It’s easy to say Facebook — sorry, Meta — is evil. They do such a good job of proving the point for us.
They routinely violate their own privacy policies, they know what they do is bad for people and bad for society, and they lie when subpoenaed to testify before Congress because they know they have enough fat stacks of cash to pay whatever fines they’re hit with and that their stock price will still go up.
But what if the problem isn’t Facebook? What if the problem isn’t its partners in crime at Google and Amazon and Apple and the under-the-radar data collectors that feed them with far more information than you’d ever be comfortable sharing?
What if the problem is … you?
The emergence of new technology has always been dangerous and destructive. No one got run over before some brilliant human ancestor figured out circular things roll. Far fewer people died in horse collisions than those mangled beyond repair once those newfangled horseless carriages came about. Atoms were doing just fine as unseen, invisible forces at the center of life before we decided to smash them together and pull them apart.
Are Facebook and Twitter and Google and all the other purveyors of technology that news articles loudly declare as the core of our societal downfall really that much different?
I’d argue no, they’re not.
The problem isn’t the technology. The problem is that the technology has jumped so far out in front of our human capacity to compartmentalize it and regulate it — as individuals, parents, businesses and governments.
Because let’s be clear: The technology itself is neither good nor bad. It’s much like a hammer. In the right hands and used the right way, a hammer can put together one of the pieces of the foundations in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — shelter. In the wrong hands, it can bash in a fellow human’s skull.
Facebook and its brethren have demonstrate the ability to unite people, to assist in searches for missing children, to create community and to spark peaceful political change. They also have been used to tear apart families, lead children into sexual slavery, destroy communities and foment an armed attack on our democracy.
If the same piece of technology can be used for such good and such evil, it’s clear the technology has no moral weight to it, that the one causing the good or the bad is the user.
I am nearing the end of a podcast played over Spotify called “Your Own Backyard.” In it, the podcast creator, Chris Lambert, investigates the 1996 disappearance of Cal-Poly student Kristin Smart. This podcast could be no different from the thousands of other true crime podcasts created by dolt amateur sleuths who do nothing but toss around conjecture and speculation and generally hamper the actual investigation. But in the hands of a responsible, intelligent creator, this podcast actually is credited — by the same authorities who bungled the initial investigation — with solving the crime.
Lambert, a singer-songwriter with no investigative background, used the power of new technology — podcasts, Facebook groups and email, chief among them — to take a fresh look at all the evidence that previously had been siloed by different jurisdictions and other interested parties. In doing so, he sparked a renewed interest in the case, which led the perpetrator to start communicating digitally back and forth with his parents about the crime. And by doing that, he opened himself up to a new search warrant that led to his downfall.
Then there’s Philip Markoff, also known as The Craigslist Killer, who used the power of another new technology, to lure a woman to her death.
Brings ya back to earth pretty quickly, doesn’t it?
Technology in general outpaces our ability to handle it. That’s been even more pronounced in the 21st century, as the pace of technological advancement has demonstrably accelerated at a never-before-seen clip
Meanwhile, us dimwitted humans are back somewhere in the mid-1990s trying to apply old models to new ways of doing business and life. It’s akin to trying to put a saddle in a Model T. Sure, you could probably accomplish it, but why would you want to?
New technology needs new regulations, be that by the government or in our own lives. Don’t for a second think that Facebook’s decision to rebrand as Meta has to do primarily with vision. It has to do with the realization that the core product of the entity known as Facebook is, at some point, going to be tackled by regulators who, if they’re smart, are going to break it up into Ma Bell-sized pieces and put strict limits with astronomical consequences on the only thing they sell — your data. Meta is merely Facebook’s play to be bigger than that when the hammer finally falls.
But it’s not just government regulations that are struggling to catch up. It’s our own self-regulation. Do a Google search (or, in the interest of not feeding into the dominant player, a Bing search) on “digital detox” and read all about how we should be treating all this new technology that is at our fingertips. Then go to any public place and watch how many people actually are doing anything close to what those articles say to do in the interest of our best physical and mental health. You’ll have no problem going unnoticed as you do this, because everyone else’s eyes will be buried in their phones.
Parenting hasn’t caught up to the technology either. We’re all out here just trying to do our best while silently hating the parents of the kid in the neighborhood who is given a smartphone first. What’s the right age to give a kid that kind of access? How strictly do you lock it down? What’s the right age to loosen those restrictions? Is the research that says it’s a better idea to never give in and let your kid get hooked on this crap actually right, and if it is right, is it even something you could do as a parent without turning your kid into the target of unrelenting taunts from her peers?
