Santa is a legendary character, originating in Western culture, who is said to bring children gifts on Christmas Eve of toys and candy or coal or nothing, depending on whether they are “naughty or nice”. He supposedly accomplishes this with the aid of Christmas elves, who make the toys in his workshop, often said to be at the North Pole, and flying reindeer who pull his sleigh through the air. But who is Big Santa?
The name Big Santa is inspired by Big Brother from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the people are continuously monitored by live cameras as well as microphones. Most people rightfully abhor such breach of privacy, but how many can resist the call of the corporate Big Santa, who´s providing free internet services? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others offer all free access to their platforms and people are flocking towards them in droves.
Few users of those free platforms give it a thought that free services come with a price too: instead of being a consumer, they become the product. As the saying goes: there are no free lunches in life. There is always someone paying for it. In case of the free internet platforms, the real customers are the marketers, political parties, and advertisers. They´re footing the bill in return for information about other people’s private information. And some users of those “free” platforms are very generous with that information, with some of them throwing literally their whole life on those internet forums. When there are enough people doing this, those platforms become a real goldmine for corporate business. Ask Mark Zuckerberg: he became a billionaire by selling information he collected with his “free” Facebook.
By convincing users to give away valuable information about themselves in exchange for free services, firms can accrue large amounts of data at virtually no cost. In his book Who Owns the Future? (2013) Jaron Lanier calls those firms “Siren Servers”, alluding to the Sirens of Ulysses. Instead of paying everyone for their contribution to the data pool, the Siren Servers concentrate wealth in the hands of the few who control the data centers.
In addition, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have made their users cruder, less empathetic, more tribal. Lanier worries that reliance on social media platforms is reducing people’s capacity for spirituality, and that social media users are in essence turning into automated extensions of the platforms.
I´m aware that the social media are for many people a tool to manage some aspects of their life. Just don’t get sucked into a vortex of endlessly checking Facebook, Instagram, online news, Twitter, whatever… Be aware that your online content will be fragmented, chopped, and sold to advertisers by social media companies. Some entrepreneurs will add up all the time sucked from your life, and call it a metric – ‘user engagement’.