“Forgive me Lord, for I knew not what I was doing.”
No, not Victor Frankenstein after creating his monster. Instead, Tony Fadell, co-creator of the iPhone; and Chamath Palihapitiya and Roger McNamee, a former Facebook executive and investor, respectively. Even Mark Zuckerberg confesses concern with his creation, although in a round-about way: “Facebook has a lot of work to do”, … and his “personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”
We have here a test of whether corporate capitalism is capable of self-reform, or whether politicians around the world will seize this opportunity to expand the regulatory state, here and abroad. So far, self-correction, driven by the profit motive, seems to be the answer to a set of problems that threaten to convert a host of proudly self-styled “disrupters” from heroes to zeroes.
Eleven years ago almost to the day Apple ended decades in which we were tethered to the wires of telephone company monopolies; Facebook has provided two billion people with a news source and a platform on which to display pictures of their cats and for Vladimir Putin to interfere in nations’ elections. Such radical change inevitably creates problems, just as, for example, Detroit’s creation, the mass-produced automobile, brought enormous benefits but also created environmental problems. So it created a demand for regulations galore, from seat belts to regulations on the content and use of gasoline. Now it’s the turn of the creations of Silicon Valley, which might have spawned social problems only now being understood.
Start with Apple, which has already bruised its reputation in some circles by refusing to help the FBI unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, bowing to Chinese censorship in order to retain access to its market, and turning tax avoidance into a (perfectly legal) fine art, becoming the corporate equivalent of David Goodhart’s rootless man from “anywhere,” described in his much-read “The Road to Somewhere.” It is now charged with harming children and producing an iGen (born in 1995 or later) that is “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades” according to Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. Studies purport to show that opioids are not the only addictive substances available to teens. They also suffer from cell phone addiction that produces “depressive symptoms” (University of Basle), increased risk of suicide (University of San Diego), and poor scholastic performance after sleep-deprived nights on their cell phones.
Then there is Facebook….
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