For years, Mark Zuckerberg identified as an atheist—at least on his profile page. But in a holiday message posted on Dec. 25, the Facebook CEO nods at a potential return to religion.
Zuck wished his friends a “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Priscilla, Max, Beast and me!,” to which one user replied “Aren’t you an atheist?”
“No,” Zuckerberg responded. “I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
The Facebook founder has alluded to his spirituality in the past. During a trip to China in 2015, Zuckerberg “offered a prayer for peace and health for the world and for my family” in front of Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an. “Buddhism is an amazing religion and philosophy, and I have been learning more about it over time,” he wrote on Facebook at the time. “I hope to continue understanding the faith more deeply.”•
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It’s not likely that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are spoken to honestly very often, certainly not by those who work for them. What good could come of that for an employee? Perhaps, then, no one has been brazen enough to directly point out that their defense of Trump supporter and emotional homunculus Peter Thiel, if not his politics, is utter horseshit.
“There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault,” Zuckerberg wrote in defense of maintaining Thiel as a Facebook board member. Bezos added at a Vanity Fair event that “it’s way too divisive to say if you have an opinion, you can’t sit on my board…that makes no sense.”
What really makes no sense is Thiel being treated as if he just so happens to be supporting a fellow conservative, a right-of-center politician who earned the Republican nomination. But Trump isn’t that. He’s someone who’s called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, used anti-Semitic memes online, labeled Mexicans rapists and African-Americans inherently lazy, threatened to jail his political opponent who’s been found guilty of no crime, promised to change libel laws to diminish journalistic freedom and boasted about sexually assaulting women.
Thiel, who’s spoken out against multiculturalism, made puzzling comments about suffrage and had a checkbook ready when racists like Hulk Hogan or Trump needed an assist, wants people to accept that he loathes his candidate’s overt bigotry–his “personal characteristics,” as Thiel terms it–and only supports the GOP nominee because he somehow possesses the magical talents to “fix America,” or some such thing, despite having demonstrated not even a basic understanding of foreign or domestic policy. As I’ve said before, Thiel is the single best argument for a return to the draconian progressive tax rates of the Eisenhower Administration.
The venture capitalist has the absolute right to support financially and otherwise this Berlusconi who dreams of being a Mussolini, but sitting on the board of Facebook and working for the Y Combinator is a privilege, not a right. Zuckerberg and the rest can’t pretend this is politics as usual. Il Duce and his fellow 1930s Fascist Adolf Hitler also were popular with millions of their citizens. That wasn’t “diversity,” but tyranny. So it is, perhaps, again.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Thiel revealed that he was donating $1.25 million to support the election of Donald J. Trump. As these things go, it was a small gift. Dustin Moskovitz, a founder of Facebook, is giving tens of millions to support Hillary Clinton. But the news made Mr. Thiel a pariah in much of the tech community.
He was accused of promoting racism and intolerance. There were demands that Facebook drop him from its board of directors and that Silicon Valley’s leading start-up incubator, Y Combinator, sever ties with him. Emotions and accusations raged on Twitter. …
“I was surprised by the intensity,” Mr. Thiel said. “This is one of the few times I was involved in something that was not a fringe effort but was mainstream. Millions of people are backing Trump. I did not appreciate quite how polarizing the election would be in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.”
“By lending his image, his voice, his influence and substantial capital to Trump, Thiel isn’t simply exercising his legal right to vote: He is fueling and enabling racism, sexism, sexual assault, violence and tyranny,” Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, a Los Angeles venture firm, wrote in a blog post.
She said she turned down an investment of $500,000 — a huge sum for a small firm like Backstage — because of the investor’s ties to Mr. Thiel. Ms. Hamilton did not identify the investor or respond to an email.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, defended the company’s association with Mr. Thiel, emphasizing that it did not endorse his views — and much less Mr. Trump’s — but was striving to be inclusive toward those whose values differed from its own. Critics noted that if diversity was such a cherished value in Silicon Valley, why wasn’t there more of it?•
The introduction to Nicholas Carr’s soon-to-be published essay collection, Utopia Is Creepy, has been excerpted at Aeon, and it’s a beauty. The writer argues (powerfully) that we’ve defined “progress as essentially technological,” even though the Digital Age quickly became corrupted by commercial interests, and the initial thrill of the Internet faded as it became “civilized” in the most derogatory, Twain-ish use of that word. To Carr, the something gained (access to an avalanche of information) is overwhelmed by what’s lost (withdrawal from reality). The critic applies John Kenneth Galbraith’s term “innocent fraud” to the Silicon Valley marketing of techno-utopianism.
