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Social Media Monday July 22, 2013

Social Networking

Like a literal billion other people, I spend my fair share amount of time using social media. There's Twitter, there's Vine, there's ol' MySpace desperately trying to regain relevance, and so on. But it's still Facebook that's my default. It's where all my friends are, and where we all keep up to date with one another, whether we've just hung out, or live on opposite coasts.

It's really a miracle of technology. It says a lot about our society that so much time and money has been spent to make a worldwide gathering place. A global kaffeeklatsch where we all share the mundane, the profound... and the ridiculous - I'm lookin' at you, LOLcats.

And as we use this sixty-plus-billion dollar website to proudly display photos of what we ate for dinner, to share favorite music 1990s music videos and viral news stories, and to update friends and "friends" on the goings-on in our lives, it's easy to forget something very important.

Facebook, like all the other social networking services, isn't really FOR us. We aren't the customers. We are the PRODUCT. Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter... all of these companies exist for the sole purpose of manufacturing a customer base to sell other companies access to.

Remember The Matrix? An immersive artificial world where everyone believed they were living free lives, but were in fact being used to power and benefit the Machines? It's actually kind of like that, though somewhat more symbiotic

Of course, unlike The Matrix, our participation in Facebook is voluntary. But over a billion of us either don't care or don't know that we're existing as living, breathing mass of consumers for the REAL customers - all those companies selling games, shoes, insurance, and diet pills that you see beside your news feed or inserted between Tweets.

The questions raised, are does it matter? And SHOULD we care? After all, how different is this from stores' "loyalty cards" that give US little discounts, but give STORES valuable, detailed information on your shopping and eating habits, so they can target their advertising better?

The truth is that, on the surface, it's not that different. But most of us would refuse to tell the grocery store our ten closest friends' names, or give them photos of our grandma's birthday party. That's information we cheerfully give Facebook every day. Remember this, the next time you forward that e-card or news story. Every little bit helps them target you a little more accurately. Which makes THEM a little more money.