Over the holidays, a couple introduced me to their son who was visiting from Boston. As he was a young man, I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a medical researcher and was working on a drug for multiple sclerosis. A lump hardened in my throat as I remembered a bright-eyed student of mine who died young from the disease. I shook the visitor’s hand in a spontaneous gesture, never doubting that each day he headed to his job with a sense of purpose.
Contrast his work to that of some of the best minds in technology. According to Jeffery Hammerbacher, a pioneer with Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of Facebook, these talented and gifted engineers spend their days focusing on “how to make people click ads.” (“Lose The Blinders,” by Zeynap Tufekci, Wired, Jan 2019, pg. 14.)
Hammerbacher’s remark poses an overwhelming question. Is there another way to bring people together without manipulating them or invading their privacy? Would folks pay to use social media? At first blush, perhaps not. To be honest, I use email with my personal friends. Facebook helps me acquaint others with my books. I’ve met some delightful people in the process, some as far away as Australia, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda… Email, alone, never would had widened my circle of acquaintances like that.
So, knowing what I do today, I ask again, would I pay for social media? Yes. I’d never dream of parting with my foreign friends, or those located in states across the country. I pay for other internet services without grumbling. Netflix is an example.
Zuckerberg’s goal to put people around the globe in touch with one another is laudatory. What’s more, it’s had some positive effects. Arab Spring comes to mind. Unfortunately, bad guys have corrupted his vision. Dictators buy his information and use it against their citizens. Given that reality, paying fees to eliminate data collection seems a fair deal. Apple requires it and no one is calling them a failure.