You could extrapolate this thinking to much of our contemporary culture: binge-watching endless content, Pokémon Go, Comic-Con, fake Reality TV shows, reality-altering cable news, etc. Carr suggests we use the tools of Silicon Valley while refusing the ethos. Perhaps that’s possible, but I doubt you can separate such things.
The greatest of the United States’ homegrown religions – greater than Jehovah’s Witnesses, greater than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, greater even than Scientology – is the religion of technology. John Adolphus Etzler, a Pittsburgher, sounded the trumpet in his testament The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men (1833). By fulfilling its ‘mechanical purposes’, he wrote, the US would turn itself into a new Eden, a ‘state of superabundance’ where ‘there will be a continual feast, parties of pleasures, novelties, delights and instructive occupations’, not to mention ‘vegetables of infinite variety and appearance’.
Similar predictions proliferated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and in their visions of ‘technological majesty’, as the critic and historian Perry Miller wrote, we find the true American sublime. We might blow kisses to agrarians such as Jefferson and tree-huggers such as Thoreau, but we put our faith in Edison and Ford, Gates and Zuckerberg. It is the technologists who shall lead us.
Cyberspace, with its disembodied voices and ethereal avatars, seemed mystical from the start, its unearthly vastness a receptacle for the spiritual yearnings and tropes of the US. ‘What better way,’ wrote the philosopher Michael Heim in ‘The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace’ (1991), ‘to emulate God’s knowledge than to generate a virtual world constituted by bits of information?’ In 1999, the year Google moved from a Menlo Park garage to a Palo Alto office, the Yale computer scientist David Gelernter wrote a manifesto predicting ‘the second coming of the computer’, replete with gauzy images of ‘cyberbodies drift[ing] in the computational cosmos’ and ‘beautifully laid-out collections of information, like immaculate giant gardens’.
The millenarian rhetoric swelled with the arrival of Web 2.0. ‘Behold,’ proclaimed Wired in an August 2005 cover story: we are entering a ‘new world’, powered not by God’s grace but by the web’s ‘electricity of participation’. It would be a paradise of our own making, ‘manufactured by users’. History’s databases would be erased, humankind rebooted. ‘You and I are alive at this moment.’
The revelation continues to this day, the technological paradise forever glittering on the horizon. Even money men have taken sidelines in starry-eyed futurism. In 2014, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen sent out a rhapsodic series of tweets – he called it a ‘tweetstorm’ – announcing that computers and robots were about to liberate us all from ‘physical need constraints’. Echoing Etzler (and Karl Marx), he declared that ‘for the first time in history’ humankind would be able to express its full and true nature: ‘we will be whoever we want to be.’ And: ‘The main fields of human endeavour will be culture, arts, sciences, creativity, philosophy, experimentation, exploration, adventure.’ The only thing he left out was the vegetables.•
Facebook doesn’t likely give a frig about journalism and cares even less for journalists. Excellent reportage may as well be Angry Birds or emoticons or some other empty calories. If Zuckerberg’s nation-state could make more money by offering absolutely no journalism, by erasing every last bit of it from the social network, it likely wouldn’t hesitate to do so. The company has absolutely no commitment to journalism, because that’s not the business Facebook is in. It’s in the money business. The company’s so-called mutually beneficial arrangement with traditional news publishers may ultimately play out like a zero-sum game.
The opening of a Gizmodo piece by Michael Nuñez about the unpleasantness of the social network’s trending-news department:
Depending on whom you ask, Facebook is either the savior or destroyer of journalism in our time. An estimated 600 million people see a news story on Facebook every week, and the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has been transparent about his goal to monopolize digital news distribution. “When news is as fast as everything else on Facebook, people will naturally read a lot more news,” he said in a Q&A last year, adding that he wants Facebook Instant Articles to be the “primary news experience people have.”