The reality is, we as individuals tend to take cues from the regulations enacted by our government. We always have.
The majority of us don’t speed to a point in which we’re reckless because we know what the consequences of that could be from the judicial system. We want to fly as safely as possible, so we accept that we have to take our shoes off and be wanded by Homeland Security.
No one in government is telling us that what we’re doing to ourselves with this new technology is bad and dangerous. In the name of preserving freedom and allowing the free market to rule, our lawmakers not only allow unregulated new technology to hurt our society, they participate in it themselves. Just turn on CSPAN and watch what legislators are doing while their colleagues are speaking.
We certainly haven’t shown any ability to regulate ourselves, and because that, we’re breaking our children — and ourselves. It’s one thing to say you don’t need your phone and that you’ll just put it in a drawer when you get home and not look at it again until you sit down at your desk for work; it’s another thing entirely to actually do it and not get twitchy or bored.
Is it Facebook’s fault they made a great product that taps into the reward center of our brain chemistry? Is it Amazon’s fault that they ruthlessly built the best customer-service company in the history of the world?
Perhaps. But come on… admit it… you secretly love it.
Sure, you’ll shop the mom-and-pop shop and slap the “buy local” bumper sticker on your car, but when you really need that thing and it’s 11 p.m. or 10 degrees outside? You’re going to Amazon and you’re grateful it’s there.
And when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room 30 minutes past your scheduled appointment time, you are happy you can pull out your phone to see what your old high school friends are up to.
Unfettered capitalism appeals to the most base human instinct. It’s not good for the majority, and it’s really, really ugly for many. New technology is a good thing — a great thing, even. It just needs the proper restraints to keep it aligned with the overall good of our society and the individuals within it. Until it comes to pass that governments, businesses and individuals have the time to soak in the impacts of all this “new” and tackle the bad and often unintended but sometimes not unintended consequences, we’re going to see these examples of extreme good followed by examples of extreme evil.
The hope is we’ll extract lessons from each and, as quickly as possible, arrive at a point in which we no longer are tossed back and forth by forces we don’t truly understand and instead put the technology to use for our greater good.
John Agliata is a professional storyteller and general weirdo. Reach him at email@example.com.
More From ‘Ya Pay Peanuts, Ya Get Monkeys’
Welcome to Issue No. 16 of Listicles, the feature that presents the Top 10, Top 5, Top 3, Top 100 or Top 1,000,000 of whatever it is you want to know about. Email your Listicle suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Very few of us would actually continue at our jobs were we financially able to not. That…Keep reading
If you accept the truism that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses, the next question is obvious: “What do bosses do that cause their people to leave?” The answers to that are as varied as the types of horrible bosses, but it’s possible to roll those individual reasons into just a few bigger buckets.…Keep reading
The three most influential people in my life as a journalist are, sadly, all part of the Great Newsroom in the Sky now. Professors Michael Perkins and Bob Woodward (AKA Bob Woodward-Not-That-Bob-Woodward) helped educate me at Drake University, and Lisa Warren was the best editor of the Dayton Daily News’ Southwest Ohio papers who ever…Keep reading
Far be it from me — a guy who struggled to get through high school algebra — to suggest performance on standardized math tests is the barometer by which we should measure a nation’s educational system. Yet it is true that those who do well in math and science move into more white-collar jobs than…Keep reading
Here’s a workplace truth: Management often has no clue what the rank-and-file are thinking. This is often because employees suck at communicating directly, though their fear of doing so is often justified because of, shall we say, overzealous HR departments. Too often, however, it’s because managers are so used to being managers that they’re not…Keep reading
I received a phone call from the CEO of the company for which I served as marketing director at about 6:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. I was waiting in the parking lot of a nice restaurant for my wife to arrive. “John, our recent hires have been horrible. Why?” he asked. This was the same…Keep reading
Smart businesses allow data to guide their marketing. The ability to do this is relatively new and likely not to last too much longer. A firehose stream of information is available on a company’s marketing campaign performance, its customers and its potential customers. That stream is so strong that there’s a movement afoot to create…Keep reading
On the dashboard of my car is a tiny square, just a little bit bigger than a postage stamp, that is worse than my sister ever was. If I drive too fast, it tattles. If I brake too hard, it tattles. If I accelerate too quickly — though I struggle to think how this would…Keep reading
