Christmas, and today it wished me a very Happy and relaxing Boxing day and later on a Good Afternoon.

When I upgraded to iOS9.2 my ipad started telling me how long it would take me to get home if I left right now, perhaps anticipating that I might need to make a hasty get away.

Facebook has also taken to reminding me of memories from years gone by, in addition to its ever so creepy habit of suggesting people I might know. It is no longer content to simply notify me of friends’ birthdays – now it urges me to help them celebrate, prompts me to make them feel loved, and even gives me a button I can press to automagically send them a Happy Birthday greeting, because nothing says I love you quite like the ability to tap the screen once on Facebook’s orders.

It’s starting to feel as though Facebook thinks I can’t be trusted to maintain my friendships properly, so it is trying to take me by the touchscreen and lead me through life, tapping, clicking, and poking as optimally determined to maximise its profits… Sorry, I mean keep my friendships crispy and fresh.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it. I don’t really want Facebook to wish me a good morning or send messages to friends on my behalf. Imperfect though my interpersonal relationship management may be, I would prefer it to be authentic rather than software directed. I mean, at this rate I might as well program my phone to go out to dinner with my friends’ phones while we all stay home and catch up on our sleep.

The funny thing is that I have a half-written post lying about that enthuses about how valuable I have reluctantly found Facebook to be. I love the way I see little snippets of my friends’ lives slip by, and they see bits of mine. It’s a bit like passing each other in the corridor. We might not always have time to stop for coffee, but we are, for the most part, keeping up with the essentials. That, of course, is probably only true for those like me who overshare on Facebook. Those who don’t post, or who only ever post the highlights are most likely wiser, but not taking part in the same level of contact.

It’s not real life. It in no way replaces the need for actual face to face contact. But it does keep me in touch with people I would otherwise rarely see, especially friends overseas and in other states. I thought long and hard about leaving Facebook a couple of years ago and eventually decided that it was now too embedded in my life, and that its overall impact was quite positive.

As a young and naive postgrad student, I was fascinated by a talk from Professor Frank Fisher, in which he expressed his disgust and discomfort at the automatic “Happy Birthday” messages that came on our Monash payroll slips (yes, I am old enough to have received paper payroll slips. Quite a lot of them. In fact my first pay packets were actual pay packets – envelopes full of cash. Which these days would signify something a lot less legit than a sales assistant job at Myer!).

Frank felt that there was something grossly wrong with software wishing him a Happy Birthday. It was too long ago for me to remember his precise arguments, so I may be misrepresenting him somewhat, but the argument that stuck in my head was that software pretending to exhibit human behaviour somehow devalued that behaviour, and it has taken Facebook making chatty comments to me every day to really bring home what he meant.

The comments bug me. I want to push them away with a sharp stick. They get in the way of my real human interactions by filling my feed with something that has all the nutritional content of a cardboard potato chip – and is just as satisfying. Despite what social media detractors might say, online interactions can be real and human. They aren’t always. But they can be. And if you curate your friends list and your news feed carefully, it is possible to make social media a positive and useful feature of your life.

But I don’t want to have a relationship with Facebook’s system software. I’m kind of glad my husband isn’t on Facebook, because otherwise I worry it would start meddling in our relationship, and sending me flowers from him if it felt our marriage needed a bit of a wash and brush up. (At that point, of course, the jig would be up, because my husband does not do that sort of thing.)

I don’t want Facebook to manage my friendships for me, and nor do I want it to aspire to a weird facsimile of friendship itself. I’d much prefer it kept its cheery greetings for its little software friends, and instead occupied its time data mining my information for ways to sell me stuff, as expected. I know I’m not the customer, I’m the product Facebook is selling. I’d prefer it didn’t pretend to love me while it does so. My friends and loved ones, for the most part, don’t sell me, and I’d like to keep it that way.




One thought on “Soft stalkers

  1. Joe


    Similarly… Rotten as I am at remembering[*] birthdays (even my own!) and anniversaries I’d rather make calls / send cards etc naturally, off my own bat or through the natural spread of reminders through human contact. Once some automated system somewhere has reminded me I should do that I feel fake if I then do it. With G+ and fb now reminding me of stuff I *might* have remembered anyway (but before I would normally have got to it) I’ve practically stopped wishing anyone happy anything any more. (Instead of before, where I’d be organised enough about 10% of the time.)

    [*] I don’t mean remembering as in commemorating, I mean actually remembering. It usually takes me conscious thought to remember what month it is, let alone if something is coming up in the calendar. I often turn up to work on public holidays.

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