Why Facebook Isn't Free
Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author.
Lanier's name is also often associated with Virtual Reality research. He is credited with either coining or popularizing the term 'Virtual Reality' and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products. In the late 1980s he led the team that developed the first implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays, for both local and wide area networks, as well as the first "avatars", or representations of users within such systems.
Jaron Lanier: Right now the advent of better and better information tools is having a contracting effect, where more and more the economy is being made efficient in this way that concentrates the wealth of those who make it efficient. I mean, just think about the day that all those cabbies out there lose their job because the cars are driving themselves. What are they going to do? I don't think they'll be happy, but whoever does that will become very, very rich. So whoever owns the top server in a big efficiency-making exercise becomes very, very rich. So there is this huge concentration even as the overall economy is shrunk as a result.
So the valuation of Facebook is just completely normal given the way information technology is being integrated into this society, and it's not the last. This will just keep on happening until we realize that it's not sustainable. And there’s nothing wrong with Facebook being treated as valuable. The only problem is that it should be increasing value for everybody.
I'm going to use a different company as an example, an old less fashionable one, which is Walmart. So, Walmart was one of the pioneers of using computer networks to make the world efficient for -- consumers anyway. Walmart in the 80s and 90s started to develop its own version of digital networking, especially in the 90s, to precisely calibrate who to buy from at the best price, where to ship it exactly, when and how to ship it, and how to stock it and at which store when, I mean this whole incredible system, and as a result of that it was able to look to offer lower prices to its customers. And everybody said, “Yay, lower prices!” But the thing is, it became so big so fast, which is what happens when you do digital networking, that it kind of took over the world and changed its own environment to make the whole environment of retailing consumer goods and creating them more efficient in this certain way that impoverished its own customer base. So all of the sudden its very own customers have fewer job prospects. All of the sudden its customer base gets poorer, and now it's kind of dug itself into this rut, where Walmart is no longer as exciting a retailer as it was because what's it going to do? And it's trying to sort of climb upscale, but it can't because its customer base can't support it.
So to me Facebook is essentially Walmart for a new generation, but Facebook is saying, “Free services, free social networking! Free! Free!” and everybody is saying “Yay, it's free!” But then the problem with that is that the job prospects for the vast majority of people are actually gradually decreasing as less and less stuff is monetized.
So what you want to do to have an information-based economy and preserve capitalism is to monetize more and more of the world instead of less and less of the world because you want the market to be growing instead of shrinking. But the problem with the Facebook approach is it's monetizing less and less because to say, “No, all this is free. Your reward for participating is reputation, karma, connections” -- and all those things are very real, but they're not monetized. They're not securable. You can't get a house mortgage based on your Facebook reputation
What I would do is I would turn it into this commerce platform so that people can send money around for things and then I'd gradually start to adjust it so people are monetizing more and more, so people can put up their art to sell to others either with a Kickstarter type of a thing or an app store kind of a thing. It doesn't, you know, it would have to be tweaked to find exactly the right model, but I would start to turn it into real commerce so that people who were good at using Facebook start to make some money and the economy overall starts to expand instead of contract as a results of its existence. And I think that's a happier outcome. It would be better for Facebook. It would create a better return for Facebook's investors in the long term -- even in the short term.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier argues that free technologies like Facebook come with a hidden and heavy cost – the livelihoods of their consumers.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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