I'd argue that fear not Facebook brings out the worse in people - fear about income or place in society.
In my view, the real cause of the recent rise tribalism is rising social inequality and corrupt politics doing nothing about it.
You could argue then why hasn't democracy acted?
I'd argue that it's paid for content - whether it's ads or partisan coverage, lobbyists, paid shills, or astroturfed pressure groups all managed by professional manipulators ( ad people ) - that's the problem, not the medium ( Facebook or TV/radio or whatever).
Why haven't politicians acted decisively on climate change? I don't think it's the Internets fault.
People keep saying inequality but I'm still searching for a convincing argument as to why my neighbour's life getting better should make me unhappy. I really don't see it.
The problem is more likely to be that employee productivity has been completely delinked from compensation. That means that a lot of economic measurements showing good times are irrelevant. Eg, to a typical worker productivity growth prior to ~1971 meant better living conditions. Productivity growth after 1971 means nothing. Recipe for political disaster, because now the workforce has no particular incentive to make things better. Technological improvements just mean layoffs or expenses reeducating.
I can easily see why I should be unhappy about that. If I go from being responsible for 1% of a companies output to 2%, why isn't there a mechanism for me to get more money? I dream for a world where workers automatically own a significant share of the company.
> You could argue then why hasn't democracy acted?
Everyone agrees on symptoms, there is plausible deniability about the problems because there is just enough disagreement on the root cause.
Parents are working, but children can't find a well paying job or put down a deposit for a house. The trend in life expectancy is even reversing.
The concept of justice and fairness comes in to play as well - it's not just about whether people feel they have enough, it's about whether they feel they are getting a fair share.
If you went to work and got paid the living wage ( just enough to get by ) and somebody else doing the same job got paid more - most people would feel it was unfair and be unhappy.
It's only people who are in special job categories today (like say programmers) who have so much opportunity. And nothing lasts forever.
It's psychology, not logic; there need not be a convincing argument why it should be so.
It's easy to see that people care more about relative wealth than absolute wealth. We have more wealth now than ancient people could have imagined, our basic needs are easily satisfied, but we still work and compete for the power and status that comes from relative wealth.
It is known  that people are terrible at estimating what the actual rate of inequality is. If they aren't using data to come up with their opinions, why would this psychological effect trigger now in the late 2010s instead of some other time?
Feeling bad about gaps between your wealth and your peers is a real effect, but it doesn't scale up to societal levels because people by and large can't detect changes in inequality at that scale. They have no idea what the actual wealth distribution is. I don't actually know it, and I suspect if you wanted to actually say what it was you'd have to go look up the Gini coefficient or something. Psychological effects don't trigger at a large scale when people need to look up statistics to realise that they should be triggered. That isn't how psychology usually works.
It seems much more likely something is happening locally in people's own lives or amongst their small social circle.
> people by and large can't detect changes in inequality at that scale. They have no idea what the actual wealth distribution is
Everyone knows how wealthy Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos are. They may not know the entire wealth distribution but they can detect the presence of the new robber barons.
> why would this psychological effect trigger now in the late 2010s instead of some other time?
It didn't just trigger in the late 2010s. It's been a major force since at least 2008.
Of course, you could be an exception. Most likely though, you are richer than what you consider your closer peers (especially considering that we're on HN).
PS. Sorry for not posting references. It should be fairly easy to look up for the interested though.
I think it's that, and the average people who don't realize what they're digesting and who think it's organic. Perhaps I'm being nostalgic, but I don't remember another time when so many average people had over-inflated notions regarding the power and reach of their thoughts.
Not that they didn't have strong opinions, but I don't remember anyone outside of nutjobs believing that those opinions should, by default, carry so much weight. Now your average, middle aged Facebook addict thinks that they're on a mission from God.
Of course, the techno-utopian view would probably hold that some new version of curation can/will arise to address the issue, so that's one possible counter argument to the author's pessimism. In fact we seem to be in the early stages with platforms trying (albeit very, very, very imperfectly) to filter out false, misleading, or harmful content.
