The Objectification of people

So, how does it feel to be nothing more than an object because in Facebook’s eyes that is all you are. You have been reduced down to nothing more than a social object that can be sliced and diced making it easier to stick in some mathematical formula.

It is understandable why there is the need by companies like Facebook to dehumanize the person who joins and uses their service because things like emotions and personality can’t be stuffed into equations. So every effort is made to remove those emotions and personalities thereby creating this social object which can then be quantified. By reducing the individual down to a set of numbers services like Facebook can then work their mathematical magic benefiting themselves with cleaner data that can be sold or manipulated.

To understand why this process is important we first have to know what a social object is and really there is no better description that the one from Hugh Macleod, who pretty well invented the term as far as I know.

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

Hugh is absolutely right. Human beings are incredibly social beings, it is a part of our DNA, a survival mechanism.We are made up of loves, hates, likes, dislikes, all of which are heavily influenced by our emotions and state of mind during those moments where we makes those kind of social decisions. So when we sign up for things like Facebook it needs to find someway to remove those human characteristics out of the equation. It needs us to be willing to trade emotions for links, personality for analyzable likes or recommendations.

In fact Facebook needs us to to be willing to think of ourselves as an object so it can begin to fit us into its matrix of salable data. The problem is that because we are social beings built on emotions and personality we have also built a complex pattern of what we consider to be private  as well as what parts of our identity we are willing to share.

So as a part of this turning us into social object Facebook needs to change our perception of what identity means. It’s not an easy proposition but with some of the brightest minds working for them it surely is a surmountable problem. A problem made infinitely easier because of a couple of human traits which Facebook will fully exploit.

You see the average person doesn’t like complexity in what they consider their casual online lives, after all it’s all suppose to be fun right. So it is no mistake that all the options made available by Facebook to opt out of being turned into a social object are hard to understand, loaded with all kinds of psychosocial phraseology and are automatically opt-in. Faced with the choice of having to spend hours trying to sort all this stuff out people just click the accept button and carry on.

It’s not wrong. It’s human nature.

However much we might like to think that we are above all this type of manipulation the fact is we aren’t – at least in the numbers that Facebook needs to be immensely profitable. I would imagine that it is less than one percent of the people on Facebook that even would care that they are anything but an object to Facebook. Out of 400 million people that doesn’t even amount to a statistical blip on the Open Graph.

original image courtesy of Dare Obasanjo

Single Comment

  1. 26/04/10 at 13:52

    I just had an idea.

    It’s an old joke, but, I’m just wondering if now might be a good time to ask people to change their facebook surname to “blank”.

    Promoted on a facebook page you can “like” obviously.

    What better way to campaign about privacy on the book of faces?

    Would face book ban people for such an act, or make the name blank illegal and deny any name changes? The word blank is not offensive.

    I was thinking about doing it myself, setting up a page etc, but maybe such an act is more up your street. Consider it a halfway step to deleting your fb account :)