Facebook’s stranglehold over the traffic pipe has pushed digital publishers into an uneasy alliance with the $350 billion behemoth, and the news business has been caught up in a jittery debate about what, precisely, the company’s intentions are. Will it swallow the business whole, or does it really just want publishers to put neat things in users’ news feeds? For its part, Facebook—which has recently begun paying publishers including Buzzfeed and the New York Times to post a quota of Facebook Live videos every week—bills its relationship with the media as a mutually beneficial landlord-tenant partnership.
But if you really want to know what Facebook thinks of journalists and their craft, all you need to do is look at what happened when the company quietly assembled some to work on its secretive “trending news” project. The results aren’t pretty: According to five former members of Facebook’s trending news team—“news curators” as they’re known internally—Zuckerberg & Co. take a downright dim view of the industry and its talent. In interviews with Gizmodo, these former curators described grueling work conditions, humiliating treatment, and a secretive, imperious culture in which they were treated as disposable outsiders. After doing a tour in Facebook’s news trenches, almost all of them came to believe that they were there not to work, but to serve as training modules for Facebook’s algorithm.•
More than a billion people work for free for Mark Zuckerberg. The log in to Facebook–although they actually never really log out–and get to work creating content. Sure, they receive some utility and sense of belonging in return for their efforts and data and willingness to be social experiments, but they’re essentially serfs in a virtual world where they have little voice in how their information is repurposed. Everything in this virtual society may be virtual, but it seems a new kind of nation-state by most measurements.
It’s clear from his investments and comments that Zuckerberg wants VR to be a key part of this new parallel universe. A recent photo of the Facebook founder striding to the stage at the Mobile World Congress in Spain, scores of journalists in VR headsets unaware of his entrance, has been widely circulated. I bet a lot of people even took time to post it on Facebook. How nice of them to volunteer their services! In the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey offers a sharp analysis of the off-putting picture. An excerpt:
Zuckerberg has said that, in his vision for the future, these virtual experiences will be fundamentally social. But the photo suggests something quite different: Hundreds of people share a physical space, but no perception, no experience, no phenomenological anchor. The communality of a conference (literally from conferre, “to bring together”) is thrown over for a series of hyper-individualized bubbles. And you’re reminded, from Zuckerberg’s awkward semi-smile, that the man who owns the bubbles also owns what’s in them. That controlling virtual reality, in other words, is only a step from controlling reality itself.
Then again, Zuckerberg arguably does that already.•
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, members of the 1% club no matter how you work out the door policy, have pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook stock. It’s a wonderfully generous thing, but not an easy one to pull off well, and of course the process will be heavily influenced by the worldview of the Facebook founder.
In the announcement of his intentions, Zuckerberg asked this question: “Can you learn and experience 100 times more than we do today?” Listen, I want the world to be 100 times smarter (or even 2 times smarter), but that sounds like he’s investing money in brain chips and VR gear, which is fascinating, sure, but not quite the Gates-ian antimalarial efforts some might have anticipated. In all fairness, the technologist also mentions disease prevention and eradication, but there’s an awful lot of sci-fi-esque wording about radical life extension and the like. A lot of progress may ultimately come from future-forward neuro- and bioengineering, or maybe it will be money spent poorly. Good intentions and good execution are not the same thing.
In a similar vein, a Daily Beast piece by Charlotte Lytton notes that 2015 was the year that Silicon Valley became something of an Immortality Industrial Complex, with the well-compensated wanting to live forever, or at least until their stock options run out. An excerpt:
Might it be more charitable, then, to use the billions being funneled through avoidance schemes into abiding by the law and helping to reverse the problems created by a deficit-laden economy you’ve willfully avoided paying money to for an extended period of time?
“It’s incredibly exciting and wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way,” explained bioethicist Laurie Zoloth. “But I also want to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying, and I’m worried that our attention is being drawn away to a glittery future world that is fantasy and not the world we live in.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Bill Gates, the world’s second greatest philanthropist (after Warren Buffet), who expressed that “it seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer” in a Reddit AMA earlier this year.
