You've probably heard everyone from bloggers to writers to watchdog groups decrying the fact that, when it comes to Facebook, Google or Twitter, you're not the customer, you're the product.
It's true, after all. These companies make their money by selling advertising space and by collecting and selling your personal data. The more data they collect from you, the more money they make. Everything from your Google search history to your favourite books and movies listed on your Facebook profile is gold to companies who have figured out how to turn this into a profitable revenue model.
People have been decrying this for years. When Mark Zuckerberg declared – almost two years ago – that the age of privacy is dead, he was skewered by the media almost as badly as his movie version was in The Social Network. After all, nobody likes to feel like the product. It's demoralizing, right?
Maybe. But maybe not. There have got to be some benefits to being the product. So for my 2012 New Year's Resolution, I've decided to make peace with the whole concept. After all, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Therefore, here are my top 5 (ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek) reasons why Being The Product isn't so bad, and is actually kind of cool:
1. You get free stuff.
This is the most obvious one, of course. You get to catch up with your friends who you haven't seen since high school, or share photos of your trip to Thailand with your great-aunt in Wichita. You get awesome search results so quickly that you never have to learn anything again if you don't want to. You get to retweet what your boss had for breakfast. And it's all gloriously free!
If you're using Facebook, Twitter, Google, FourSquare, LinkedIn, YouTube, or, really, any internet site out there, you're probably enjoying all the free cool stuff. If you weren't the product, you'd be the customer, and that means you'd actually have to pay for that stuff. Would you? I wouldn't.
2. You get to feel really, really special.
Advertisers pay big money to target ads to you and to learn about you. Doesn't that make you feel special? It sure feeds the egotistical side of my brain. After all, they're investing all this time and effort to learn about me – what I like, what I want, what I ate for dinner. They care about me. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy… and kind of like I have my own personal paparazzi following me around. What could be better than that?
3. It's a feminist dream come true.
You know another group of people who are accustomed to being treated like the product? I do, because I'm one of them: Women. Ask any woman who has ever been to Ladies' Night at a bar, and she'll tell you that Being The Product is nothing new; it's just taken on a whole new meaning.
From a feminist perspective, what could be better than creating a universal circumstance where every man in the world gets to experience what it's like to be objectified, too?
4. It creates jobs.
Companies make heaps of money buying, selling and trading personal information. Countless people are employed by these companies, their agencies, their spinoffs and the like. I'm one of them. If you're reading this blog, chances are that you are too. With an ongoing worldwide recession and high unemployment, we can't exactly afford to scoff at such a productive industry.
Personal information is an abundant resource. It's renewable, environmentally friendly, and equitable. It doesn't cost me anything to share it, and the collective volume of it creates paycheques for millions of people. Maybe there's something to be said for turning all human beings into products, sort of like an alternate version of The Matrix. I did say I wanted the blue pill, right?
5. You can opt out… but why would you want to?
It is technically possible to avoid Being the Product. You have the freedom not to participate. Delete your Facebook account, never use Google, disable all cookies, and browse through secure anonymous proxies… or shut down and don't use digital at all. You can go "off the grid" if you really, really want to. It's all about free choice, y'all!
At least, that's what they'll let you believe, with legislation designed to supposedly give people more control over how their data is used… providing the illusion of full freedom. But go on, try to opt out of it for a week or even a day. I dare you. I think you'll find yourself quickly crawling back.
Benjamin Franklin famously said: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." In my view, those that give up essential social media to obtain a little temporary privacy deserve neither social media nor privacy. It's much more fun to participate.
*Blog post title shamelessly paraphrased from "Dr. Strangelove". No copyright infringement is intended.