In his CNN Tech article “With ‘real-time’ apps, Facebook is always watching” John D. Sutter explains the effects of real-time apps:
In the old world of Facebook, I would have to click that I “liked” a song for it to show up on my Facebook profile page. That’s something you have to think about: “OK, I really like this song, and I really want all of my friends to know that I’m listening to it right now.” Now, sharing is both passive and automatic. It’s a choice you make in advance — one time — and never again.
And so it goes with all kinds of the new “real-time” apps.
Since I’ve logged in to Yahoo! News with Facebook, every time I read an article on that site, it goes to my Timeline.
The same is true for Hulu and TV shows.
And for the Internet game “Words with Friends.” When I play a Scrabble-style word in that game, it will show up on Facebook, along with an image of the current playing board.
Which raises an obvious question: who could possibly want to receive such a constant stream of mundane information about one’s friends, or especially about one’s “friends?” One obvious answer is “no one with a life of their own.” My spouse does not want to follow every Scrabble hand I play with my son. I do not want to know every song she plays while hanging out in the kitchen. I see a group of friends just about every day for coffee, we talk about everything that captures our brief attention spans, yet being notified of every video they watched online is TMI. We filter our experiences, we decide which of our friends might be interested in which stories, we curate. This word is five minutes from overuse but its prevalence evidences our response to the problem of too much information.
To the question “who could possibly want to receive such a constant stream of mundane information” the other obvious, more relevant, and more truthful answer is “anyone who can use that information stream to sell me stuff.” One’s virtual and actual friends will tune it out as the background data buzz that surrounds every Facebook user like a thick cloud of noisy midges. Advertisers will collect, collate, examine, and evaluate each vibrating data point to construct interest and activity profiles. Then they will market to the midges.
This is no great insight. Sutter’s article makes the same point. What moves me is the breathtaking transparency of Facebook’s game. Facebook’s interest in serving its users is overwhelmed by its interest in users as data generators. Real-time apps provide a means to calibrate with unparalleled precision the relationship between user data and vendors of stuff. Facebooko ergo sum: I Facebook therefore I am–a consumer first, last, and always.