Ever get caught in one of those moments when you log onto Facebook and felt yourself, maybe surprisingly, disappointed that you have zero notifications, zero friend requests, and zero messages? It's like being the permanent resident of Lonely Town, Population: You. Loath to admit it or not, sometimes you experience a frisson when you log-in and find a new notification announcing that someone out there thought about you. Those tiny red word bubbles announcing "3" can really make your day (for at least five or ten minutes). When you're a silent witness to everybody's fun life via Facebook, it's nice to know that occasionally you've been included in those activities.
If you're the type that waits with bated breath as your Facebook homepage loads in hopes that you'll be greeted with some new notifications but sadly are met with a dearth of notices, Dr. Benjamin Grosser has got the cure for your social network malady.
Actually, he's not really a doctor (as far as I know). He's just an astute software developer with a mind for how we interact with software and the emotional effect it has on us.
Grosser has developed a plug-in for Facebook called Reload The Love!, a new application that will automatically inflate the amount of notifications you see when you log in to your Facebook account. Tired of seeing zero notifications? Reload The Love! will make sure you see plenty the next time you reload the page or log in. If you should receive any real notifications after Reload The Love! has inflated them, the count will automatically revert to the actual values. If you start feeling the tug of loneliness due to no new notifications after that, you can re-inflate them anytime by reloading the page to Reload The Love!
The project is equal parts social psychology experiment and software development ingenuity as it cleverly explores the value social networks have on a person's self-esteem and how something as seemingly minuscule as red word bubble notifications can impact a person's mood.
"Reload The Love! is first and foremost an art project for me," Grosser told WebProNews, "so I do consider it within that context. As such, one of its purposes is to get people thinking about how Facebook's notification icons function in their daily lives. How many times do you check those icons, hoping to find a new friend or message? How do those icons make you feel?"
The marketing value of such information, which Facebook is undoubtedly tracking, isn't lost on Grosser, either, who has worked on other software systems for Facebook and Google. "It's important to remember that Facebook's value as a company is in the breadth of its data," he said. "The source of that data is unwaged free labor contributed by us, their users. How do those icons prod us to keep generating more of that free data? As you mentioned, are we feeling happier when we see everyone else's activities, or does it make us sad when we inevitably compare them to our own?"
Grosser's Reload The Love! application turns the value of those notifications on its ear as it "nullifies those icons by turning them into a perpetual positive indicator." So far, the response has been well received although, although since the application is very new it's only been installed 366 times (wink, wink, hint). "When I show it or talk about it with people I get a variety of reactions," Grosser said. "The first is humor - many people find it quite funny. But others find it sad and talk about their own emotional connection and/or reliance on those icons."
And there's the rub: people experiencing emotional distress over lack of attention and involvement on Facebook. Has social networking really moved beyond a fun pastime distraction to being a legitimate utility in our everyday lives? That's one of the complexities that Reload The Love! exposes to ourselves - but not to Grosser. Yes, rest assured, he has zero ways of tracking any of your information through the use of this application and he was delightfully up-front in stating he wouldn't want to even if that was a possibility. "I wouldn't want to invade anyone's privacy with that," he said. "The source code is freely viewable so that users can verify for themselves that nothing nefarious is going on."
Take that, Facebook.
But back to the existential question that Reload The Love! points at us: are we really that reliant on being noticed on Facebook? Maybe. Grosser admits that such questions are what drive his interest in software. "I am obsessed with how software functions to force us into certain types of behaviors or to see the world in certain ways." He adds, "Software is a designed object, and even though we can't hold it in our hands or pack it in a box, it has a profound effect on our daily life. These are the interests that led me to create Reload The Love!"
Reload The Love! isn't a Facebook app that works within the Facebook UI itself but rather must be installed as a plug-in on Firefox, Chrome, and Safari browsers (don't worry, it's a piece of cake to install). You will need to get an extension for Firefox (Greasemonkey) and Safari (Ninjakit) but Chrome runs the app on a native browser extension. Installation is very user-friendly and you can find instructions on how to integrate Reload The Love! on your Facebook account here. If you're so inclined to give Reload The Love! a try, let us know what you think in the comment section below.