Mulling Mark’s Manifesto

Reading Mark Zuckerberg's manifesto reminded me of something I wrote after watching his F8 keynote back in 2011:

"...watching Mark Zuckerberg talk about social is like watching Steve Jobs talk about Apple: the pied-piper plays his tune and we can’t help but follow (pun intended). There is an ultimate confidence in what is being presented."

There is an obvious total belief in what he says, and rightly so. There is a lot of truth to be taken from it but the cynic will have a hard time reconciling the vision and the current reality of Facebook with its over reliance on advertising.

How do we get from here to there?

Something I've said for years is that society is becoming more fragmented, not in this retreat from globalisation, but locally. Zuck states that there are "movements for withdrawing from global connection" but, even within these movements, there is no real consensus - just a feeling that the withdrawal should occur.

The 20th Century saw the nature of labour and our roles change. We previously worked locally to our homes meaning our colleagues were our neighbours. The local community was a true reflection of its members.

With modern ways of working and a shift in labour patterns we have separated the different aspects of our lives. We travel to work and spend 8 hours a day with our colleagues within a restricted social environment. When our shift ends we return home and, due to long days made ever longer by more distant commutes, spend increasingly less time with those beyond our households.

Local community no longer holds the same meaning or attraction as it once did.

Online shift

Over the past decade we have used technology and social tools to rekindle our social connections but are enamoured by the ability to have global conversations at the expense of local ones.

Zuckerberg mentions the 100 million Facebook users who are members of "very meaningful" groups but when you consider there are 1.8 billion users overall this is a tiny percentage.

We should not be surprised as this mirrors the change in society offline with people far less likely to be involved in community groups, religious groups, sports clubs, town associations etc. Our social fabric has been in decline for some time.

The move online, while an undoubted boon for some, has not been the panacea we hoped for. It has brought a small percentage together in meaningful ways but has actually been a contributory factor in pushing others apart.

The plan for Facebook to use AI to suggest groups that may be relevant to us is to be applauded but must be employed carefully and consistently.

Online vs offline

Mark talks about dealing with someone as a whole person in order to have a more productive conversation but this is unlikely to happen over a social network. The framework doesn't really exist to facilitate it.

This highlights the importance of meeting face-to-face; only by interacting on a regular basis across a range of experiences can we truly engage with a whole person.

Something people used to do a lot more often.

It is good to see this recognised:

"we can strengthen existing physical communities by helping people come together online as well as offline. In the same way connecting with friends online strengthens real relationships, developing this infrastructure will strengthen these communities"

This will be the real challenge. No matter how invested we are in our online communities if this engagement doesn't translate then how effective can it be?

Some will argue there is no distinction between online life and offline - it is all just aspects of life - but those who exist in this state are, again, in the minority.

For most the distinction between on and offline is real and severe; once the computer has been turned off or the phone put away life continues in ignorant isolation of whatever just happened beyond the screen.

We must ensure that our "very meaningful" groups have offline extensions and are so compelling, so useful, so supportive that we are compelled to seek them out.

Only by continuing these relationships on this side of the screen can we hope to rebuild a true social framework.

Responsibility

The biggest issue with the manifesto for most is that Facebook is run for the benefit of Facebook; it is a business after all.

If Zuckerberg Is desperate to support a rekindled social infrastructure then Facebook has to entertain a degree of social responsibility.

The site can no longer focus on keeping users present purely for its own purposes, to consistently expose you to more ads, but this conflicts with the current business model and may hurt the bottom line.

To meet the aims of the manifesto Facebook has to choose exactly what it wants to become and be truly for it's users. If it can get past this shift then it may succeed, but that very shift will be its biggest challenge yet.

Mulling Mark’s Manifesto