Now that the LUPA/PAUL stocks have (mostly) gone public – Lyft, Uber, Pinterest and Airbnb), these supposed category killers aren’t exactly killing it in the stock market. It’ll be interesting to see how the massively funded We Company (nee WeWork) does and despite all of this, we’re still witnessing massive funding rounds. Vice, for one, despite its stalled growth, recently raised $250M, a pittance compared to the $575M raised by Deliveroo. At some point, growth does stall; hockey stick growth is unsustainable or as Douglas Rushkoff, author of Team Human et al, said at the Techonomy conference in New York last week, “exponential growth is a problem. The only thing that can grow exponentially forever is cancer, and then it kills its host.”
We’ve known Rushkoff personally since the early days of Web 1.0, which, he reminded us, was when we all innocently believed that the web would distract us from the insular world of television and bring us together, which Mark Zuckerberg told Congress was the intention of Facebook. Well, that and world domination, although he did not share the latter with Congress.
Back in those early days, Wired Magazine told us that the internet was going to be the salvation of the NASDAQ stock exchange. This was the attention economy, and, said Wired, thanks to digital, the economy would grow exponentially, unstopped, forever. And Alan Greenspan agreed: New paradigm! Unlimited growth! Forever! What they didn’t realize was that this economic system was a very old, obsolete operating system invented by the monarchs in the 12th and 13th century to prevent the rise of the middle class, Rushkoff noted.
What man cannot remember, he is doomed to repeat.
“Wired also told us that this new service area would be about human attention, human activity, and human data,” said Rushkoff, “but we’ve reversed the roles. We’re not even users anymore. Technology uses us. Every time you swipe your smartphone, it gets smarter about you and you get dumber about it. You go to Stanford and your going to take courses with BJ Fogg in Captology which is how do we program platforms that can addict and manipulate humans…How do we use Pavlovian cues, Freudian cues, neuro-linguistic programming to get people to do stuff that’s actually against their self-interest? How do we auto-tune humans? ”
And that’s indeed what we’re witnessing with the platforms controlling the conversation and manipulating emotions and perhaps even actions (How Facebook’s Rise Fueled Chaos and Confusion in Myanmar). That’s mind control by any other name. Rushkoff warned, “If we take a multitrillion dollar industry and gear it towards mind control of human beings by any means necessary, what do you think is going to happen? We’re taking an algorithm and saying, find the exploits in human beings and take these exploits and use them to do things that are against their own best interests and thwarts their own instinctual drive towards self preservation. We launch them and we say go forth and do this forever, no matter what. What is that? That is the definition of a demon.”
Cherubic Mark Zuckerberg apologized when, in 2014, we discovered that Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions For Science. Here’s the Business Ethics Case Analyses, in case you’re interested. It was deemed unethical, yet for how many more missteps has he apologized since? No harm, no foul, all good and remember: this was only a test. With the platforms openly banning people for hate speech, is it truly hate speech, or speech they hate and make no mistake about it: this is not a test. This is for real.
With all of the talk lately about whether or not the platforms need to be broken up, the discussions about anti-trust issues, et al, we need to be mindful of the fact that we’re looking at something that we’ve never witnessed nor experienced before in human history. Maybe the conversations should be more around the tracking, privacy and manipulation issues, especially now that Facebook is using AI “to bring the world closer together.” You can’t put the genie back into the bottle, but you can put the monster back into the box. Make no mistake about it: the demons are already being unleashed. Let’s not allow them to go any farther.
Onward and forward.