J611 Week 6 Journal

The costs of full digitization are myriad and legion. There are barriers to getting everyone in the world full internet access that are macroscopic, applying to economies of scale. And there are barriers that are personal and closer, like when companies fail to embrace their social and global responsibility.

This week had articles from a gamut of publications that each touched on the cost of internet. “The digital divide” used to be an abstract idea, dealing with the people who knew and understood the social structure of the internet, and those who didn’t. Now it’s taken on a new meaning: the people, cultures and countries that have access to high-speed internet are more likely to have higher education rates and better economies than those who don’t.

But that’s also not to say that internet is a panacea. The Arab Spring failed, and Donald Trump regularly manipulates public opinion and understanding of fundamental truths from his position in the White House. In certain times and places, the Internet went from a democratizing force to a mob enabler.

The slippery, comfortable, invisible slope that got us here

Above all the others, my favorite piece this week was David Auerbach’s ‘How Facebook Has Flattened Human Communication‘. Succinctly, Auerbach illustrates key principles in data management, big data, capitalism, human nature and nuance of language.

I can’t think of where I’ve seen others writing or talking about it, but Auerbach’s ideas don’t feel never-before-heard; they’re a part of the zeitgest. Everyone knows that this is exactly what the “like” button was for, and on the heels of Cambridge Analytica, people knew that the 4 Horsemen of the Datapocalypse were harvesting our data and doing everything they could to keep us online. But no one was putting it down in so few words with such a clear line drawn for us to see.

For those of us who have spent time in the data world, it’s obvious that structured, quantifiable and explicit data is inherently more valuable and usable for a machine. And for those in the online business world, it’s obvious that keeping people’s eyeballs on your product as much as possible is first, last and everything in-between. And for those of us in the social psychology world, it’s obvious that people are driven by competing urges of complexity and simplicity.

But it took Auerbach to put it all together for us — well, me at least. There’s a clear line that runs through the competing-yet-cooperative impulses that drive people to use social media. Forces like nostalgia, loneliness, cynicism, narcissism and vanity drive us all to use social media and hate it too (a la this piece explaining why “If Facebook demonstrates that everyone is boring and Twitter proves that everyone is awful, Instagram makes you worry that everyone is perfect – except you.“). But those same forces are also universal experiences that Facebook’s machine brains need to be told about — and we do.

I think Auerbach’s piece is brilliant, and telling. Every sentence deserves a chapter, and I’ll be buying his book.

Also: Facebook and VR

My boy Ben Thompson at stratchery.com wrote a piece on Facebook’s dive into VR. The punchline is simply that Facebook really, really wants to be a platform, and not a service where ads get sold. Facebook (and Zuck) wants so badly for people to live their lives through Facebook, not just interact with it when they’re taking a crap and waiting for the bus.

Thompson thinks that’s a misunderstanding (internally) of their own place in the digital hierarchy. He makes a case that Facebook’s purchase of Oculus is representative of their misunderstanding of their role (what a surprise, given their reaction to social engineering and data manipulation charges) and will ultimately be viewed as a mistake.

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