Y’all remember Sean Parker? He was kind of important in the early days of Facebook (and before that Napster) and so now he’s a billionaire. He’s the one who was played by Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network,” the quite excellent film about Facebook’s beginnings. He’s basically the one who realized the potential of the idea and convinced Mark Zuckerberg to expand it beyond a couple of college campuses to the rest of the world.
Now, he’s shared some regrets. In a speech in Philadelphia (which was supposed to be all about cancer research, because that’s what he’s into now) he said “The thought process that went into building (Facebook and all that kind of stuff) was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'”
That doesn’t really sound that odd. It’s what TV has been trying to do for years, radio before that, and newspapers before that. It’s what we do with each other in our private lives. Some people are needier than others, but we all want at least a bit of others’ time and attention.
“And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments. It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Perhaps so, but if all it takes to give people a bit of validation, a sense of communication with the greater society, is a like button and a few emojis, I count that as over all a social plus. Yeah, maybe it means people don’t go out as much. Maybe people don’t talk face to face as much.
But a lot of people didn’t socialize that much to start with. Facebook is popular because it filled a need. Some day (I hope it’s soon) somebody will come along and invent something more popular than Facebook, an even more vibrant artificial life style, and we’ll all jump ship.
So, thanks for the warning , Sean, but it’s too late. Facebook is the kind of thing which was bound to happen in an environment of internet innovation. It’s sort of like with Democracy. The people get what the people deserve.