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23/08/2019 Communication Science news and articles

It’s not me, it’s you

Facebook videos have been improved to favour a seamless viewing experience.


Every night I set an alarm to get out of bed two hours before class. Every morning I fail at this simple task. Why? Hours of soul-searching have led me to the simple conclusion that yes, I do suck at time-management. And pretty badly, too. But beyond this ugly truth, I have discovered one nefarious source of distraction and loss of time cognition. While Facebook videos might not be the root of all evil, they sure are the reason why every morning I consistently fail at getting ready on time. Stuck in an endless cycle of ‘A-ha! So that’s how it works’ and puppies wagging their tail, I sit on the bed waiting for another short piece of distraction to pop up. Woops, there goes my time!

At this point you might be rolling your eyes. Seriously, another article demonising Facebook? Thought we got over that. We sure did, pal. As a Communications student, I try to avoid giving in to simplistic understandings of technology. So rather than mounting another crusade against social media, with this article I want to reflect on what makes Facebook videos so damn addictive. Wanna see how a media geek justifies her poor time-management skills? Then keep scrolling away.

In the past week, I have been entertained by the following content:

  • The story of the Qwerty keyboard. It’s not even that great and people still use it! Who knew!
  • Cute puppies. Why not.
  • An endless amount of “easy and tasty dinner ideas” always shot in the same fashion – you know what I’m talking about: shot centred above the bowl, quirky music, and possibly tons of avocado.
  • People trying random stuff, ranging from the spiciest chilis to different highlighters.
  • Random videos in Spanish.
  • (I don’t speak Spanish)

I don’t remember much, but it’s been fun. Why did I even do that?

“Medium is the message”
Buckle up guys, here’s the geeky part. 
Marshall McLuhan once wrote that “the medium is the message”. What he meant by that is that the way in which content is carried inevitably influences the kind of meanings and interpretations of reality available to us. Think of the way phones have impacted our understanding of human relationships – no matter where we are, our loved ones are always just a phone call away. Obvious, right? Not so much. Technological advancements in media shape our relationships to ourselves, to others and our environment and open up new possibilities and experiences.

Remember when Facebook videos were painfully slow and nobody really watched them? Me neither. Well, almost. Once a laggy, excruciatingly slow feature of the website, Facebook videos have been improved to favour a seamless viewing experience. This improvement ultimately opens up new ways for users to approach the platform as an entertainment provider* and bane of all lost souls trying to avoid procrastinating on a deadline and miserably failing at doing so (#me). Facebook videos are the perfect intermezzo in the endless stream of procrastination of liking your crush’s selfie and reading what is on your friends’s mind. Fun, informative, sometimes plain silly and short enough to make you think, “I’ll just finish this one and go back to work. Five more minutes.”. 

The very way the platform presents video content allows users to be sucked into the experience and lose track of time. Think of the autoplay function. Unless explicitly deactivated by the user it allows videos to automatically play as one scrolls through the home, trusting that eventually their algorithm will offer you something that will keep your eyes peeled to the screen. It’s usually dogs for me.

I don’t remember much, but it’s been fun. Why did I even do that?

Light at the end of the tunnel
Thought you were done with just one video? Well, think again. On the app, a new video on the queue will start playing right after the other, letting you go on and on in your quest for entertainment. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is there an end to the video queue?
Well, I watched two hours worth of Tasty videos once and I could have kept going…

Finally, the mysterious home page algorithm seems to really love showing you video content. While its elusive selective mechanisms might remain a terrifying unknown to all social media marketers and your new profile picture might not reach all of your friends, video content constantly appears on top of the news feed. Prioritising videos ultimately increases the likelihood of them being the first thing on my news feed in the morning and making me (almost) late to class.

What can I say? It’s not me, it’s the app**.

* A few weeks ago Facebook announced its decision to invest over a billion dollars in original video content. Surprise surprise.

**Not really.

Cover: JÉSHOOTS

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