In any case, whether significant progress of the ilk [Peter] Thiel and co. are searching for will ever be made remains a big “if.” But should one of these projects yield a major discovery, who will benefit? As we’ve gleaned from the plethora of “free” services made flesh (or screen) by these businessmen, there’s no such thing as something for nothing—and that something has largely been handing over our personal data.•
A few days ago, Mark Zuckerberg took a break from collecting your personal information and allowing you to create content for him for free, to answer some questions in a Facebook Q&A. Like most Silicon Valley successes, he likes meditating on the big questions. Stephen Hawking and Jeff Jarvis are among the questioners.
I would like to know a unified theory of gravity and the other forces. Which of the big questions in science would you like to know the answer to and why?
That’s a pretty good one!
I’m most interested in questions about people. What will enable us to live forever? How do we cure all diseases? How does the brain work? How does learning work and how we can empower humans to learn a million times more?
I’m also curious about whether there is a fundamental mathematical law underlying human social relationships that governs the balance of who and what we all care about. I bet there is.
Mark: What do you think Facebook’s role is in news? I’m delighted to see Instant Articles and that it includes a business model to help support good journalism. What’s next?
People discover and read a lot of news content on Facebook, so we spend a lot of time making this experience as good as possible.
One of the biggest issues today is just that reading news is slow. If you’re using our mobile app and you tap on a photo, it typically loads immediately. But if you tap on a news link, since that content isn’t stored on Facebook and you have to download it from elsewhere, it can take 10+ seconds to load. People don’t want to wait that long, so a lot of people abandon news before it has loaded or just don’t even bother tapping on things in the first place, even if they wanted to read them.
That’s easy to solve, and we’re working on it with Instant Articles. When news is as fast as everything else on Facebook, people will naturally read a lot more news. That will be good for helping people be more informed about the world, and it will be good for the news ecosystem because it will deliver more traffic.
It’s important to keep in mind that Instant Articles isn’t a change we make by ourselves. We can release the format, but it will take a while for most publishers to adopt it. So when you ask about the “next thing”, it really is getting Instant Articles fully rolled out and making it the primary news experience people have.
Hi Mark, tell us more about the AI initiatives that Facebook are involved in.
Most of our AI research is focused on understanding the meaning of what people share.
For example, if you take a photo that has a friend in it, then we should make sure that friend sees it. If you take a photo of a dog or write a post about politics, we should understand that so we can show that post and help you connect to people who like dogs and politics.
In order to do this really well, our goal is to build AI systems that are better than humans at our primary senses: vision, listening, etc.
For vision, we’re building systems that can recognize everything that’s in an image or a video. This includes people, objects, scenes, etc. These systems need to understand the context of the images and videos as well as whatever is in them.
For listening and language, we’re focusing on translating speech to text, text between any languages, and also being able to answer any natural language question you ask.
This is a pretty basic overview. There’s a lot more we’re doing and I’m looking forward to sharing more soon.
Also in 10 years time what’s your view on the world where do you think we all will be from a technology perspective and social media?
In 10 years, I hope we’ve improved a lot of how the world connects. We’re doing a few big things:
First, we’re working on spreading internet access around the world through Internet.org. This is the most basic tool people need to get the benefits of the internet — jobs, education, communication, etc. Today, almost 2/3 of the world has no internet access. In the next 10 years, Internet.org has the potential to help connect hundreds of millions or billions of people who do not have access to the internet today.
As a side point, research has found that for every 10 people who gain access to the internet, about 1 person is raised out of poverty. So if we can connect the 4 billion people in the world who are unconnected, we can potentially raise 400 million people out of poverty. That’s perhaps one of the greatest things we can do in the world.
Second, we’re working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use. For example, if we had computers that could understand the meaning of the posts in News Feed and show you more things you’re interested in, that would be pretty amazing. Similarly, if we could build computers that could understand what’s in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn’t see that image, that would be pretty amazing as well. This is all within our reach and I hope we can deliver it in the next 10 years.
Third, we’re working on VR because I think it’s the next major computing and communication platform after phones. In the future we’ll probably still carry phones in our pockets, but I think we’ll also have glasses on our faces that can help us out throughout the day and give us the ability to share our experiences with those we love in completely immersive and new ways that aren’t possible today.