Bad bosses shouldn’t be. Of course, I’ve never met anyone who self-identifies as a bad boss, yet we all know they’re out there, and yes, indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, they do suck. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad bosses over the course of my career, from the one who…Keep reading
I’m not quite sure when I went from being the working world’s wide-eyed newbie to the grizzled veteran I see in the rearview mirror when I start the car for my evening commute home, yet here we are. I’ll be 48 years old in a few weeks, and I’ve been doing this marketing/communications thing since…Keep reading
It’s good to be the king.” Mel Brooks, History of the World: Part 1 I am currently sitting in an office that no one else wanted to fill. Two weeks ago, I started a new job with a company that had a zero-WFH (Work From Home) policy as one of the conditions of hiring. That,…Keep reading
Top 3 questions to ask yourself before going into business with relatives. My wife, Carla, is an amazing woman. She is exceedingly brilliant, the owner of a whole lot more A’s in school growing up than her future husband had. We’ve known each other for nearly three decades now, the past 25 as spouses. And…Keep reading
Any idiot can gather data. In fact, idiots are gathering data all the time. Smart people are, too. So are ants and mosquitos. Every time I drive a car, I’m constantly gathering data. My brain is doing what human brains do to judge distance, speed and alignment and how each might be influenced by things…Keep reading
My elder son started an internship today at a company that makes stuff taste good. He’s a sciencey kid, very much like his mother, and will tell you the chemical name of the thing that makes something taste like cherry before he’ll tell you that it tastes like cherry. He came home from Day 1…Keep reading
As a professional, I’m good at many things. I can churn out 500 really good words for a story or article on any topic very quickly. I can design an amazing social media ad or flyer. I can produce a funny or informative video. I can develop killer and KPI-moving strategies. What I can’t seem…Keep reading
Ask every single person whose job it is to manage other human beings and exactly none of them will self-report as a micromanager. Why exactly, then, do they seem to be so prevalent in the working world? No one ever wakes up one morning and says, “Ya know what? Today I’m going to decide to…Keep reading
I was talking with a business professional recently who was lamenting his company’s inability to hire and retain quality talent. People come in and are often highly touted, he said, but they either flame out or leave far sooner than what is good for the business. I offered to look at the company’s job postings…Keep reading
What makes a good coach? Interesting question, but it’s the wrong one. Oh, that question has all the right words. They’re just in the wrong order. If you want to talk about what makes a good coach, we can list a bunch of coach-worthy attributes — things such as charisma, assertiveness, fairness, consistency. But again,…Keep reading
I have absolutely zero formal training when it comes to planning events. Before this became part of my job duties, I hadn’t planned so much as a birthday party for my child. Of course, I have zero formal training for a lot of the things I do in my job as a marketer and communicator.…Keep reading
Last week, a woman took to Twitter (because that’s what we do these days) to ask for advice on what to do following a male co-worker’s inappropriate sexually charged remarks, and ho-ly-crap did the Twitterverse jump all over that. So frequent were the calls from well-meaning Twits for the women to take the matter to…Keep reading
It appears as if The Great Resignation is going to stick around for awhile. More than 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, amounting to 3% of the workforce. That beat the barely-had-time-to-take-its-coat-off record of 2.9% the month before. So what are the three biggest lessons for employers? While it might be tempting to…Keep reading
🔻 What’s Below 🔻What shows our vulnerability 👨🏼🦳👨🏾🦳What step we’re currently on 🎈What the spark would be 💥 Ahhh, Dystopia, that imagined land where we watch zombies and Katniss and Mark Zuckerberg dance a creepy new form of the tango while asking ourselves, “If that’s what things are going to be like after The Fall,…Keep reading
⬇️ What’s Below ⬇️Marketing: Science or Art? 🔬🎨The nature of feelings 🤗😭😡How to measure success in marketing 📊 Here’s one thing that doesn’t impress me much as a marketing guy: The popular vote. This might seem crazy, considering the goal of marketing is, at its core, to inspire the most people to buy your product…Keep reading
Welcome to The Bad Marketing Files, the place where we look at marketing efforts ranging from the slightly off-message to the truly horrendous. The SettingA Goodwill/St. Louis Aquarium billboard on Interstate 70 The ProblemThe billboard sends messages neither entity wants associated with its brand. Today’s BM Rating💩 out of a possible💩💩💩💩💩(Translation: It’s not good, but…Keep reading
For as much as we try to complicated it with heady notions such as meaning, purpose and lasting significance, life essentially can be boiled down to two principles with roots in economics. Strip away all the not-unworthy teachings from self-help books, leadership seminars and religious institutions, and what you’ll find is that humans act as…Keep reading
Website redesign projects suck. Anyone who has ever been a part of one will tell you that, and anyone who tells you it doesn’t suck is a liar or a masochist. I have been a part of four website redesigns, and none has launched within a three months of the original schedule. When my most…Keep reading