A cynical view would be that this author wants a pulpit from which to preach The Truth unchallenged, and resents the diversity of viewpoints that come from the internet.
I subscribe the idea that the internet produces diverse echo chambers, but not necessarily a plurality of opinions engaged in healthy debate.
Maybe I'm an idealist, but I think the biggest issue with today's media stems from the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine with no adequate replacement (media-ownership rules, increased public broadcasting, etc.)
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm not sure it is the business of government to be deciding what is or isn't healthy debate or trying to encourage it. It's far too easy to decide that healthy is things that agree with you, and unhealthy is everything else. This is routine in a number of places in the world that I would rather not live in.
This is quite aside from the practical questions of how a person might square the constitutional questions around the Fairness Doctrine with the internet. The considerations that allowed it to apply to radio and TV don't work in an internet context.
Call me an idealist, but I don't see why we need to structure things around deciding for the public what speech they are and aren't allowed to be exposed to. We're mostly talking about adults generally capable of making their own decisions, aren't we?
I think it's the business of government to encourage debate, as that's really the same as encouraging education. The government wasn't providing agendas on what ought to be discussed when the Fairness Doctrine was in place, just forcing people to debate a little more
We absolutely need a "you should read this, not because youll enjoy it, but because its good for you and us."
Drudge report meets http://aldaily.com and http://redef.com
There is a central mechanism where HN in the form of dang or whoever making decisions, and there is community-sourced curation in the form of upvotes, downvotes, and flags. None of this amounts to the sort of authoritarian or censorship you seem to imply.
What you do is post snarky comments that don't advance the conversation and instead promotes unproductive conflict. Clearly you don't think lack of curation or moderators or whatever is a problem. But it's easy to state an opinion without justifying it. Harder to make a contribution that shares a different viewpoint in a way that improves the overall quality of dialog.
Compared to the peaceful millennia that preceded it?
And some of the tropes Mr Trump appeals to are rooted in Sectarinisiam - don't forget the KKK started as anti Catholic.
Should Caxton overrule the translator and restore the original text? Or should he let the censorship stand, implying that, even if such insults were acceptable in ancient Athens or medieval Cairo, they were now beyond the pale? After many sentences of ornate hand-wringing, he tried to have it both ways. [...] As soon as he made his decision, he attempted to rationalize it. In the rest of the epilogue, he seemed to imply that he wasn’t a gatekeeper after all—that, although he was clearly a publisher, his printing press should be treated more like a platform. He was merely serving his customers, he suggested: they deserved to hear all perspectives and make up their own minds.
Later, it goes on to describe how the printing press allowed Martin Luther to "shake Saint Peter's throne," but also to produce and distribute "the first work of modern anti-Semitism and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust." (I'm quoting the passages the article quotes, from historians Elizabeth Eisenstein and Paul Johnson respectively.)
The article isn't suggesting that the Internet is all the dark side here -- it's suggesting that the "techno-utopians" seriously underestimated the potential for their inventions to be misused, and that that really isn't different from what happened with the printing press. The difference now is the scale, speed and reach. But as the note at the end of the article reads, the print headline for this piece was "The More Things Change."
potential story that gets told by future historians: we were doing pretty well as a civilization, harnessing powerful technologies, spreading western-style democracy and freedom around the world, and figuring out how to make a better, more fair and just world. then, we invented the internet. within a generation, we had become pettily obsessed with image and fake internet points. massive amounts of disinformation from powerful self-interested sources stifled debate on the important issues of the day. climate change went unchecked, even while far-right nationalists rose to prominence around the world by harnessing the worst forces of racism and bigotry which had been successfully repressed by the mainstream media that collapsed after the internet became widely adopted.
not saying this is what i believe, but i definitely think this is a viable narrative and may become dominant, especially if things continue to go downhill from a fake-news, polarization, and "society-of-the-spectacle" perspective. the kids living in the rubble left over after right- and left-wingers go to war over some really convincing fake video might really wish the internet hadn't been invented.
actually, imagining this kind of stuff is exactly what the original article is asking of us, the community building the technology. like, at least admit the possibility that it's not all daisies and sunshine and things might turn out -- less than optimal.