Those are just three of the things we’re working on for the next 10 years. I’m pretty excited about the future.•
Oculus Rift, the VR firm acquired by Facebook, may end up being an educational tool, but its value will depend on if we learn lessons good or bad. Of course, we’ve managed to perpetrate genocide, slavery and other atrocities without any aid from virtual reality. Mark Zuckerberg recently spoke to the efficacy of his new toy, though his words unintentionally came out sounding as much like a threat as a promise, not a first for him. From Kerry Flynn at International Business Times:
Facebook Inc. spent $2 billion to buy Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality wearables, in March 2014. Over a year later, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is still trying to justify the deal. With the Oculus Rift headset, which has yet to hit the consumer market, Facebook wants to “give people the power to experience anything,” Zuckerberg said during a public Q&A held on his Facebook page Tuesday.
“Even if you don’t have the ability to travel somewhere or to be with someone in person, or even if something is physically impossible to build in our analog world, the goal is to help build a medium that will give you the ability to do all of these things you might not otherwise be able to do,” Zuckerberg wrote.•
If any of the current big tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple) exists 50 years from now, would we even recognize it? Google seems especially anxious to remake itself in grand ways, knowing that answering queries might not always pay the bills. With focus on driverless-car software and other moonshots, it has a chance to be that very successful company that used to be a search giant. Remember when? No?!?
Facebook is a dicier proposition. In a category infamous for faddishness, it snaked its way into the American conversation, before constricting into a choke hold. It’s not foundational, though it often feels as if it is. Ello, the social-network phenomenon of the last five minutes, isn’t likely to reach Facebook status because nothing is likely to. But it’s all the rage right now due to the distrust users have for Zuckenberg as a social director. The wariness is warranted. From Ruby J. Murray at the Guardian:
“This year marks a decade since Mark Zuckerberg and his motley crew of 20 year old programmers moved to Palo Alto, California, and defined a new phase in the internet’s infant history with their soothing blue sans-serif. Facebook has succeeded by providing us with a mirror during our early development. It’s inevitable demise will stem from a problem that only starts to hit you as you grow up: the complicated nature of time.
Facebook’s core identity management strategy is its photo albums. They’re the only part of ourselves that it lets us store, search and catalogue in any meaningful way. Narcissus-like, we can organise thousands upon thousands of images of our selves down through the years. There is no similar organizing function for the identities we create as we change: our thoughts, books, links, articles and music.
Considering that Facebook claims American users spend 40 minutes a day on the site – a whopping 243 hours a year – it’s no surprise that our past selves are starting to seem oppressive and unwieldy in their muumuus.
Facebook’s most important social function, the flipside to the photograph, used to be that it truly did give you a place to connect. A shared hive mind with people you would otherwise drift away from. Then Facebook began using a News Feed algorithms and default filters to choose whose posts you saw, they were trying to slow down the wall – and boost the likelihood you’d see Britney Spears’ updates over your friends. Its overall effect was infantalising. When Facebook acts like an overbearing parent, it’s only natural that the adults will want to move out.
The constant data-collection and streams of personalized advertising added injury to the insult of what was already feeling like a tight, airless social space. The internet can seem like so much light and pulses, but its effects are real. Visually and emotionally, the self you inhabit on Facebook is still a child.”
Trusting Facebook or Google or any large data-mining tech corporation with our information, let alone our emotions, is a mistake. And is many cases, it’s not a matter of a poor choice by us–there’s no choice at all. We’re inside that matrix now. The opening of Robert Booth’s Guardian report on Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth executing large-scale psychological experiments on unsuspecting users:
“It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like or loathe Justin Bieber. But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes.
It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of ’emotional contagion.’
In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ ‘positive emotional content,’ resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to ‘negative emotional content’ and the opposite happened.
The study concluded: ‘Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.’
Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was ‘scandalous,’ ‘spooky’ and ‘disturbing.'”
The Bay Area, home of Moneyball, seems to have created a market inefficiency waiting to be exploited: tech workers who’ve reached their thirtieth birthdays. A strong bias in favor of not just young employees but very young ones, a culture with values akin to Logan’s Run, has left talented people fearing their first wrinkle or gray hair. Where will these “olds” go? The opening of Noam Scheiber’s New Republic article “The Brutal Ageism of Tech“:
“I have more botox in me than any ten people,’ Dr. Seth Matarasso told me in an exam room this February.
