Big questions, answered by Big Tech
By Mark Hurst • October 28, 2021
Before we get started: from the news just now, about Facebook’s new name. Yes, Zuck actually chose “Meta,” the name that I wrote last week was too stupidly obvious:
Finally, as for the new name for Zuck’s company. Maybe something “meta” – no, that’s been done. How about something “para,” like a parallel reality. . .
Oh well. Now that we’re stuck with it, we’ll hear about Meta antitrust, Meta ad-fraud, Meta and genocide. My own immediate thought, hearing the news, was this -
I never Meta monopoly I didn’t want to break up.
We can hope. I’ll also state my hope that everyone ignores the new name, except when reading brilliant threads like this one by @Iwillleavenow. Anyway, on to today’s column.
Big questions, answered by Big Tech
The big questions of life are as relevant as ever, but we’re running out of ways to get answers. Our understanding of the issues gets distorted by the Big Tech platforms, as they’re built for surveillance and control, not truth or wisdom. I’ll draw on recent tech news to answer each big question (and some small ones, too):
What is truth? Many people go to Google by default for any question, possibly this one included. But it would be somewhat ironic to search for ‘truth’ on Google, since it’s the company that – as recently unredacted documents show – has lied and cheated on a massive scale, for years, in its bid to dominate the advertising market. (Source: Court documents from the Texas attorney general, one of several state AGs suing Google. Summary, a more detailed summary, and the PDF of the court filing.)
What’s an authoritative source of news? Pew Research reports that 36% of U.S. adults “regularly get news from Facebook” – a company whose news algorithm, as described by internal documents, is designed to serve up content that makes people feel outraged. (Sources: Pew Research, June 1, 2021, and Facebook Services Are Used to Spread Religious Hatred in India, WSJ, Oct 23.)
What is money? Whatever Big Tech says it is. I’m checking on which is more valuable – Dogecoin, the dog-money created as a joke, or Shiba Inu, the dog-money created as a reference to the original joke dog-money. (No kidding, this is actually something people are tracking. Source: WSJ on Shiba Inu cryptocurrency overtaking Dogecoin in value, Oct 27, 2021. See also Bloomberg’s Matt Levine’s comments on Shiba Inu and Elon Musk.)
What is God? Let’s ask these idols made of metal and sand. It’s OK, they’re molded into a shape that looks vaguely human, so they must be divine. (Source: God and robots: Will AI transform religion?, BBC video, Oct 21, 2021.) Below, one of the idols in the video:
What is real? Mark Zuckerberg is selling his own answer with a VR demo that is “so freaking cool,” as one of our nation’s pre-eminent morning shows put it. (Source: A slightly edited CBS This Morning video.) Seriously, watch the video clip.
Where are we in the universe? It’s becoming more difficult to tell, due to the thousands of satellites – and the occasional space-billionaire – beginning to blot out the night sky. Indigenous communities know something about colonization, and they’re speaking up. (Source: VICE Motherboard, Oct 5, 2021.)
What’s on the menu? Here, let me scan the QR code to get the restaurant menu, provided digitally because of Covid – even though we’ve known for over a year that Covid is not spread on surfaces. In all seriousness, don’t use QR codes, ever. As Albert Fox Cahn (who I wrote about recently) and his organization S.T.O.P. are warning us, QR codes can contain malware that will infect your phone. (Source: Fast Company today, Oct 28, and S.T.O.P.)
What’s something scary, in honor of Halloween? Glad you asked. It’s this Foreign Affairs piece by Ian Bremmer, who argues that Big Tech companies are now as powerful as nation-states. After all, the companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple – rule the online world, and “people are increasingly living out their lives in this vast territory, which governments do not and cannot fully control.” Bremmer continues:
The implications of this fact bear on virtually all aspects of civic, economic, and private life... In their private lives, people increasingly connect with one another through algorithms. ... technology firms are guiding how people spend their time, what professional and social opportunities they pursue, and, ultimately, what they think. This power will grow as social, economic, and political institutions continue to shift from the physical world to digital space.
No big deal. Just the loss of democracy, the rule of law, and your freedom of thought. (I’d recommend, right away, switching to the tools that I list on Good Reports.)
What is the future of the rule of law, given the runuway power grab by Silicon Valley? Not good. Robert Evans, from Bellingcat, writes that “We are standing upon the precipice of a nightmare,” urging the launch of “a new Nuremberg trial for Zuckerberg and folks like him.” (Source: This post, Oct 26, 2021.)
Whether it’s Nuremberg trials, or the solution I wrote about in The fall of Facebook, we need to address the Big Tech platforms somehow. Time is running out. As I wrote last week in Smiling in the metaverse, I've been warning (and many others have, too) about Facebook, for years – only to see my warnings proven true this month. Yet the company’s stock price continues to rise.
Makes you wonder who does have the answers to the big questions.
(Hi to my fellow Gen Xers! 1972 here.)
Until next time,
Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see official announcement and join as a member
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