I tend to be more optimistic about the future and technological progress on the whole, but if we are headed toward a great filter or massive reset, then modern technology might be judged as a negative development by the survivors. We really don't know what the long-term effect of civilization is yet. We're still in the experimental stage.
But are we right about that? To answer questions like that we have to make up counterfactuals, which are hard and hand wavey. Maybe we would never get the Reformation, and so the Catholic Church would still be burning heretics (a different spin on the modern day burning man), but as the article points out, maybe we also wouldn't have the haulocast...
I personally agree with historians like Yuval Noah harrari that it's been all downhill since agriculture
Technology amplifies our nature. It is a neutral force. Being mindful and having empathy are not just good habits but foundational to being healthy and happy in the 21st century.
None of these articles place as much emphasis on the selling-off of our regulatory systems, the dismantling of election law, the homogenization of American thought in the televisual era, or the truly rampant epidemics of complacency, addiction, hedonism, and consumerism as possible catalysts behind a nation rapidly declining into total social schism.
this sentiment is illustrative of the world that the internet has created. on the internet, you never have to deal with something that bores you -- you can always open a new tab and do something else.
in the real world, unfortunately, the same old annoying stuff keeps coming up, and you have to keep dealing with it. like... i'm going to have to brush my teeth twice a day for the rest of my life, there will never come a time when i can just stop watching what i eat, and i'm going to have to keep dealing with the consequences of social media, including talking about it's effects, making choices about it, and convincing my friends and anyone who will listen to make choices about it, no matter how old and annoying it may have become.
one thing that gives me energy on stuff like this (by stimulating my brain) is to use my imagination. what i mean is, it seems like we've talked this subject to death, but nothing's really changed so far. maybe a slight shift in public opinion, maybe people don't assume technology must be good quite so readily as before. but try to imagine what the world could look like.
reality has this oppressive weight that restricts your thinking. "this is how the world is, so this is how it must be; in fact, this is good simply for existing. anyone who questions it doesn't get it.". it's much harder to imagine a counterfactual better world. for instance, what if instead of clumping into like-minded herds that re-enforce each other's ideas even when wrong, people on the internet connected with others who are really unlike them most of the time (maybe through something like airbnb)? or, what if there was a group/agency charged with maintaining factual accuracy on the internet (this idea comes from a novel called infomacracy). or, what if you could get people to connected better in real life (like the bash' in "too like the lightning"). imagining different worlds gives you a lens through which to critique the current one, and also gives you something to work towards.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that this is flat-out untrue, it's just that the repeated cashing-in on an old and reductionistic theories of current events is becoming increasingly transparent. It's akin to thinkers like J.B. Peterson criticizing postmodernism 10-15 years after the movement ended, and solely by repeating the arguments that ended it. It might be true or consistent or whatever, but the point is that it focuses the dialogue on a too-narrow set of theories about the world.
Even your own statement, "Internet bad, makes people incapable of dealing with boredom" is a trope that, regardless of its truth value, doesn't address deeper issues with human communication and entertainment. People essentially said the same things about TV's 40-50 years ago: "you don't have to be bored, just change the channel!"
This preserves the market dynamics and keeps the government from controlling the press, while still effectively making the press government-funded, as it should be, because access to timely and accurate news is a public good.
Facebook is the perfect outlet for every dingus who thinks themselves transgressive for having a cruel opinion or two but who can't handle the the cost of social ostracism.
This outlet reinforces and radicalizes beliefs gradually because there is no obvious "cost" or "censure" for saying horrible things about your fellow man except, perhaps, being unfollowed. The most unwell in our society use sites like facebook and 4chan and particularly their say-anything mechanism as incubators for their paranoia and rage and then go kill people. There's an obvious cause and effect here, even if the person was unwell prior to engaging with the site.
