Sunday, 25 June 2017

14. "Checking in" on Facebook


I wasn’t allowed MSN Messenger when I was at school because my dad was convinced that paedophiles would use it to track me down and kill me. (When I was finally allowed into those hallowed halls everyone else had moved on and it wasn’t cool anymore, which is pretty hard to take, aged 15.)

We all morph into our parents eventually (hopefully not physically speaking, although an old family friend saw me recently and exclaimed “You look just like your father!”, so you never know - clearly lasering my moustache has had a negligible impact). It’s happened to me - my father’s fear has rubbed off on me and I harbour a natural suspicion for the internet and all its murky corners.


I’m always a bit shocked therefore when I see people “check in” to places on Facebook. The bit of my brain that is now my dad (it lives in the shed at the back) thinks, But everyone knows where you are, you’ll be killed!


More to the point, if you’re busy checking in somewhere my natural assumption is that you’re not drunk enough or interested enough by your companions to be having a good time. And why tag everyone else you’re with? I already guessed you weren’t alone, or if I didn't guess, you're past help.


The choice of places to check in to is also baffling. A quick glance on Facebook tells me that 68 people have checked in to “Kebabs and Fried Chicken” on the Old Kent Road - probably not something I’d advertise willingly - a donor kebab may taste great but it’s always tinged with shame. In my local area a number of people have checked into the bakery, the dentist and the doctor’s surgery. I can just about understand wanting to show off that you’re somewhere fun and interesting, but the doctor’s? Everyone will immediately wonder what's wrong with you. It'll be like when my dad really wants to ask why I'm going to the doctor but he can't, in case it's lady business. Do you really want people speculating about your repeat prescriptions?


When the feature was introduced in 2010 Facebook sold it as a “useful tool”, to let friends know where you are, check if your friends are nearby and to create “a trail allowing friends to see what the writer did there days or even years ago”.


A few things - if you’re busy checking which of your friends are nearby it begs the question, why didn’t you invite them in the first place? Also - calm down stalker. And the whole thing about creating a trail? Personally I’ve never found it that helpful on arrival at a given location to learn that someone else was there four months ago with people who weren’t me. Clearly I am missing the essential usefulness of the device.


The main flaw with checking in is that it opens you up to even more targeted advertising and who needs that. We’re all supposed to be scared of the fact that the Internet King's (I presume there are such people) are tracking our every movement, reading our every word and perving on us through our webcams. Though I’m not hugely concerned about this because my internet presence is so boring no one’s going to waste much time lurking around (I certainly do very little to get excited about in front of a webcam these days), I still don’t feel the need to fuel the fire.


All we’re really doing when we check in is a bit of free marketing work for whichever establishment we’re providing with custom - they saw us coming. ("Quick, Roger, you'll never guess what, we can sack the marketing staff, the customers are doing it for us!")


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