The Repulsion of Facebook Home and the Redefinition of Social

The Repulsion of Facebook Home and the Redefinition of Social

The idea that there is a natural world and a virtual world is sometimes criticized under the banner of digital dualism, a fear that experiences mediated by computers are somehow unnatural or untrue. Yet, there is a very literal dual-aspect to much of our experience with technology, something revealed in the distinction between the coded language computers use to communicate with one another, and the standards of translation that take those binary, coded packets of information into big usable "share" buttons that are false digital fronts for a code few people know or understand. If this is not quite enough to qualify as a duality of nature itself, it should at least justify a dual view of the language computers use to communicate with one another and their users. And there is a very real discrepancy in the values of computer-to-computer communication and computer-to-human communication. With services like Facebook, the currency is not primarily designed for people, but the process of transforming inputs from them into quantifiable data that can be used by advertisers and sponsors.

It's also worth noting that all of the services Home will offer are already possible on most smartphones, which contain photo-sharing functionality, chat features, video chat, and "friends" lists. Home reorganizes these features under Facebook's slightly less fragmentary interface, a marginal exchange of convenience for the opportunity to extract more and more personal data points for Facebook's benefit. Creating a data log of our thoughts, experiences, and relationships captures the least important part of our lives, and Facebook has created a company built around an interpretative code that makes those ephemeral bits maximally profitable.

"We’d built a really nice business that scaled to billions of dollars on the desktop with ads only on the side of the page," Zuckerberg explained to Levy. "But it was really a cop-out, because we weren’t tackling the hard problem of figuring out how to actually make the ads good enough to integrate with the user experience." Home is a major part of the solution to this problem, a merging of the commercial and social, of data point with intimacy, an interface that speaks to you in one language and its servers in another.  Whether it works or not, it's becoming increasingly clear that the values behinds most of Facebook's decisions are not just people, but making people profitable, and the more obvious that idea becomes, the more repulsive it seems.

Michael Thomsen is Complex.com's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.

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