Facebook is software for managing your feelings.
It promises to be a tool for strengthening relationships – primarily, as a replacement for email – but it is engineered to create pleasure.
Facebook software organizes your relationships – your friends and family – in order to precisely administer the release of chemicals like oxytocin in your brain.
It aims to provide a frictionless, fast-loading experience. Facebook thus provides an important byproduct of social activity by stripping away much of what makes social activity meaningful. Consider what refined sugar is to raw fruits.
Like all tools, Facebook can be used for unintended purposes. If you want, Facebook will let you get high on anger through the release of dopamine. We have now seen what happens to the body politic when enough of it gets hooked on anger.
Facebook, the company, has no incentive to improve social activity. Its singular goal is to become better at producing pleasure in its users so as to gain a bigger share of their minds and then rent this “mindshare” to advertisers.
Consumers have little visibility into how Facebook is made. You can’t tour the factory. There is little regulatory oversight as to how this sausage is made. We only know about its experiments because of slips (no leaks, as of yet.)
In Europe, where governments are expected to provide for social welfare, there has been talk of opening up Facebook’s plantation of feels to government scrutiny. In the U.S., in the current climate, there will be no such review anytime soon.
As a consumer, you might expect to have finer control over how this software works. For example, you could set it to “help you grow”. Such a setting would expose you to ideas that create a sense of ambivalence – i.e., complicated feelings.
Complicated feelings lead to thinking which leads to new ideas and, usually, better outcomes. A tool that filters out complicated feelings may be profitable for its owners but they are not advancing the art of social communication.
To be truly high-tech, Facebook would have to commit to giving its users access to all the feels. It would commit to making money from stimulating thinking as well as stoking rage and indulging vanity.