Monday, 19 November 2012

Hands up who's zombie-proofing the house right now?

When I was a kid, my parents let me watch one of those horrendously low budget Christian films called A Thief in the Night, all about the "Rapture" – an event in which Christians will apparently fly up to Heaven*, avoiding the apocalyptic reign of Satan which will occur just prior to Jesus' second coming. As a child I found it terrifying (there was a lot of screaming when people’s clothes were left behind, signalling their ascension to Heaven, although I seem to remember there were a few false alarms where people had just stripped off their cardigans etc.) I'm pretty sure that if I watched it now, the comedy value would make it worth the price of the rental.

*I know regular churchgoers who have never even come across Rapture teaching, as it's more "American Evangelist" than Church of England. Apparently the predictions for the end of the world are in the book of Revelation, although there are as many interpretations of that bizarre chapter as there are Christians. If you're interested, the much-mocked Left Behind books are quite good yarns (if you fancy the equivalent of a Pentecostal Dan Brown novel). And if any self-proclaimed Christian ever tries to tell you that they know the date of the end of the world, you can remind them of Matthew 24:36 "However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."

It has been pointed out that “w” is the 6th letter of Arabic and Semetic alphabets, which casts an interestingly Omen-esque slant on the World Wide Web, doesn’t it? Much as I adore the interwebs and can't imagine how I ever coped without its many life-enhancing qualities, I can see it has some tricky loopholes. Just as Jeff Goldblum predicted in Jurassic park, we're doing things because we can, without asking if we should.

I just wanted an excuse to use this picture. *Girlish giggling*

People are always freaking out about privacy, for instance. There has been a disclaimer doing the rounds for AGES which we are encouraged to copy into our FB status. It says "In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, graphics, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!" Of course, Snopes has the real low down – as you might expect, the message has as much power as signing a contract and then sticking on a post-it saying “Didn’t mean it!” 

But why all the fuss over FB? People tell me, wide-eyed with horror, that “Facebook officially owns all your photos!” Um, like any other website you’ve used to upload pictures? Once they're “out there”, ANYONE can save them to their own computers, thus “owning” them – not in a moral or legal sense, but in the sense that they can make a dartboard out of them, or photoshop them in any way they choose. Removing yourself from FB will not erase them – and even if you’re not there to be tagged, pictures of you can still be featured in your friends’ albums, open for all to see. The only way you can avoid this is to run and hide from any camera.

If you can.... Oh, the irony!

While the very name “Facebook” sounds like something George Orwell dreamt up, it’s not the only aspect of modern life we would associate with 1984. You'd have to be miles from civilisation before you could be sure there were no CCTV cameras nearby, and if you use an Oyster card, every tube stop you've made will have been tracked. Slightly creepy, yes – but as we've seen in murder cases, it’s actually really useful for police to be able to see where you have been. (Not to be morbid or anything.) Obviously, you'd have to avoid any kind of public places or transport if you were doing a fugitive-style flight from the FBI. (This is actually a long-held fantasy of mine. I just really like the idea of emerging from a public bathroom with a totally new hairstyle, you know?)

And it's one of my fave movies EVAH!

Another Facey B fact which has everyone in a panic: if you try to leave, your profile will remain, and can be re-activated at the flick of a switch. (Yikes! It never dies!) But isn’t this just a good business policy? I have friends who are forever declaring that they have had enough and are leaving FB forever – only to come crawling back in a matter of weeks or days. I can only imagine the level of moaning I’d have to listen to if they had to re-input all their info each time. While we all hum Hotel California, has anyone actually tried deleting all their information before attempting to duck out of the system? I haven’t, so I don’t know if it works, but it’s worth a try, no?

It used to be quite common to get messages threatening “Facebook is going to start charging you money! Copy this into your status!” although apparently now everyone has realised that it will always be free. This leaves us with the question: How does FB make any cash?

So, Facebook gets money from advertisers eager to know all about the habits and desires of their prey customers. But if people want to show me adverts, that’s their problem:

They cannot make me buy anything.

If it’s a well-chosen advert, it may benefit me, so it’s win-win. (I admit that I did find it a tad sinister the first time Boots sent me vouchers for THE VERY THINGS I’d been buying while diligently gathering points on my advantage card. But they were for things I wanted, so why complain? People whinge that offers like this are unfair to those vulnerable people who JUST CAN’T SAY NO, and will HAVE to use the vouchers even if they don’t want / can’t afford that product. But we’re all adults. (Except the kids whose parents let them fake their ages to have a FB account, obv.)

Finally, a lot of people were shrill and indignant about the fact that FB could use your picture “in adverts”. This is a little misleading – you’re not going to suddenly find your likeness quaffing beer on the telly – it just means that when you “like” something, that piece of information will show up on your friends’ newsfeeds, thus acting as a quasi-advertisement. (Of course there is always the embarrassment factor that you may have liked something uncool.)

This is why I love shopping in the run up to Christmas.You can pretend you're buying
for an elderly relative, when really, it's just that Neil Sedaka made some bangin' tunes.

But if you think about it, it’s a pretty reasonable exchange. Often the “liking” is what you have to do in order to enter a contest or get frequent updates. You could just go to the product’s website and sign up for email updates, or you could make a daily pilgrimage to check on the site. “Liking” on FB is simply the easiest and most convenient way to keep an eye on the latest developments. The price you pay is that people are informed that you like it. Is that so terrible? We’ve been doing it for years – every time we carry a bag with a shop’s logo on it, or clothing with a brand name. So why don’t we just enjoy all the ways FB makes our lives better, instead of whining like spoilt brats?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some shopping to do before the end of the world. We'll need plenty of tinned food, bottled water and ammo for when we're all, um, dead......

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