The social choice is yours
When I visit my parents and use their toilet, I always note the piece of nostalgic technology hanging on the door. It’s a stack of paper of heavy and sturdy quality, held together by a wire. On it are some illustrations and a lot of lines and numbers, 30–31 on each page. With one exception. They really use that tool, and other ones from the same time period not that long ago, to send their friends and relatives their best wishes on birthdays and other anniversaries. In a distant past, I might have had one of these as well, but I can’t quite remember. I use a different tool.
The tool I use is some sort of swiss army knife for social interaction. It not only reminds you of birthdays and allows you to send your congratulations; it also keeps you connected to and up to date on the people in your life. There’s a soapbox-like function, that allows you to share any message you wish to with a global audience. There’s much more, probably a lot of functions and options I have not yet discovered or even heard of.
And you know what, this brilliant tool is free.
Well, free in the sense that I don’t have to pay the makers of the tool any money to use it. I don’t buy it like a swiss army knife, have no subscription or anything like that. I’m not relinquishing any money to gain the benefit of using that tool.
But wait a minute, I almost hear you think. That can’t be right. Well it is, sort of. In The Netherlands we have a saying that the for free, the sun rises. The meaning is that everything else will cost you. In one way or the other. As a side-note, even the sunrise costs you, if you want to see it. You have to expend energy to turn towards the east, wake up early enough, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. You get the picture, right?
Well, why is it then so hard for us to understand how tools like Facebook were never really free. There has, from the start, been an exchange of value. As these business models were being created at that time, there was still a lot to discover and learn. But from the start the premise was: we provide a tool, to use it you give us your data so we can find someone else to pay for all that through ads.
And we loved it.
As recent as 2016, for example, research in The Netherlands showed that only 28% of internet users had concerns about giving up their data. The majority either didn’t care or thought it was a good deal to sell off your privacy for a multifunctional tool that makes your life just a little bit easy.
The question only partly is whether Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and whoever else were callous, uncareful and basically acting irresponsibly with our personal data. They probably did.
When we read about the “wild west”, or see one of these interesting movies portraying people living in a very grey area of what is right and what is wrong and what is just and what not, we often glorify those pioneering days where the good guys win in the end, and set up a fair and just society for all of us to enjoy democratically. Beside the fact that not everybody sees our current world in such a happy and shiny way, we easily forget the dirt and mud and violence and blood that comes with the territory of pioneering. Creating new and disruptive business models can be compared to this pioneering. We already see the glorification taking place. Steve Jobs who has a god-like status among many, the movie about the founding of Facebook, the rock star status of the guy who sent his electric car from his electric car brand into space with one of the rockets of his space company. So many more examples to chose from. But still, we forget the rolling up of sleeves. The getting the hands dirty, the making mistakes and doing stuff that hurts so many people so badly that because of it we will make laws for our utopia to make sure something like this does not happen again unpunished.
This is exactly what was going on here: pioneering.
Somebody understood better than everybody else how to make money from the need of people to connect and share and just be who they are while aspiring to be just a little bit better. And somebody else figured out how to use all that data and manipulate elections with it.
It’s totally unsurprising that it happened. It’s par for the course. All part of discovering new frontiers. Now let’s use this to make some rules.
But I have taken a little detour there. There is the question of paying for what you use. We knew it. We knew that we were not paying to use Facebook with money but by giving up a little bit of our privacy. We simply assessed it would be less than it in reality was. That’s simply not just Facebook’s fault. We need to realise that. Because then we can really work on something meaningful to do with that anger that leads people to #deletefacebook. It’s so undirected, uninformed and, well, meaningless.
Should you then stay on Facebook? You know what?
It’s up to you!
I actually don’t really care. What I care about is that you have a choice. You can choose to stay on Facebook, use the tool and pay with your privacy. Maybe take an active part is setting the boundaries within which Facebook can operate.
You can also, not unlike my parents, go old school. If your social network, and by that I mean the people you feel connected to, is very local, I don’t see why not.
There are also alternatives. Ello wanted to be one. But never really got off the ground properly. It now seems to be focused on art. Maybe a better one is Diaspora. I also see some developments based on blockchain, such as dock.io. Then there’s always LinkedIn, Twitter and so forth. You can stay connected via internet in so many ways, it’s just incredible.
And you can choose. It’s your choice. You have the power to pick the tool that best serves your needs. Maybe, just maybe, you can consider paying for it, too.