I love the movie ‘The Godfather.’ Yes, part of it might have to do with my Italian heritage and how extended family reunions always seemed to be more than a bit like the wedding scene that opened the movie. But it’s more than that. ‘The Godfather’ is brilliant, innovative storytelling at its finest. In that…Keep reading
The tale of the tortoise and the hare is one of the most misunderstood fables in literature, but it holds a great lesson for employees, businesses and business leaders. The story was written by evidently armless Greek fabulist Aesop, who was once described as “of loathsome aspect … potbellied, misshapen of head, snub-nosed, swarthy, dwarfish,…Keep reading
Remember that first night after Christmas when you were a kid? Your reward for being good all year (or, at least, being seen as less-than-horrible in December) sat right there beside you as the stars twinkled outside … that new doll or Transformer or videogame system. Where was that toy the next time Christmas Day…Keep reading
So what exactly is going on here? Well, a lot. This website is various measures of creativity, therapy, safety, career exploration, vanity and insanity (plus a few mystery ingredients I haven’t quite identified yet) — all dumped into one glass, shaken (not stirred) and poured into a 32-ounce Big Gulp cup. To better understand what…Keep reading
I freely admit I have a bit of a Joker problem. OK fine. Maybe it’s more than “a bit.” I am far from an educated film critic, but as far as I’m concerned, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the infamous Batman villain in “The Dark Knight” is the single best written, filmed and performed character in…Keep reading
Let me introduce you to Mr. Al Dunlap. I typically have respect for the whole, “Don’t speak ill of the dead” thing, but Dunlap’s been gone since early 2019, so I think we’re good in giving a critical review of a man who once tried to stop a company from using its plane to transport…Keep reading
I have made a living off the First Amendment for three decades now, remarkable only in that it has not yet driven me fully insane. The first part of my career was spent as a print journalist and had the greatest potential to send me to the looney bin. I started as a sports reporter…Keep reading
Stop. Take a look around your office. Put on your judge’s robe and see if you can’t classify every single person into one of these three categories: 1. People who make things better Few in number, these are the people in your company who have vision. They take what exists and improve it based on…Keep reading
I love free food at work. I don’t even have to particularly like the food being served. If it’s free, I’m happy. Not everyone shares this positivity. Every single place I’ve ever worked has nestled in its bosom at least one person who is negative no matter what the company does. “Let’s honor our company’s…Keep reading
Here’s a working world truth: Just about anyone can become a manager, but only a small percentage of people can be effective leaders. Stick around a company long enough or apply for the right positions and show an ounce of charisma, and you’ll probably get an opportunity to be a manager. Suddenly, you’ll have actual…Keep reading
Dave had about as good of a year as any first-year reporter at could ever have. I could spend paragraph after paragraph detailing all the ways he exceeded expectations, how he took the job description and obliterated it with awesomeness and work that went far beyond the words on those pages. Well, in fact, I…Keep reading
When it comes to podcasts, I need a 12-step program. I counted this morning, and I regularly or semi-regularly keep up with 16 of them. There are dozen and dozens of more that had a limited run that I plowed through at some point over the last seven or eight years. My addiction is a…Keep reading
You’ve probably heard the theory that a frog placed in a pot of water that is ever-so-slowly heated to a boil will stay in said pot and die a blissfully ignorant death. This science experiment is often brought up as an analogy for things in our lives that gradually get worse and fail to spur…Keep reading
For prospective employees, Human Resources folks are the contact lenses of a company. Through these fine folks, a candidate is able to bring into focus what the company is all about, how it operates, what it values and what day-to-day life is like there. After more than two decades in the workforce, I’m wondering why…Keep reading
Let me state this straight-away: I never peed in a bottle while I was working in an Amazon warehouse. That said, It doesn’t surprise me that some employees evidently have. Some background: I worked in an Amazon warehouse for about three months during the oh-so-fun year that was 2020. I was a marketing/communications guy in…Keep reading
Human resources folks get giddy when you start a new job. Suddenly, their purpose in life is fulfilled — fresh meat to season with all the really important information that will ensure you have the best chance of success at the company! Most of that seasoning is a different jar of the same salt you…Keep reading
One of the best parts of being a professional storyteller is that, if you find the right environments, you can explore the many different facets of your personality. And it’s a storyteller’s obligation to explore them, as well as to find the parts that are hidden in the dark corners or are guarded by the…Keep reading
“… to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Facebook mission statement The time companies spend crafting mission statements is staggeringly stupid when you transform the hours into the dollars being paid to the people around the table (or, as of late, in the Zoom). I have been…Keep reading
