Facebook keeps randomly changing things on me. First, it was my book and movie preferences. I went from liking Leo Tolstoy and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil to liking the USSR and the Boys from Brazil. Then it changed my online status from offline to online. I am getting a little tired of having to double check their nonsense. Which is nothing, though, compared to the mess over on Myspace. I dread Facebook’s “new” profile layout. And lots of people are up in arms about blogtalkradio starting to charge.
The same way they got up in arms about Ning charging earlier this year.
The words most often heard are “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression.” The assumption being that these companies, these corporations created something for the purpose of protecting those rights, which reveals a kind of naivete about life that is downright frightening.
These companies may desire to provide a service accessible to as many people as possible but the goal is to sell a product that the company has made. Like Facebook, FB is free, but the product it sells is the information it gathers through people using the games and apps on it. The product, for these companies, is you – none of this has anything to do with speech or expression. Nobody could care less. They would just like to know more about your interests so they can sell you something. Once the company figures out a better way to monetize the product (which ones can be more successfully sold) then the rest who came on when it was free are charged to cover their bandwidth usage.
The communities on the Internet have changed drastically over the past 3 decades. Way back when you had no GUI (buttons, windows, etc) you had to know some UNIX to get on and zoom around. As long as you had a server you could call into (and most of them were “free” funded by research projects) you paid a local phone charge and were off an running. People communicated through posts or live text chats. Games were text based. Conversations were…exceptional. The main host of the US side of it all was the DoD, all there were smaller, private ‘nets around.
Then (and I was part of the company that was in on this at the time), the idea came around that if everyone (companies) could find a way to put pictures up that people could click on, no longer needing to know anything about UNIX or computers, then they would be able to sell those people something. The idea was never, from the get go, to open up communication and speech, it was to get you to shop farther from home.
And what a success it has been.
Even more successful, the culture that has been created that lacks any awareness that this is all one big commercial trying to get them to buy something and thinks it is a “gift” that cares for them. The only time people get upset is when someone says directly – now you have to pay.
People, I think, have lost sight of the fact that preserving freedom of speech and freedom of expression is also their own responsibility. Being educated, being informed about the realities of the symbols and images we use, about the services we take for granted – that we assume are “there for us” is essential in preserving those freedoms.
Relying on someone else, especially a company that views you as a commodity, to protect those rights is – hmmmmmmmmm – what is the word I am looking for? Oh yes….
c.2010 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.