He is a reality-show producer’s idea of a cosmetic surgeon—his demeanor brash, his bone structure preposterous. Over the course of our hour-long conversation, he would periodically fire questions at me, apropos of nothing, in the manner of my young daughter. ‘What gym do you go to?’ ‘What’s your back look like?’ ‘Who did your nose?’ In lieu of bidding me goodbye, he called out, ‘Love me, mean it,’ as he walked away.
Twenty years ago, when Matarasso first opened shop in San Francisco, he found that he was mostly helping patients in late middle age: former homecoming queens, spouses who’d been cheated on, spouses looking to cheat. Today, his practice is far larger and more lucrative than he could have ever imagined. He sees clients across a range of ages. He says he’s the world’s second-biggest dispenser of Botox. But this growth has nothing to do with his endearingly nebbishy mien. It is, rather, the result of a cultural revolution that has taken place all around him in the Bay Area.
Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. ‘Young people are just smarter,’ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its ‘careers’ page: ‘We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.’
And that’s just what gets said in public.”
“There’s just one catch…”:
I admire Google for its Bell Labs-sized ambitions, but Larry Page telling us to trust his company with our private information is only slightly less ludicrous than Mark Zuckerberg lecturing the President about the NSA. It’s just a ruse to try to convince the more gullible among us that Silicon Valley isn’t Big Brother-ish. That’s a lie, of course. The government and Google and Facebook and, to a good extent, the rest of us, are all working in the same direction: to gather as much data we can to survive in the Information Age. Page and Zuckerberg want what’s inside your head; they even want to implant information there. I don’t doubt that Page has plenty of noble intentions, but a publicly traded behemoth’s largesse only goes so far. The beast must be fed.
From a WSJ report of a conversation between Page and Charlie Rose, a handsome robot who once had an epiphany on a tennis court:
“In what has become a Silicon Valley ritual, Page criticized electronic surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies, based on leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
‘We need to know the parameters of what the government is doing and why,’ Page said. ‘The government has done itself a disservice. I’m sad that Google is in the position of protecting you from what the government is doing.’
When it comes to individuals trying to shield themselves from private companies, however, Page said people shouldn’t be ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water.’
Page suggested sharing information with the ‘right’ companies is important for technology to advance, and that Google is among those companies. ‘We spend a lot of time thinking about these issues,’ he said. ‘The main thing we need to do is provide (users) choice” and show them what data will be used.'”
Facebook, that thing that helps you pretend, turns ten today, which seems an appropriate age for the site’s maturity level. The opening of the first article written about the social network, a piece by Alan J. Tabak published in the February 9, 2004 Harvard Crimson:
“When Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 grew impatient with the creation of an official universal Harvard facebook, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
After about a week of coding, Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com last Wednesday afternoon. The website combines elements of a standard House face book with extensive profile features that allow students to search for others in their courses, social organizations and Houses.
‘Everyone’s been talking a lot about a universal face book within Harvard,’ Zuckerberg said. ‘I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.’
As of yesterday afternoon, Zuckerberg said over 650 students had registered use thefacebook.com. He said that he anticipated that 900 students would have joined the site by this morning.
‘I’m pretty happy with the amount of people that have been to it so far,’ he said. ‘The nature of the site is that each user’s experience improves if they can get their friends to join it.'”
I have major philosophical differences with Facebook, but I seriously doubt it will be a virtual ghost town by 2017. But Princeton researchers, acting as social-media epidemiologists, disagree. So on the day that Sheryl Sandberg became a billionaire (was so pulling for her), some are predicting that the plague will soon be over. From Juliette Garside in the Guardian:
“Facebook has spread like an infectious disease but we are slowly becoming immune to its attractions, and the platform will be largely abandoned by 2017, say researchers at Princeton University.
The forecast of Facebook’s impending doom was made by comparing the growth curve of epidemics to those of online social networks. Scientists argue that, like bubonic plague, Facebook will eventually die out.
