Remember ChatRoulette? You’d log on, click through webcam feeds of obese men having sex with fruit, and walk away feeling like you’d finally made a human connection. Just take away the anonymity, the second camera, the sense of fate, and the fruit intercourse (for now) and you get Facebook Live’s new map—a digital panopticon fueled by our most banal impulses. Because once you peer into your first window, it’s nearly impossible to stop.
I spent nearly six hours yesterday poring over those tiny blue dots. Each one represents another person who has opened their virtual door to the world. Often it’s because they’re bored—be it at school, at work, at home, while they’re driving, anywhere really. One woman was livestreaming a minor medical procedure. There’s no reason to broadcast any of these things, really, other than the simple fact that the option exists. So why not?
And that’s what Facebook seems to be banking on. It wants live video to be huge. Live video is already a massive industry, of course—just not on Facebook. In fact, Zuck’s late to this party; sites like YouTube, Twitch, and Periscope are already leading the streaming pack. But nothing has the masses on lock like Facebook. This isn’t a streaming app for gamers or the particularly internet savvy; this is streaming video for the people.
And at least so far, that translates to a planet’s worth of live videos that consist almost entirely of garbage. Novel, voyeuristic, fascinating garbage, but garbage nonetheless. Like these drunk bros.
Or this man getting a haircut.
That doesn’t make it any less appealing from a viewer’s perspective, though. After all, it’s free, unfettered access to someone else’s window—and they’ve already been kind enough to pull up the blinds. There’s no fear of being caught. No need to stifle any impulses to gasp or laugh. Instead, I was free to stare candidly, directly into the life of another person.
Does it all still start to feel a bit creepy after the third or fourth video? Sure, but not enough to stop me from clicking onto the next dot. This look into another person’s (often mundane) existence is exactly what makes Facebook Live so interesting. These people may be putting on a show for the camera to the best of their abilities, but watching them feels almost too intimate. After all, most of them are just normal people who want to feel like they matter. And even if the viewer count on the video stays solidly at one, it still means that someone out there cares.
One of the streamers explained the appeal to me as “just the whole idea of broadcasting. I actually love it because I can talk about anything from gaming to religion with my friends and anyone who’s interested in the topics.” Another told me, “I pastor a church and I use fb videos and now video live to connect with people and encourage them.”
In most cases, it’s hard to tell exactly who the intended audience is supposed to be, though it seems to be more about the person broadcasting than anything else. These two nice gentlemen from Romania told me they like Facebook Live for the fact that they can “show” and not “tell.”
Judging from their page, most of what they have to show involves dance in some capacity.
And they really, really love to show it. Yesterday alone they posted about 10 separate livestreams. Each one consisted of them dancing. And each one was just as hard to turn away from as the last.
As far as I can tell, none of this is quite what Facebook intended. As a spokesperson from Facebook explained to me over email, “We believe the vast majority of people are using Facebook Live to come together and share experiences in the moment with their friends and family.” Not a single friend or family member of mine, save for one, has ever used Facebook Live as far as I know. And while that may be Facebook’s intent, offering this map to the public changes that stated premise in a significant way.
There’s also the issue of whether or not these people realize that what they’re sending into the world is so widely accessible. Everyone I spoke to knew they’d made their videos public, but they’d never seen the map itself before. And it’s that map that opens up other people’s worlds so readily, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Still, I see my friends and family on a regular basis. No offense to my friends and family, but I don’t care what you’re doing. I am much more interested in what this DJ in Greece is doing. Or what this arguably-unbalanced psychic in Scotland is preaching. This map is my window into corners of the world I might never have seen otherwise.
All of which is to say, it’s only a matter of time before the vast majority of Facebook Live consists of men fucking fruit.