Quite the fascinating article today by Chris Hughes, one of the group of plucky young Harvard students who founded Facebook. In response to the recent Facebook fracas, Hughes suggests not merely that we regulate Big Data companies like Facebook but that we find a way to share the revenue with the pubic, with the users. Here’s how Hughes puts it: “the principle underlying it should be clear: companies that benefit from the data we voluntarily provide should be required to protect it and to share that wealth with the people who made it possible.”
So pundits and politicians are up in arms about Facebook exposing our data. My question: what did we expect, exactly? Is there anyone still naive enough to believe that corporations are working for the best interest of the public? Did we expect that Facebook would forego the pursuit of profit and make the public good it’s sole priority? I suspect that most of us, the common folk, aren’t as worked up as the columnists and the talking heads on TV. We follow the money. We know why Facebook exists, and it isn’t for some hippie purpose of making the world a better place or to bring the world closer, as Facebook puts it in their mission statement.
No one wants to be a cog in the machine. That’s one of the values that we post-Baby Boomers were taught. We were encouraged to pursue our passions, to follow our dreams, and to be our true selves. Americans are especially enamored by individuals who buck convention to pursue their own idea of freedom. We idealize the cowboy on the open plain, the pioneer forging ahead into the frontier, and yes, even the hippie. Whether it’s The Dude abiding or Clint Eastwood riding into town with one hand on his holster, our greatest heroes are not cogs in a machine. Yet most of us are cogs in the machine. The economic system of capitalism flourishes from such cogs, from the “yes man” who dutifully follows orders within a massive, impersonal corporation. Clint Eastwood isn’t the corporate type.
Manhunt is an intriguing series. It dramatizes the story of Ted Kaczynski, aka the UNABOMBER. Those of us who grew up in the Nineties remember the story of bombs that arrived by mail and exploded in the hands of the recipients. It went on for years and years, the FBI’s most expensive manhunt. The new Netflix series, Manhunt, is a compelling crime story, but it’s far more. Before he was caught, Kaczynski was actually able to negotiate to have his manifesto printed in the Washington Post. At the time, the public dismissed the manifesto whose premise seemed ridiculous: The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. It was easy enough, back then, to reject Kaczynski as mentally insane, but this Netflix series raises the provocative question: was Ted Kaczynski right?
A bit of trivia: Which nation invented the Internet? Which nation’s tax dollars helped build the infrastructure of the Internet? Which nation’s consumers gets the worst deal (i.e. they pay some of the highest prices for Internet connection while at the same time getting fairly mediocre service)? Yes, oh yes, the answer is one and the same for all questions: The United States of America. Like so many things, the Internet was a publicly funded enterprise paid for with our tax dollars, then it was essentially given to a few corporations so that they could monetize it. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts last year made $33 million. #thankscapitalism But things don’t have to be this way. There are real alternatives, and we have a unique opportunity, now, to change course.
This just in, from a recent Guardian article: The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee’s vision for an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators. “I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,” said the British computer scientist.
Question: What’s stopping us from just taking over Facebook? We live in an era of rage, and rage is an appropriate response to the nearly unprecedented level of cultural and political corruption, but unless outrage has a productive direction to go in, it just ends up with…well, with Trump & Co. What we need is creativity, imagining new possibilities for society, beyond the sound-bytes and clichés that both conservatives and liberals have been fighting about for decades. So, here’s an idea: We take over Facebook