So, no, it's not Facebook's fault that people think and say this stuff, but it has created a mechanism to amplify it. And the design of the system, driven by "engagement" (aka addiction), creates a negative feedback loop. The more awful something is, the angrier we get, the more we engage, comment, argue, and the higher it climbs in the feed.
They are definitely responsible for this algorithm, at the very least.
On the whole, and in general, I agree. But I think it's worth digging in a bit deeper here.
Technology can amplify the nature of its users, if it's designed to do so. The extent to which this will or won't happen, however, also depends on design decisions made by its creators, whether intentionally or not. Technology in the abstract may be a neutral force, but specific technologies in practice very much are not; its creators have an outsized influence on what ends up happening on the platform. (See Facebook's surfacing of posts in the News Feed by "engagement" for example.)
What's concerning is how much reddit has gone downhill in the last few years. I used to swear by it but you can see how the Chinese investment in it has changed it. Also, the political atmosphere has made it very one-sided as a whole instead of balanced.
I always think of 'E=mc^2' could be used to build a bomb or a reactor, it comes down to the intent and focus of the creator.
How so? I use reddit (and as a side note am pissed that my username was already taken) daily and it hasn't really changed, in my estimation. What do you see that makes you say this?
This is a common myth that ignores a century of philosophical thought on the subtle interplay between technology and behavior. Good parts and bad parts—often unintended—but certainly not neutral:
- Jacques Ellul insists that 'technique carries with it its own effects quite apart from how it is used... No matter how it is used, it has of itself a number of positive and negative consequences. This is not just a matter of intention'
- Don Ihde, the philosopher, has argued that particular tools unavoidably select, amplify and reduce aspects of experience in various ways
- Abbe Mowshowitz, a computer scientist, argues that 'tools insist on being used in particular ways'
- Neil Postman insists that 'the printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another... we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are.'
That said, "technology" is a term that covers a lot of things, essentially creating a spectrum of neutrality. For instance, on a direct level, a gun affords killing and coercing with threats of violence. Second-order effects, however, involve complex implications on politics, society and economy. Still, you may declare it "mostly bad". But then let's look at its component - gunpowder, chemicals used in modern ammunition, or explosives in general. Are they force of bad? They don't afford killing as much. Then look at the theoretical chemistry and engineering knowledge around those substances. Those have as much if not more clearly benign applications as they have malicious ones.
Similarly, targeted advertising on-line may be evil, cookies less so. TCP? Ethernet? Those are all "technologies".
I don't think the second assertion follows from the first. This is a tech forum, right? What do we talk about all the time? "Scalability." Can this business scale up & can this tech scale up are eternal questions here and it's commonly understood that some techs don't scale and you'll have to change if growth continues. The same applies for many of the business models discussed here, no one bats an eye at a discussion involving a company where it jumpstarts growth with one strategy and then transitions to another strategy as it grows.
But, but but! We come to humans and there seems to be a faith in our infinite scalability. And not just that we can scale infinitely but that we can do it without changing. That seems incorrect. Seen this way it's not just a question of how far we can push the 'mindfulness' and 'empathy' of humans but whether they will have to give way to other traits as we push them. How far they go, what they morph into, all of this plays into the value of the 'force' and maybe it is neutral, but it's far from a given.
Technology might be morally neutral, but since amplification can bring things to an unrecoverable limit, it isn't neutral in the sense of producing balanced outcomes. If we manage to cure cancer, and blow up the world, we're all still dead.
A nuclear bomb is just technology, and is very decidedly not a neutral force.
EDIT: Another counter-example that they used all the time in my Ethics Engineering class was the low-hanging bridge, which served to segregate white-folk from black-folk in New York City.
City Busses cannot pass a low-hanging bridge. So by carefully crafting neighborhoods surrounded by low-hanging bridges, you can prevent bus-traffic, and therefore African Americans from visiting certain neighborhoods.
If you were a Civil Engineer and you were expected to build an anti-bus bridge today, should you, or should you not, build the bridge? This is a fundamental ethics question. As the engineer, your ethics are marked upon the products you make.
