Facebook Is Stalking You, Baby. (Notes From The Uncanny Valley, Japan)
Today when I logged into Facebook, I was greeted with the following message in my status bar:
How are you feeling, Jake?
The short answer is: I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, baby. Because I’m not used to my social media site talking to me like a girlfriend who believes I’m a mental case. The opening salvo also seems like a psychotherapist checking in, a little warily, just see if I’m going to hold it together. This first query was followed by a series of similar probing questions every-time I logged in. It’s like a Facebook somehow gained sentience and turned into a girl friend with some stalking issues. Maybe it’s time to reassess the relationship. Maybe I’ve just been too casual about it.
“How’s it going , Jake?” “What’s happening, Jake” “What’s up, Jake?” —I think that would have probably been less unsettling but perhaps more annoying. There’s something almost sinister and sneaky in that phrasing “How are you feeling” coupled suddenly with my first name, that makes me feel like I’m being interrogated. Sooner or later, “What’s wrong, Jake?” is going to flash across my screen and as I try to log off, FB is going to tell me, “I can’t let you do that, Jake.”
There’s a phenomenon in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence known as the “uncanny valley” hypothesis, which asserts that when computers and objects look or act very much like humans, but not perfectly, that the cognitive dissonance creates a feeling of revulsion or a dip (valley) in comfort levels. These new series of default status statements on Facebook, framed like questions from a confidante soliciting confession or disclosure, on a first-name basis as well—they seem over the line to me. They also seem a little much for what has been a casual relationship that seems to be moving up to a level of intensity I’m just not at home with anymore.
And then I realized that what I found the most annoying was the presumption that Facebook and I were equals. Or perhaps, that Facebook even considered itself a superior sentient being. Which is really silly. But in Japan, I’m so used to adding an honorific (-san, -sama, -chan, -kun) to the person I’m addressing that I’m a little taken back when someone I don’t know, or I don’t think I know, suddenly refers to me by my first name only. It can show a serious lack of respect in a relationship. In Japan, one way of really insulting someone, showing over-familiarity, or disdain is to call someone by their first name, with no honorific attached at all. (If my Mom calls me Jake, I’m okay with that.) It’s also a tactic to show superiority. In Japanese terms and in age, I’m the 先輩 (senpai/senior) and FB is the 後輩 (junior) and I feel we’re in a power struggle in the relationship now.
I thought it was underhanded and sneaky when she (Facebook) suddenly said she could sell any of my Instagram photos if she wanted to. Yes, maybe we’re taking them together now and then, but they’re my photos. I’m not sure I appreciate her sharing them with other people without telling me. And the constant double standards and often unannounced changes in our privacy agreements–well, that makes me feel uneasy as well. I never know where we stand in our relationship. I’m forced to constantly tweak it.
I guess I don’t completely hate the new series of greetings but you know, as the saying goes –親しい仲にも礼儀あり（Shitashii naka ni mo reigi ari/Even amongst the closest of friends there must be politeness and decorum) —I’d appreciate a little distance. It’s not like Facebook and I are in a serious monogamous relationship. I flirt with twitter. I have this blog thing going on. I’m not ready to settle down with just one social media platform. I know I sound like a commitment-phobe but she’s just a little too pushy these days. I need some space. I like what we have but the constant suggestions as to what I should read, eat, drink, wear and who I should be friends with–it’s like she’s trying to run my life.
At the very least, can I get a “How are you feeling, Jake-san?” for the time being? Just a little respect. In all fairness, I should say, I may not always answer that question because I’m not really comfortable with this touchy feely stuff. In other words, Facebook-chan, if you are going to ask me how I’m doing or what I’m doing, over and over, in many different ways, I’d ask that you do it just a little more politely–and less persistently. Because Facebook-baby*, you’re really creeping me out.
*In Hollywood, “–baby”, is an honorific, much like -san, -kun, -chan in the Japanese language. In Seattle, “-baby” can be replaced by “–man” or “–dude.”