Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Facebook, Nerdfighteria, and Being The Product

John Green's video for the week this week on the vlogbrothers' channel on YouTube (Do I have to explain this?  Really?*) was called "You ARE The Product."  Once again, he made me smile by making more sense than you.  It was in response to the Facebook IPO, which is a topic far too complicated for me to try and flesh out right now and is not really the point of this post.

A lot of people have been wondering how Facebook's IPO could have estimated the company's worth at $100 billion.  That's enough money for me to pay off my student debt, make some significant head-way into the national deficit, buy each of my immediate family members a home, invest in MULTIPLE pools filled with jello or other delicious edible food-type products, and still have some to spare.  And it seems like a lot of money for a company that seems to have a business model that shouldn't be capable of generating a profit.  I, and most people I know, would never pay money for Facebook, which makes it seem kind of absurd that a company with no tangible product can be worth so much.

But that's the point John raised -- it's not that Facebook has no product, it's that we, as the users, are the product.  Our use of the site has commodified us and made us a product worth a multi-million dollar advertising market.  But, I mean, John really only focused on one aspect of how Facebook commodifies its users -- it's not only that we are exposed to the ads that Facebook gets paid to show us.  It seems naive to ignore or forget the fact that Facebook has been blasted several times for selling user information to companies and ad agencies, so those same companies get both the ad space they pay for and the added benefits of a helpful profile that makes sure they're not wasting their advertising dollars on people outside their target market.  Both literally and figuratively, your online personality has been turned into a product to be bought and sold, and THAT's what makes Facebook billions.

I guess the bigger question is -- does it matter?  Does the fact that the information I post and view on Facebook can be sold to an ad company so they better know how to market to me make me want to stop using Facebook?  Not really.  While the idea of treating human life as a commodity to be bought and sold is grotesque, in all honesty, the way Facebook does it doesn't leave me feeling that squicky, exploited feeling that I would have thought it would.

Just my two sense.  I miss you, darling readers!

Productively Yours,
Rachel Leigh

* John Green is one of the YouTube-famous "VlogBrothers," the famous and wonderful real-life brothers, John and Hank Green.  John Green is also a New York Times best-selling author and his videos (as well as Hank's) are alternately hilarious, breathtakingly brilliant, and, occasionally, both.  These two are also the co-creators of an online community known as Nerdfighteria (home of the Nerdfighters) whose home base used to be In Your Pants, but since Your Pants has been faulty for a while now, they've transitioned back to controlling the world through YouTube.  Just, like, go check them out.  I'm tired of trying to explain this.  DFTBA.

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