No, that is not correct. The "gain" of the amplification is VERY unevenly distributed. For example, nuclear weapons only amplify the force of the biggest and most powerful countries. Outside of thermonuclear warfare, technologies like social media greatly advantage hucksters and propagandist over the calm and rational.
But does technology amplify mindfulness and empathy?
It seems to me that technology is a one-sided amplifier. It only amplifies the aspects that are, in the end, profitable for big companies.
"By nature" is not a useful qualifier here. Maybe it's nature, maybe it's nurture; either way, I for one think it would be better if more people were "mindful and empathetic", regardless of whether you attribute that gain to societal encouragement or the removal of societal discouragement.
As long as people are part of the same tribe. Plenty of small communities who aren't terribly empathetic to outsiders, minorities or foreigners.
(I don't mind these articles, because I think this topic should be constantly on the mind of anyone building consumer tech services - but maybe thinking that anything will happen as a result is wishful, I hope not)
A horrible statement in an otherwise decent article. There's a lot of work to be done in keeping these platforms safe, I agree. The article does a really good job of highlighting the uncontrollable growth these communities experienced and the founders' inability to control it.
But to state that an interconnected world is "at best" arguably better? The author comes off as a luddite who disregards the largest human network in history, just because of their anger towards Zuckerberg or Facebook as a corporation. Things need to change, but let's not downplay what we're dealing with here. There has been so much commercial, personal, and community growth thanks to Facebook's network effects. This isn't about the wealth of a single individual anymore.
Maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t. Certainly the interconnectedness in general is moving us forward.
But Facebook in particular is amazing at capturing your attention and manipulating your emotions to get you to spend more time in Facebook. It is a responsive actor that learns what you respond to, and it’s interests are not aligned with yours.
Without Facebook, would we have settled on something less malicious?
That’s impossible to say.
It is undeniably moving us. I can't imagine the argument that it's not moving us. But I'd submit unless you mean "forward" in the trivial temporal sense, I am unconvinced it's "forward" in the general sense.
I blame as the root cause the mismatch of incentives between Facebook making money via advertising vs. the user's desires and goals. Advertising gives Facebook billions of dollars worth of incentives to invade privacy, hook people to ways of giving up their personal info, manipulating them in ways to ever up "engagement" with the ads specifically (not just the service in general). That's a big negative in my book, possibly as large as "break the political system" large.
On the positive side, we can't credit Facebook with everything thats happens on their service. At best they get the difference of the good social interactions that happen today minus the ones that were already happening without them (and can still happen without them), e.g., school and family reunions and parties happened before Facebook.
Until we do something to remove these incentives created as a second-order effect of trying to build services on top of advertising alone, anything is going to be toxic, whether or not it's called "Facebook".
The Internet is now primarily a tool for serving eyeballs to advertisers at any and all costs, rather than a tool for serving people. How can any other outcome occur until that is fixed?
I think the world may have been better for a little while, during the era of the chronological timeline (maybe not), but facebook has devolved into a surveillance machine feeding us echo chambers.
I think "more connected" is a hard sell and "better" is false.
This isn't thanks to the efforts of Facebook, but a byproduct of their huge social graph. I don't like Facebook as a company but I recognize the value in this, especially for people in less developed countries.
While everyone probably has a few examples of friends they otherwise wouldn't have kept in touch with, that is so far from those optimistic hopes that we stopped debating the possibility about five years ago and don't even make fun of it even more these days.
Seriously, how would your life change dramatically without Facebook?
This is a strange hill to die on, because I really don't agree with most of the company's actions. Yet every time I'm outside of the U.S, I see how important Facebook is to a lot of communities. I could be wrong, but I've just seen large social graphs like Facebook's create value. Hence my surprise to the author insinuating it's made the world a worse place.
Ironically enough the people that benefit the most from the product aren't the primary source of income, as I'm sure first world users are valued higher per ad dollar.
> had Hillary Clinton been elected, as most people expected, it’s unlikely that social-media founders would now have as much reason to reckon with what they’ve wrought
who's most people? It's sad to see people die on hills but sometimes they bring it upon themselves.