It’s easy to see how this system can be gamed. Visited a restaurant and enjoyed the experience? Write a favourable review for money off next time. Haven’t visited a restaurant, but have lots of friends and followers? Earn cash in hand for claiming that you visited and loved every minute.
Social networks are not, in this sense, a levelling force so much as a vast magnifying glass applied to human nature, accentuating that which is already there – contacts, celebrity, exclusivity, excitement and attractiveness included.
None of which is to suggest Facebook’s Graph Search is destined for triumph, or that it’s only about fame and freebies. What it is, however, is a sign of a digital culture increasingly rooted in real lives and locations; or at least in certain clickable, measurable aspects of them. Playing the system brings its perks – and opting out means missing out in real as much as virtual terms.
In the end, Facebook just wants to make us happy: to help us get more of what we want, when we want it, from whom we want. It doesn’t matter whether the details involve fine dining, exclusive fragrances, ski trips, or special offers at Burger King – it still means recruiting each one of us as part-time publicists, broadcasters, reviewers and self-promoters.
The catch, as Pinboard founder Maciej Ceglowski argued back in November 2011, is what incentives this particular vision places on our relationships. “We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage,” he noted. “We call that person a sociopath.”
Ceglowski’s words are a warning rather than a prophecy, but they’re also something we need to take seriously. In the age of an increasingly unequal internet, where relationships and endorsements alike are saleable commodities, the rewards for tapping into our inner sociopaths have rarely been more tempting. Win or lose, however, some games are never worth playing.