The Internet is sorry. Mark Zuckerberg isn't

by Peter Griffin / 17 May, 2018

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

RelatedArticlesModule - Facebook mark zuckerberg

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, left; vice-president of VR, Hugo Barra, demonstrates how to use Oculus Go. Photo/Getty Images

While Mark Zuckerberg forges on with his creepy matchmaking plans, prominent tech innovators lambaste the industry in The Internet Apologizes.

You have to wonder whether Mark Zuckerberg is capable of experiencing the cognitive dissonance I feel every time I scroll through the newsfeed he serves me.

Last week, he chose to follow up his grilling on Capitol Hill over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal by announcing that Facebook is moving into online dating. Later this year, you’ll be able to opt into a dating service that will link you with like-minded people who are not in your current circle of Facebook friends. Zuckerberg’s algorithms will serve as the matchmaker.

“This is going to be for building real long-term relationships, not just hookups,” was his potshot at dating app Tinder.

I thought he was joking; the stupid grin on his face as he broke the news at Facebook’s annual F8 conference suggested so. Here we have one of the most powerful tech companies in the world scrambling to rebuild trust in its platform and he responds by asking Facebook users to trust him with their love lives?

It was just another day in Silicon Valley, a day in which he also launched a virtual-reality (VR) headset from Oculus, the company he scooped up in a $2 billion acquisition in 2015. The headset will sell for $282 and, in the short-term, mainly play games and movies. But Zuckerberg’s plan for VR is much more immersive and, yes, creepy.

He wants the Facebook newsfeed and your timeline of memories to be rendered in virtual reality – all with the intention, like the dating app, of keeping you plugged into Facebook.

Zuckerberg says it will take three years to fix the myriad problems besetting Facebook, from inadequate privacy protection to the dissemination of fake news and hate speech across the network. But instead of focusing on fixing it, he doubles down.

You have to hand it to the guy: he doesn’t let a crisis hold him back. But a growing number of his Silicon Valley contemporaries are sensing the overwhelming cognitive dissonance and are starting to speak up.

In the fascinating series The Internet Apologizes, which is running in New York magazine, a number of tech-sector pioneers, including former colleagues of Zuckerberg’s, are unpicking what has gone wrong with Silicon Valley.

It boils down to a handful of common factors: the advertising-driven model, which has created some perverse incentives in the digital realm; the coupling of unfettered capitalism with the network effect of the internet; and the resulting accompanying accumulation of massive wealth by a small band of powerful tech robber-barons.

In one of the magazine stories, venture capitalist and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee laments the beast he helped create: “You marry the social triggers to personalised content on a device that most people check on their way to pee in the morning and as the last thing they do before they turn the light out at night. You have a persuasion engine unlike any created in history.”

In another article, Jaron Lanier, who developed some of the first VR headsets and now works at Microsoft Research, describes a type of “digital Maoism” in the Valley: “You have just a very small number of individuals who become hyperempowered and everybody else loses power.” He goes on to say Silicon Valley has disrupted all the functions of society: politics, finance, education, media and relationships. “We’ve put ourselves in the middle of everything; we’ve absolutely won. But we don’t act like it.”

Antonio García Martínez, who helped build Facebook’s advertising machine, describes Silicon Valley these days as “this almost sociopathic scene”, a world away from the hippie socialists who pioneered personal computing and the internet’s first generation of services.

“This is where they just wade into the whole cesspit of human psychology. I mean, the reality is that Facebook is cognitive dissonance at scale. The real problem is not Facebook – it’s humans.”

The full interviews are grim reading, but also provide hope. These are not tech outcasts; they are respected innovators speaking up. However, their movement needs critical mass to avoid Facebook ending up like a bad date.

This article was first published in the May 19, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' series
93157 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' s…

by North & South

The breakout Youtube star talks about 'How to Dad', paternity leave, and his own dad.

Read more
With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?
93834 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z World

With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?…

by Paul Thomas

The US President treats his Western allies to a tongue-lashing while cosying up to Vladimir Putin, causing alarm at home and around the world.

Read more
Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scarily relevant
93831 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Television

Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scar…

by Diana Wichtel

Only Bernie Sanders comes out unscathed in Sacha Baron Cohen’s absurdist new series Who Is America?

Read more
Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. These are our top picks
93885 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Wine

Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. The…

by Michael Cooper

Quality rather than quantity drives New Zealand's organic wine producers.

Read more
Killer robots: The question of how to control lethal autonomous weapons
93876 2018-07-20 08:23:45Z Tech

Killer robots: The question of how to control leth…

by Peter Griffin

The computer scientist who has become a leading voice on the threat posed by killer robots describes himself as an “accidental activist”.

Read more
The man who's making sure performing artists are seen in the regions
93813 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Theatre

The man who's making sure performing artists are s…

by Elisabeth Easther

For 35 years, Steve Thomas has been at the helm of Arts On Tour, taking musical and theatrical acts from Kaitaia to Stewart Island.

Read more
The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sustainably
93645 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Economy

The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sus…

by Sharon Stephenson

Millenials are leading the rise of the eco economy.

Read more
Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restaurant-bar in Ponsonby
93862 2018-07-19 15:05:51Z Auckland Eats

Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restauran…

by Kate Richards

Rum, cigars and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at new Ponsonby restaurant, Cuba Libre.

Read more