The social network, which celebrates its 10th birthday on 4 February, has survived longer than rivals such as Myspace and Bebo, but the Princeton forecast says it will lose 80% of its peak user base within the next three years.
John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, from the US university’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department, have based their prediction on the number of times Facebook is typed into Google as a search term. The charts produced by the Google Trends service show Facebook searches peaked in December 2012 and have since begun to trail off.
‘Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models,’ the authors claim in a paper entitled Epidemiological modelling of online social network dynamics.”
I think one of the sadder aspects of American culture is ageism. If you haven’t accomplished a certain thing by a certain age it seems like you’red disqualified. Just when you’re actually at a point when you can pretty much handle anything. It makes no sense. It comes as no surprise that age discrimination is particularly acute in Silicon Valley. From Andrew S. Ross at the SFGate:
“In fact, tech executives claim to have tens of thousands of jobs going begging, so much so that they need to bring in educated workers from overseas to fill them.
But if demand is outstripping supply, how come so many skilled IT professionals in the Bay Area are out of work? In a nutshell, job experience in the tech industry matters far less than it once did. In fact, it can work against you.
‘It’s been quite a shock, coming out of my last job, which I had for 11 years,’ said Robert Honma, 49, of Sunnyvale, his resume filled with senior tech positions in multinational companies and small startups. He’s been out of work for 10 months. ‘The Facebooks, the Googles are driven by the young.’
Mark Zuckerberg agrees.
Are you concerned that one person and an ethically dubious one, Mark Zuckerberg, is setting the course for the new connectivity? You should be, because it is concerning. But the modern ways will not be unlearned, even if Zuckerberg himself should fall by the wayside. From “Facebook: Like?” by Robert Lane Greene at Intelligent Life, an essay which analyzes fears about the social networking giant but gives equal attention to the positives it provides:
“So for all the capricious decor and talk of breaking things, Facebook is very well aware that the eyes of the world are on it as an incumbent giant, not an insurgent. Besides ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ there are signs telling employees to ‘Stay Focused and Keep Shipping.’ Visitors are greeted warmly, but also presented with the standard Silicon Valley non-disclosure agreement before they can proceed past security. A billion people connected as never before in history. But Facebook also engenders anxiety on levels from the personal to the political, worries about a world in which private lives are always on display. What is 24-hour social networking doing to our self-expression, our self-image, our sense of decorum? Have we finally landed in the ‘global village’ coined by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s? What if you don’t like it there? Is there anywhere else to live?
And what is Facebook, anyway? The most obvious point of historical comparison is the social networks that preceded it. First there was Friendster, the flirt-and-forget site of the first half of the 2000s. Then everyone dumped Friendster for MySpace, and MySpace was bought by News Corp for $580m. Its value soared to $12 billion, and the received wisdom was that MySpace would take over the world. Then it didn’t, and News Corp sold it for $35m, because someone else had finally got social networking right. Started by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, Facebook went from a Harvard dorm room to the rest of teenage America’s bedrooms to hundreds of millions of people all around the world—even parents and grandparents. Along the way, Facebook has fuelled revolutions in the Middle East, and inspired an Oscar-winning movie. Other social networks can only try to build out from the few niches it hasn’t already filled. Facebook is the undisputed champion of the world.
But the real comparison is not with other social networks. To give real credit to its achievement today and its ambitions for the future, it can only be said that Facebook’s true competitor is the rest of the entire internet.” (Thanks Browser.)
Just as the cash register is being placed in our pockets more and more, we are also increasingly products ourselves, handing over what’s in our hearts and minds in exchange for “free” products. From a Daily Beast piece by Dan Lyons, the erstwhile Fake Steve Jobs, about the true cost of doing business today:
“The truth is, we have no interest in protecting your privacy, and if you still believe that we do, then you are stupider than we thought, and believe me, we already thought you were pretty stupid. Think about it. The only way our business works is if we can track what you do and sell that information to advertisers. Did you honestly not realize that?
You are not our customer. You are the product that we sell. For us to say we’re going to protect you is like the poultry industry promising to create more humane living conditions for chickens. Sure, they say that. But you know they don’t mean it.”
