TIME is our greatest asset. Theophrastus said, “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend”. How we spend it is important. This is especially true as a father.
Children demand and need our time. Our spouse requires our time, and more generally our relationships require our time. We must avoid wasting precious time. That is why we must be ultra-careful in how we use our time. From the point of view of our personal health and wellbeing and that of our family, we must spend our time well.
I have been profoundly concerned about the effects of social media manipulation on our families and the human race in general, but I have not written about it till now. It was Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, whose comments in November about the dangers of social media really shook both the business world and the broader community. He is not alone but his voice is part of a chorus of former high level social media executives ringing the alarm bells about the dangers inherent in the operation and use of social media.
Before we go any further let me admit that I am a reluctant user of Facebook as I am of most media. I don’t believe you can beat face to face human relationships. Suffice to say technology is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. One more thing: everything is up for question including my words so feel free to make your own decisions and think for yourself.
Former Google Executive Tristan Harris Exposing
The November Guardian article by technology reporter Olivia Solon tells the story well.
Ex-Facebook president Sean Parker: site made to exploit human ‘vulnerability’ Site’s founding president, who became a billionaire thanks to the company, says: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’. Facebook’s founders knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset, according to the company’s founding president Sean Parker.
Parker, whose stake in Facebook made him a billionaire, criticized the social networking giant at an Axios event in Philadelphia this week. Now the founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Parker was there to speak about advances in cancer therapies. However, he took the time to provide some insight into the early thinking at Facebook at a time when social media companies face intense scrutiny from lawmakers over their power and influence.
Parker described how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him they weren’t on social media because they valued their real-life interactions.
“And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be,’” he said.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying,” he added, pointing to “unintended consequences” that arise when a network grows to have more than 2 billion users.
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
He explained that when Facebook was being developed the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content.
“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.”
Parker, who previously founded the file-sharing site Napster, joined the Facebook team in 2004 five months after the site had launched as a student directory at Harvard. Parker saw the site’s potential and was, according to Zuckerberg, “pivotal in helping Facebook transform from a college project into a real company”… Thanks mostly to his brief stint at Facebook, Parker’s net worth is estimated to be more than $2.6bn. He set up the Parker Foundation in June 2015 to use some of his wealth to support “large-scale systemic change” in life sciences, global public health and civic engagement.
Parker is not the only Silicon Valley entrepreneur to express regret over the technologies he helped to develop. The former Googler Tristan Harris is one of several techies interviewed by the Guardian in October to criticize the industry.
“All of us are jacked into this system,” he said. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
As I have said Sean Parker is not the only Social Media insider sounding the alarm on social media. Another incisive article by Julia Carrie Wong from the Guardian sheds more light on the issue.
“A former Facebook executive has said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his work on “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”, joining a growing chorus of critics of the social media giant.
Chamath Palihapitiya, who was vice-president for user growth at Facebook before he left the company in 2011, said: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”
“This is not about Russian ads,” he added. “This is a global problem. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”
Palihapitiya’s comments last month were made a day after Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, criticized the way that the company “exploit[s] a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating a “social-validation feedback loop” during an interview at an Axios event.
Parker had said that he was “something of a conscientious objector” to using social media, a stance echoed by Palihapitiya who said that he was now hoping to use the money he made at Facebook to do good in the world.
“I can’t control them,” Palihapitiya said of his former employer. “I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that sh*t. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that sh*t.”
He also called on his audience to “soul-search” about their own relationship to social media. “Your behaviors, you don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” he said. “It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you’re going to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.”
The title for this week’s missive was taken from the name of the charity set up by former google executive Tristan Harris called Time Well Spent. The purpose of this charity’s existence is to tackle the terrible downside in the take up of Social Media across the planet. They have assembled a formidable team and have excellent goals which are more than worth the look. If you wanted to capture their heart and the depth of the problem, particularly with mobile phones, check out this excellent 60 Minute story.
I am not suggesting you should close your Facebook account today (Maybe tomorrow LOL) but I do want you to think about the challenges we face in our highly connected world and how this will affect your/our children and their future. Let’s start the discussion in our families. If your children are very young start this discussion with your wife without delay. One more thing, make sure you make your family dinner time totally free of mobile phones. We have to start somewhere.
Yours for Time Well Spent
PS: Every Dad needs to read guiding your teen in the use of social media. Also check out Special Feature which features Dr Cal Newport called Quit Social Media and also this brilliant Ted Talk by Paul Miller who quit the Internet for a year. Good food for thought and further discussion.