Monday, May 31, 2010

Facebook and the Vilification of Leisure

Ok time for a confession: I don't have a Facebook account.

Geez what kind of dinosaur doesn't have a Facebook account these days? Even my grandma has a Facebook account. Well the rationale was that I do not need to have a Facebook account bcos I meet my friends LIVE and those that I have lost touch, I am happy that the relationship stays that way.

Well the same argument can be used for cellphones. Who needs cellphones anyways? We have letters, land lines and if we wanted to link up with an old friend, we would just call them up for dinner using fixed line phones. When we want to meet outside, we determine the exact time and place to meet, before meeting up. If they are late, we would just wait until they show up! And we write letters to our penpals, who needs phones?

Well, I am just saying it. (Borrowed from RWJ, one of the funniest on Youtube, go Google "RWJ =3")

I guess Technology cannot help you manage your life if you don't want it to. Grandma just wouldn't use Skype even if she could use it to see her adorable grand-son playing happily on the other side of the globe, every day. Dad refuses to use the cellphone with a GPS even if it means that he never needs to read the map again, Evar (yep fr RWJ too!).

Does anything change? Well actually it doesn't. Grandma and Dad are still very happy, oblivious to what they are missing out. It's ok, life goes on. What's wrong with just seeing cute little Toby once a year? Or with reading maps anyways? Technology is not everything. Yes that is true. It is also true that we had horses, hence we didn't need cars and we had letters, hence we didn't need phones. In fact, if we had continue to use horses today, maybe the big environmental issue might be avoided! And the mailmen wouldn't have lost their jobs and contributed to the 10% unemployment.

Well, I am just saying it.

Okay, in the bigger scheme of things, technology ultimately leads to better productivity. However technology does not increase productivity overnight. It needs enough time and people to embrace it before the curve takes off. Not all technology becomes truly beneficial, like Segway or even Gaming. Technology also comes with side-effects: like carbon emission. But on the whole and over the long run, it has allowed humans to progress faster than otherwise.

Back of Facebook, how does it help improve our lives? Now that we are at it, how do we define Facebook anyways?

Well, according to most, Facebook is a social networking platform where you can link up with friends, share photos or music or interesting weblinks, or you can use it to chat with friends, play games or just surf around for interesting stuff. In one sentence: it is a leisure, edu-infotainment and networking hub. There are now close to 400mn users on Facebook, (ie about the whole of US plus 20 Singapores) which also makes it a super powerful marketing machine. Facebook has recently turned profitable, I expect it to make a few billions in revenue in a few years and profits might reach a couple hundreds of millions. However, if it ever gets listed, the PE would be like 80x ie there wont be a chance to buy it at a reasonable price.

So how does one's productivity increase with Facebook? Well the most compelling argument would be Photos. The age of digital cameras means that people no longer print out as many photos as in the past. Most photos are stored in hard drives and the only time we get to see friends photos now is, well, through Facebook! Unless you are talking about wedding glamour shots or specifically going to some friends' house and ask them to show their Hawaii photos (which would be in their PCs btw and the reason you would ask is bcos they don't have a Facebook account where they could upload it).

Other than that, Facebook just becomes this viral photosharing-networking-eduinfotainment hub that sucks away time from the TV, the phone, the radio and other forms of leisure. There might be some productivity increase bcos instead of passively receiving entertainment/leisure/knowledge you actively search for it. Well the argument works both for Facebook and for the internet.

But what is happening with Facebook is actually much bigger than Facebook or Internet or Dinosaurs with no Facebook account. I call it the Vilification of Leisure.

In the past, like say 30 years ago there are only about 3 forms of home leisure activity.

1. TV
2. Radio
3. Books/Newspaper

Well there is a fourth one involving kids: either playing with them or making them, but let's just leave this one aside for now.

Then. gaming consoles came along, followed by the internet, then American Idol (needing both TV and cellphone), then Youtube, iPod, Facebook, iPhones, Wii, Skype, World of Warcraft, iPad, Natal, Twitter, PPS etc etc. The whole home leisure scene just exploded. But sadly we still only have 24 hours per day. Even sadder, we probably spend only 2-3 hours of our day doing these things. So 30 yrs ago, we spend 2-3 hours every night in front of the TV. Now it's gonna be spread over this huge maelstrom of activities. (Of course it would be more like maybe Family A goes Facebook, Family B still watches TV, Family C goes Wii or Brother of D goes Warcraft, Sister of D goes iPad etc).

In any case, the home leisure which used to be dominated by just TV now becomes a million things. This is the Vilification of Leisure.

In the next post, we discuss its impact.

PS: Well I lied, I have a Facebook account since 2008.
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