Maggie gets scanned, quantified:
Have you noticed that Google searches done from two different locations or on two different computers will return markedly different results? Or that Facebook will feed you what its algortihms have decided you want to the exclusion of all else? Personalization is all the rage, as targeted information can maximize online advertising revenue. But is there a danger in algorithms fragmenting the news we receive based solely on potential profits? Are we getting what we want rather than what we need? Because of the diversity of material online, I’m not so sure this is as huge an issue as it might seem. But Internet advocate Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble, believes it’s a critical flaw in Web 2.0 and took on the issue in his recent TED Talk.
The opening scene of The Social Network, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant takedown of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, features a momentous scene in which the aspiring tech titan is dumped by his girlfriend, Erica Albright, which leads him to begin experimenting with interactivty on the Internet. In the scene, Zuckerberg is presented as a prick and Albright as wronged, but the site Albright has started (it would seem to be real) isn’t exactly short on hubris. On the site, she describes herself as “Yes the Erica Albright who was dating Mark Zuckerberg the founder of the Social Networking website Facebook.” She mentions her long-ago beau and Facebook repeatedly. Well, milk it for all you can, Erica.
One interesting aspect of her posts is that she confirms that plenty of what happens in the movie is fiction, created wholecloth by Sorkin for his remarkably airtight script. The narrative arc of a movie has its demands, and fealty to facts has to be sacrificed. But is it ethical to fictionalize aspects of real people’s lives, especially when those people are alive and young and have most of their futures ahead of them? Zuckerberg took great liberties to achieve what he wanted, but Fincher and Sorkin also took some in making what is the best American film of the year. An excerpt from Albright’s blog:
“I went and saw the movie last night. Kind of crazy that someone is actually playing me in a movie! The movie definitely brought back some great memories….it made me miss my college years that’s for sure! (I feel soooo old) lol (: — I guess you could say the movie is ‘based on a true story’ but there are many scenarios that were soooo made up by Hollywood! As far as the two scenes I’m in, the first one is fairly accurate, we did ‘break-up’ over dinner, I do remember him ripping on my school (that wasn’t the first time)…but the second scene of me at dinner with my friends blowing Mark off never happened. (also he NEVER friended me on Facebook) lol! (:”
I suppose I should be losing sleep over Facebook’s questionable practices regarding privacy, but I’m not. What really bothers me about Mark Zuckerberg’s toy is how utterly prosaic a product it is. Zuckerberg hasn’t come up with anything great or original; his chief accomplishments are recognizing a niche in the market and having the brass to not sell the company to a big media conglomerate that would have bungled the whole thing. Facebook isn’t a perfect design like the iPod but a creeping mediocrity with some utility. It’s a global high school yearbook, and its success largely stems from how uninventive it is. John C. Dvorak explains further in his new PCmag.com article, “Why I Don’t Use Facebook.” (Thanks Reddit.) An excerpt:
“Which begs the question as to why anyone would use Facebook when it is essentially AOL done right? The fastest growing group on Facebook are people in their 70’s. Oldsters are flocking to Facebook the way they once did with AOL. Facebook is a simple system for the masses that do not really care about technology and do not want to learn anything new except something easy like Facebook.
Whenever someone tells me to check out something on Facebook, I recall the heyday of AOL with its keywords. ‘Go to the Internet at www.blah.com or AOL keyword: blah. This was a common comment on the nightly news or in magazines. The AOL keyword is replaced by the Facebook page name.
There is no reason for anyone with any chops online to be remotely involved with Facebook, except to peruse it for lost relatives. So, next time you log on, remember it’s really AOL with a different layout.
Welcome to the past.”
Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year made me recall an ominous passage from early in The Medium Is The Massage: An Inventory of Effects, from 1967. Not that I think that things are quite this dire, but Marshall McLuhan was pretty prophetic here. An excerpt:
“How much do you make? Have you ever contemplated suicide? Are you now or have you ever been…? I have here before me…Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions–the patterns of mechanistic technologies–are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval by the electrically computerized dossier bank–that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early ‘mistakes.’ We have already reached a point where remedial control, born out of knowledge of media and their total effects on all of us, must be exerted. How shall the new environment be programmed now that we have become so involved with each other, now that all of us have become the unwitting work force for social change? What’s that buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzing?”