If you haven't seen the commercials yet for Facebook Home, I'll recap. In one ad, a hip air traveler thumbs through his Cover Feed of friends' updates after being asked to turn off his phone. Why listen to the flight attendant when there are cat pictures to like?! In another commercial, a Facebook employee ignores CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he thanks the team for all their hard work. Yes, these ads are designed to amuse—complete with a screaming goat—but the underlying message is actually quite disturbing.
Facebook Home exists to make as many smartphone owners as possible interact with the social network any time they turn on their phone. This app on steroids replaces the Android lock screen, so you'll see friends' status updates and photos (which you can like and comment on) before you can access anything else. This is a huge business opportunity for Facebook, but if Home takes off it could drive an even bigger wedge between us and the real world.
Depending on whom you ask, mobile phone users stare at their devices anywhere from 100 to 150 times per day. A separate study from IDC recently revealed that smartphone owners check Facebook an average of 14 times per day. In other words, Facebook is looking at a minimum engagement increase of seven times for those who download Home or buy the HTC First phone with the software installed. And ads are coming soon to this experience. I'll pause for a moment to let investors pop the champagne.
The problem with smartphone users getting drunk on Facebook is that life around them becomes more of a blur.
Take the third ad I've seen for Facebook Home, which finds a young lady trying to weather a boring family dinner. Instead of listening to a relative drone on about her trip to the supermarket, she keeps checking her Cover Feed under the table. On the surface, who wouldn't prefer being transported to a snowball fight with friends to engaging uncool relatives? Ironically, though, Facebook's ad condones anti-social behavior.
I don't want to lend the impression that Facebook Home itself has a nefarious purpose. In fact, it can help you stay connected to people you care about. For instance, while attempting to check my email I came across an update from a friend preparing for surgery and wished him well. It's really up to individuals as to where—and how often—they decide to use Home.
Last week when I took my daughter to karate class, most parents checked their phones at least a half dozen times during the 45-minute session (a lot of it was Facebook). I did it a couple of times, too, and also passed my cell to my son so he could play games. At one point my daughter looked over to see if I was watching as she stood in line to practice kicks. Facebook Home makes the seemingly harmless but ultimately alienating act of incessantly checking one's mobile more likely.
As a product, Facebook Home is limited in scope but ultimately compelling because it makes the social network even more immersive. The problem is Facebook's marketing message: Home is a great way to be less present when you'd rather be somewhere else. Maybe they should just call it Nobody's Home.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter and Google+.