Perfect memories of a perfect past?

In the world of Facebook, we are the pawns, and somebody else is playing the game. Recent additions take the social network to a whole new level.

Jake Perron

Twenty-two-year-old Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has battled privacy advocates and cyber stalkers with a double-edged sword since the conception of his startup Web site in 2004. To his credit, Zuckerberg boasts a commendable record of quelling the consternations of Facebook users that peers know too much, or conversely, of knowing too much about their peers.

In an effort to maintain its competitive position on the Infobahn and dilate its estimated value of $15 billion, Facebook’s recent marketing initiative ruptures new territories of privacy concern. This time, however, concerns once situated in the realm of peer-to-peer social networking have surmounted to peer-to-“The Man” marketing initiatives.

The newly introduced Facebook Ads system allows Web sites to advertise vicariously through Facebook members; businesses to target advertisements according to member profile and activity data, much akin to Gmail or Amazon; and a service for business that will analyze and track trends, productivity and resources.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s an introduction from Facebook Ads Product Manager, Leah Pearlman:

“We now give you an option to let News Feed share your off-site actions with your friends as well. For example, adding the first season of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ to your queue on Blockbuster.com might be something you want your friends to know about.”

The New York Times was unusually humble in their coverage of Facebook Ads:

“The New York Times Company will also allow visitors to its newspaper Web sites to zap information about their visits to those sites back to friends on Facebook.”

At second glance, maybe this isn’t as humble an action by the Times as it is preparation for backlash in knowing that information today travels.

But alas, like billboards during countryside road trips, or the simplicity of morning coffee and newspapers, I suppose it’s about time I concede the fact that commercialism pervades daily communication. In any instance of conversing minds there is an opportunity for transaction; except in the confessional – although in my absence, this would not be an unnecessary reason for me to check out the old sin box; maybe the advertisers have left their mark.

My difficulty with this concession does not solely pertain to daily bombardment of advertisements. It also pertains to what could be the most dispiriting advice I received from my father when I was a lad. He’d say: “Son, there are no free lunches in this world.”

I capitulate: Our generation’s self-masturbatory proclivities are a gold mine for advertisers. Perhaps this is one of the effects of parents telling children “you can be anything you want,” an optimistic twist on my father’s aforementioned advice. Or, opportunities to express just how unique and individualistic we are have infinitely more outlets than in previous generations. Whatever the case may be, we’ve somehow grown comfortable with perpetuating a glass-condo lifestyle, and listing Dasani Water and Tiffany’s blue as interests on profiles … most of us anyway.

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, columnist David Brooks admits to relinquishing his decisions over to a “universal mind.” Where there’s a network, Brooks says he will be there “in the way Amazon links purchasing Dostoyevsky to purchasing garden furniture.”

I’ve always thought of Facebook as a realistic replication of “The Sims,” the virtual replication of real life. For, in real life we might have objectives, but it is the decisions we make that influence the likelihood of accomplishing those objectives – uncannily akin to “The Sims.” As Wikipedia describes, “The only real objective of the game is to organize the Sims’ time to help them reach personal goals.”

Perhaps there’s little room for my grumbling and it’s time to come to terms with relinquishing hopes of an ad-less existence, just as Brooks has relinquished decisions to a universal mind.

I signed up for the Web site, entered my age, sex, and location. I update my profile when new flicks become favorites. And I’ve used quotes from Books IV and V of “Beyond Good and Evil,” even though I’ve only read the first two. Additionally, Facebook provides users the option of declining participation in this new service.

It is important to remember that Zuckerberg is of the same self-masturbatory generation as well. It takes a simple click to tell Blockbuster you do not wish to notify friends what you’ve rented. But that wouldn’t be very self-masturbatory, would it?

Whether I deactivate my account, who believes those voyeurs aren’t watching anyway?

Jake Perron welcomes comments at [email protected]