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02 March 2010

The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

Update: Yes, I'm sure I'm FOS, but this is what I'm thinking about right now.

The first time I heard the name "FaceBook" it was in a printed magazine (I'm sure it was The New Yorker) article in 2006. It was mildly interesting, but of course, I'm not a college student so it was just a report on something that didn't apply to me.

A year or two later I made an account just because I'm on the internet and going around trying things out is what we do on the net. Then I wandered off because FB wasn't interesting to me.

Sometime later Doc, who had coded the CC arenas so they tweeted after each match, asked me to make a Combat Cards page and hook it up to our Twitter account. Actually first I made a fan page, then thinking it wasn't what we wanted I made an account, then Doc said "You need to make a fan page," which points up that, obviously, I had no clue at all what I was doing :-D

Since then I have logged into FaceBook periodically, but it still has no interest for me. A few rl friends and lots of esselians are in my (small) friends list, and I did attempt to get interested, yet it never "took." After Metaplace tanked I installed the Island Life app out of curiosity, but it has nothing that draws me at all. I haven't bought into it, so my Island Life actions are on the griefery side: every once in a while I log into it and try to fill up the island with cows for 2.34 seconds then leave.

Humans like to do things that make them feel as though they are accomplishing something. Note the "feel as though" well, as we don't need actually to accomplish anything, just to feel that we do. That's an exploitable trait, as it turns out - and exploitable in a big way.

FaceBook is absolutely chock full of pointless dig-a-hole-then-fill-it-in applications that - wait! DO have a point. All those micropayments add up to big bucks for the app developers. It's an uneven trade that I find rather sinister - coopting billions of hours of real human energy to create a programmer's robot army, in a way. Yes, it's the person's choice, but I'm not interested in one person, but in the way this plays out in general.

To be addictive the dig-a-hole-then-fill-it-in ungame* has to have a "moving up" scenario, be time-based, involve sharing and gifts, and have rewards for line-toeing. To get to the point where people will voluntarily invest small amounts of money, the app has to be formed in such a way that they will invest hours of their time, a precious commodity that should be used elsewhere. Better to plant a real seed, read to your child, or if you are at work, do your job.

A dig-a-hole-then-fill-it-in app can become too obviously addictive, at which point the host may cut it off at the roots. My friend Con was so involved in one (Farmville?) that one day she was contemplating rushing home because her apricots needed harvesting or something - and decided instead to stop playing entirely.

I'm wondering what effect this energy siphoning-off will have on the world. There's the slight chance the applications offer in play form the aggregation of far-flung individuals, the effect of which, once realised and used for real purposes, may be key to the resolution of my no-them-only-us theory. Dunno.

The thing it reminds me of is cigarettes, without being as pernicious. Cigarettes are designed to be as addictive as possible, and the trade a smoker makes is lop-sided. The amount spent on the cigarettes is just one part - the smaller part of the trade. In order to sell cigarettes they make them as addictive as possible to get long-term users, so the smoker is trading work time used to generate the immediate cost, then time subtracted from the smoker's life, and time spent in that continuum that includes "not well," pneumonia, emphysemia, and lung cancer.

There was a Martin Amis book where the character said something like he looked forward to smoking a cigarette while he was smoking a cigarette - in other words smoking was like an itch that in the smoker's head, would be scratched by smoking - yet it didn't offer any relief. In fact the urge deepened. An essentially unsatisfying cycle like that would, you'd think, be easy to walk away from, yet it seems we humans are easily manipulated.

The quick-and-dirty scenario offered by pointless apps, with their lop-sided-by-design trade required to generate billions of micropayments is very different, in my mind, from the more even bargain offered by full virtual environments in which users can do any number of things from create art environments, role-play, develop businesses, and so forth. The success of the pointless ungame apps has at the base, I think, the fact that they are stripped-down to the essentials of addiction to better manipulate through human nature. Have fun!

* I think a genuine game has a point.


posted by - 2:43 PM

verrrry interesting Os!
did you used to smoke?
i've stayed away from FB, but the pressure keeps growing.
one of my life-time interests is the answer to "what should people do with their time" - as we all seem to have something to say about how Other People spend their time!
LT (being anonymous today)
I did, in a kind of mild way. I'm not much of an addictive personality - I just wanted a vice :-D

I don't have an opinion about how Person A should spend his time, I'm just interested in how the flow of energy from human beings is used, and more, is manipulated.

Although there has been manipulation for profit in times gone by, of course, at the moment it seems the passivity of people and their desire for bread-and-circuses and brain massage (trained by television) makes manipulation particularly easy.

Things are often not what they seem, though, so I fully admit there might come a twist that reveals all the pointless addictions as necessary practise in the aggregation of human energy that can be used positively. Yes, there's inklings of that, but mostly what I see is passive pretend action as the lazy way to substitute for genuine action, i.e. sign this online petition against X and feel you've done something, whereas in former times if you felt the urge to act for/against something you'd do something real or know you'd done nothing.

Either people are easily fooled into thinking pointless pseudo-action substitutes for genuine action, or else they aren't really fooled, just passive and lazy.

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