What’s pointless about fun?

by on May 3, 2008 · 15 comments

Over at “The Social,” a CNet blog about social networking and social life, Caroline McCarthy discusses a new study that she says “reveals [a] shocking truth: Most Facebook apps are silly, pointless.”

A new study from number-crunching firm Flowing Data did some eye-opening work recently, dividing 23,160 Facebook applications into 22 categories. A whopping 9,601 of them fall into Facebook’s “just for fun” category, followed by “gaming” and “sports” with over 2,000 each. In other words, the majority of Facebook applications are goofy time-wasters.

She calls this “an unsettling piece of news that I don’t think any of us saw coming” and says “The world of social networking may never be the same.”
pointlessapps

Sorry, but I fail to see why this is either “unsettling” or that social networking “will never be the same.” The fact that many people would develop or use applications “just for fun” is hardly surprising, nor do I find it as lamentable as McCarthy or others who have been commenting on this new report.

A great number of OFFline applications in our homes or offices have been developed “just for fun” as well. Moreover, just because a lot of people are developing / using applications that are “just for fun” on social networking sites, that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of other great tools and applications out there that people are using. That chart makes that clear.

In fact, the concern raised here reminds me of debates about what’s on cable television these days. Some people just can’t get over the facts that large numbers of people watch a handful of channels that contain what they might regard as “mindless” entertainment or activities (think MTV, ESPN) instead of supposedly culturally-enriching fare. It’s an old story, actually. Culture critics have always bemoaned the fact that people would rather be entertained than informed. But that’s life, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Most people are getting more information and culturally-enriching affair today than ever before, but they will still consume more “just-for-fun” content and services in the aggregate. Why? Because it makes them happy. What’s wrong with that?

  • http://pintpundit.com TP

    I can’t believe that people get paid to release reports like the one you mention above. Seriously, I would feel ashamed of myself to report on something so blatantly obvious and then expect folks to believe my claptrap about how this is cutting edge research on social networking, which should shock us all. Think I’m going to contact Flowing Data right now. I’ll bet they’ve never heard of my groundbreaking research on myspace, twitter and del.icio.us.

  • http://www.maclawstudents.com/ Erik

    Something tells me McCarthy should have put in a winking emoticon to let us all know she was poking fun at the authors of the study.

  • http://pintpundit.com TP

    I can’t believe that people get paid to release reports like the one you mention above. Seriously, I would feel ashamed of myself to report on something so blatantly obvious and then expect folks to believe my claptrap about how this is cutting edge research on social networking, which should shock us all. Think I’m going to contact Flowing Data right now. I’ll bet they’ve never heard of my groundbreaking research on myspace, twitter and del.icio.us.

  • http://www.maclawstudents.com/ Erik

    Something tells me McCarthy should have put in a winking emoticon to let us all know she was poking fun at the authors of the study.

  • http://www.mcgath.com/blog Gary McGath

    Irony alert! Strong magnetic forces are acting on your leg!

  • http://www.mcgath.com/blog Gary McGath

    Irony alert! Strong magnetic forces are acting on your leg!

  • http://thegreateric.com Eric

    > It’s an old story, actually. Culture critics have always bemoaned the fact that people would rather be entertained than informed. But that’s life, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

    I agree with everything else you wrote, but this I have to argue with.

    Is it okay to prefer being entertained over being informed? Absolutely.

    Is it okay to indulge in mindless entertainment now and then? Sure – we all need a break from thinking on occasion.

    Is it okay to indulge in countless hours of mindless entertainment, to the near total exclusion of everything substantive and informative? I don’t think so, and therein lies the criticism of our culture – when someone has the time to watch American Idol but can’t seem to find the same hour a week to learn about candidates and issues, in order to exercise their duties and obligations as a citizen responsibly.

    I’d be much less worried about the prevalence of “just for fun” applications and entertainment were it not for the fact that the average voter is astonishingly ignorant of very basic facts that they should be basing their vote on.

  • http://thegreateric.com Eric

    > It’s an old story, actually. Culture critics have always bemoaned the fact that people would rather be entertained than informed. But that’s life, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

    I agree with everything else you wrote, but this I have to argue with.

    Is it okay to prefer being entertained over being informed? Absolutely.

    Is it okay to indulge in mindless entertainment now and then? Sure – we all need a break from thinking on occasion.

    Is it okay to indulge in countless hours of mindless entertainment, to the near total exclusion of everything substantive and informative? I don’t think so, and therein lies the criticism of our culture – when someone has the time to watch American Idol but can’t seem to find the same hour a week to learn about candidates and issues, in order to exercise their duties and obligations as a citizen responsibly.

    I’d be much less worried about the prevalence of “just for fun” applications and entertainment were it not for the fact that the average voter is astonishingly ignorant of very basic facts that they should be basing their vote on.

  • Adam Thierer

    Eric… I think you make a fair point and I did not mean to imply that it is acceptable to live a purely hedonistic lifestyle, devoid of any substantive social learning or interaction. My entire life is governed by the old Aristotlian golden mean of ‘all things in moderation,’ and that would certainly include entertainment.

    However, the really interesting question is this: Are we as a society better informed and political aware today DESPITE all that mindless entertainment we consume? I would argue that we ARE relative to our ancestors, if for no other reason than the fact that they simply did not have access to the incredible range of informational inputs we do today.

    One could quibble about the mindless-entertainment-to-substantive-information ratio today (and I would agree that for many people this ratio is WAAAAAY out of whack), but I think all those American Idol fanatics out there are probably still better informed about politics than their great grandparents were a century ago.

    So, as I throw it back to you, I would just ask if you think you statement that, “the average voter is astonishingly ignorant of very basic facts that they should be basing their vote on,” is actually more true today than it was back then?

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Eric… I think you make a fair point and I did not mean to imply that it is acceptable to live a purely hedonistic lifestyle, devoid of any substantive social learning or interaction. My entire life is governed by the old Aristotlian golden mean of ‘all things in moderation,’ and that would certainly include entertainment.

    However, the really interesting question is this: Are we as a society better informed and political aware today DESPITE all that mindless entertainment we consume? I would argue that we ARE relative to our ancestors, if for no other reason than the fact that they simply did not have access to the incredible range of informational inputs we do today.

    One could quibble about the mindless-entertainment-to-substantive-information ratio today (and I would agree that for many people this ratio is WAAAAAY out of whack), but I think all those American Idol fanatics out there are probably still better informed about politics than their great grandparents were a century ago.

    So, as I throw it back to you, I would just ask if you think you statement that, “the average voter is astonishingly ignorant of very basic facts that they should be basing their vote on,” is actually more true today than it was back then?

  • nulls101

    Thanks for sharing

    Regards
    Max
    http://thenewsempire.com/Sport/

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