August 10, 2018

With Facebook, life is turned into a database


There are certain things you do not in good conscience to humans. To data, you can do whatever you like.

With Facebook, “life is turned into a database,” writes technologist Jaron Lanier in his 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget. Silicon Valley culture has come to accept as certain, Lanier writes, that “all of reality, including humans, is one big information system.” This certainty, he says, gives the tech world’s most powerful people “a new kind of manifest destiny.” It gives them “a mission to accomplish.”

Accepting that mission is convenient for Facebook. It makes scaling as fast as possible a moral imperative. In this view, the bigger Facebook is, the better the company is for the world. This also happens to be the way for it to make the most money.

The problem, says Lanier, is that there is nothing special about humans in this information system. Every data point is treated equally, irrespective of how humans experience it. “Jew haters” is just as much an ad category as “Moms who jog.” It’s all data. If Group A has a bigger presence on Facebook than Group B, so be it, even if Group A is trying to demean or organize violence against the Bs. Of course, the reality is that humans are all different, and cannot be reduced to data.

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