Did you know about the Myanmar Earthquake of April 13, 2016? Neither did I, until I woke up that morning, and saw on Facebook that there was some question if I was ok. My Facebook says (accurately) that I am in Chiangmai, Thailand, which is about 500 miles form Mawfalk, Myanmar where the earthquake occurred. I was of course ok, so clicked the button asking if I was ok And then I clicked my daughter’s FB page saying she was ok because well, FB asked, and I was being dutiful and considerate of our hundreds of FB friends who must have woken up to headlines regarding the earthquake, and then immediately wondered if I was ok.
So immediately, more FB notifications went out to all our presumably concerned FB friends, all of whom were supposed to be scanning headlines, and wondering about my safety. 41 of then dutifully clicked on my status update which said nothing happened (about something they had never heard of). But they were glad I was safe anyway. A few even sent condolences. So in this way, FB created many more clicks, gathered eyeballs, and otherwise enhanced their business model. Boy, was I glad that FB is concerned about my safety, and my FB friends emotional well-being.
Anyway, that duty taken care of, I then googled the Myanmar Earthquake that I had apparently ridden out so successfully. The only headline was actually in The Guardian of Great Britain, which explained that Prince William and Princess Kate had felt the earthquake while on vacation in western India. As far as I can figure out via google no one was hurt in the earthquake, and no real headlines were generated, except on FB. FB could have saved myself (and my 41 FB friends) a lot of worry by not doing anything.
The funny thing is that when I started to examine FB’s map, I began to realize how much such a marketing program works. In the “small” circle that FB drew around the earthquake’s epicenter, there are about 350,000,000 people, including all of the population of Bangladesh, most of Myanmar, bit parts of western India and southern China, northern Thailand, northern Laos, and even a bit of Vietnam. This densely populated area is like 1/20 of all the people in the world. How many of them are on FB, and were greeted in the morning with the same message I had, asking them to reassure their friends that they were safe? Tens of millions? Hundreds of millions? Only FB knows.
And then I started fantasizing about all the things FB should warn my friends about—things that I actually put myself at risk for.
Like driving a car in Thailand, the country with the second highest vehicle accident rate in the world. Or surviving the splashes of Thai New Year which ended last week, and actually cause a number of accident every year.
My fantasy involves the use of GPS devices, which I often carry with me when driving in the form of an iPad. Imagine this:
Tony missed his turn again. Message Tony on FB to get him back on course
27 Thai motorcycles on the freeway passed Tony on both sides at the same time. Let your FB friends know you are o.k.
Tony drives past notorious bar, ask if Tony was hit be a drunk driver.
“Tony drives past notorious bordello, ask if Tony….”
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.