Early this morning, as snow fell softly in the pre-dawn darkness outside and my family slept upstairs, I had a 45-minute conversation with a little boy who couldn’t understand a word I said and who said about only two words I was able to pick up — one of which led me to give him…Keep reading
What if I told you… … that when you visited a certain website, every single thing you do is being monitored? I’m not just talking about what you click on or what you buy. Most of us have at least an inkling that companies are doing that. I’m talking about actual recordings being made of…Keep reading
There are many paths to the C Suite, fewer to the top spot and even fewer who reach that top spot with a even a fundamental understanding of how to “do” marketing. This can be infinitely frustrating to those who were hired to be the experts at maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of a company’s…Keep reading
Back in college at good old Drake University (JO 92… T-Ders will understand), I had some pretty fantastic journalism professors. There was, of course, the legendary Bob-Woodward-Not-That-Bob-Woodward, who, though he worked in Washington, D.C., during the Watergate era, did not, in fact, do any of the reporting that brought down a president. More important to…Keep reading
I am officially a Longhauler. Oh, I’m not sure that’s the actual term for it, but it’s the term I’m using to explain my membership in the oh-so-lucky club of people who are having often-debilitating COVID symptoms long after that 14-day period of suffering. We’re a fun bunch of people who are trying to support…Keep reading
I have interviewed hundreds of people during my career, everyone from professional athletes and presidential candidates to the woman promoting a charity bake sale. This past week, I interviewed my wife. Her dad — my amazing father-in-law — died early Sunday morning after a two-month fight with COVID and other complications. I sit here now,…Keep reading
His name was Fenton Powers, and my first impression of him was that he was insane. I was a newly minted middle schooler in suburban New York, reveling in the bigness of not only changing classrooms after an actual bell rang but, for my Spanish class, actually changing buildings. Anything could happen in those 40…Keep reading
When I was a wee-little storyteller of 17 years, I had the opportunity to go to the New York Knicks training camp to interview their rookie point guard, Greg Anthony. At 6’0″, I was able to look eye-to-eye with the just-out-of-UNLV star while I talked with him in the weight room. Five feet away, a…Keep reading
One day back when your storyteller was still Newspaper Guy, I was sitting in my office one late afternoon editing the work of my reporters for the next day’s paper. It was the end of April in Minnesota, which meant the once-mountainous piles snow were down to about 2-foot-tall rounded mounds of filthy, pebble-strewn ice.…Keep reading
“Her name was Misti, but to those who lived around her in her Fairfield apartment complex, she was River Rat.” That was more or less how I started the story I wrote about the 8-year-old girl’s death back in July 1997. I was just more than a year out of college and was the editor…Keep reading
Shari’s message was one of five on my voicemail when I returned to the office after a COVID-inspired work-from-home quarantine. She told me she was one of our hospital’s first scoliosis patients 43 years ago, and, after seeing the patient stories during our recent telethon, she wanted to give back and start volunteering. Because of…Keep reading
When storytellers tell their stories, they don’t often beat you over the head with the lesson you should take away from their work. No author — be it of a 1,000-page novel or a 300-word article — says, “This is how I want you to think differently once you’re finished reading.” There are several reasons…Keep reading
On my second day of work here at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis, I received an email from our HQ in Tampa that Care Managers Week was coming up in October and asking us to do something on it. So I set about researching what Care Managers do and what this week was…Keep reading
All storytellers can be content writers. Not all content writers can be storytellers. And if you’re running a business or a marketing department, you most definitely want storytellers. So what’s the difference? There are many, but the key one is the focus. Content writers are fine. The good ones will produce lots of copy that…Keep reading
Doctors are smart people. Those whom I have met during my first two weeks at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis have impressed me, yes, with their competency, but even more so with their passion and compassion. I already have learned so much from these doctors. My education in things such as limb-lengthening procedures…Keep reading
Sometimes stories just don’t work out. You can do all the right preparation, educate yourself on what is to be discussed, show up at the right time with all the right equipment and BAM! This story you knew had tremendous potential just disappears. That happened this week. I had planned to tell a story about…Keep reading
I stood in the hallway outside a patient exam room and took a deep breath. On the other side of that door was the first potential story of a new chapter in my life. It was odd. I have been in the patient exam room of medical facilities in no fewer than six states during…Keep reading