In many ways, the internet has made the impossible possible. We’ve made remarkable progress in less than a decade. We’ve gotten closer and closer to the democratization of creativity and entrepreneurship, making it easier than any other time in history to go from idea to execution. But have we really used it to solve essential problems? Or have we wasted its potential?
Peter Thiel famously said we wanted flying cars, and we got 140 characters.
“ A technology genius has two basic options. For example, he can dedicate his work to creating medical a breakthrough that will save thousands of lives — or he can develop an app that will let people amuse themselves. In most cases, the technology genius will be pushed to focus on the product that has the potential to create millions of dollars in profits. Profit is the North Star of conventional economics. Lacking a collective destination, the only highway we follow is the North Star of Profit” says Muhuamad Yunnus
Digital narcism and voueyrism have masqueraded for real connection. People who influence the social web have the power to bring about social change. But if that influence is used for nothing more than uploading selfies, and motivational memes, while collecting likes and hearts, we’re pissing away the power of the social web. We’ve chosen to value attention over connection, metrics over meaning, and profit over purpose.
Instead of quantifying influences in likes and comments maybe we should quantify it in the schools we’ve built or people we’ve fed. Instead of using the currency of our attention to inflate people’s egos and vanity metrics, what if every like, retweet, comment or clap, resulted in a donation to an important cause. Facebook has billions of users, but maybe we’d be better off if Kiva had billions of users instead.
But this would require a substantial change in our values. It would require us to see that as a species we operate as an interdependent system. There’s nothing you do that doesn’t influence somebody else on the planet:
- The shoes you wear might be made by somebody working in a sweatshop in Malaysia
- The fruit you’re eating might have been picked by someone who spent hours on end in the hot sun
- Some wage slave at Foxconn made the iPhone you’re possibly reading this on
- You might be ignoring the person you’re with right now to read this
It’s easy to be indifferent when you overlook interdependency. It’s easy to focus exclusively on profit while neglecting the well being of others. When we ignore interdependency, the result is extremes: wealth and poverty, starvation and obesity, perfect health and unimaginable illness.
Our behavior and our actions create ripples that extend beyond our lives and our time. An entire generation of college students has been riddled with debt because of how governments and financial institutions mismanaged the economy. People who should be punished are rewarded, and people who should be rewarded are punished.
We have the tools, resources, and technology to solve major problems. Influencers can influence real change. Media creators have the power to highlight essential stories. But the profit motive always precedes moral responsibility. So we write what will get the most clicks, interview the podcast guest that we think will get us the most downloads, and post the Instagram picture we hope will get us the most likes. Metrics over meaning at every possible turn.
If somebody was to time travel from the early 90’s to today, and witness what we’ve done with these tools, they might feel as though we’ve entered an age of fragmented attention, rising anxiety, and idiocracy. All they’d have to do is look at some of the top 100 shows in iTunes, open up Snapchat, or read the front page of Buzzfeed, and they would see a society headed towards a questionable value system and idiocracy.
Have we really used the tools at our disposal to solve our most important problems? Or have we wasted their potential? Zig Ziglar famously said the person who won’t read is no better than the person who can’t. What’s the point of having the power to change the world if we don’t actually use it?