The monkey looked up at the stars and thought to himself, “Memory is a stranger, history is for fools.” And he cleaned his hands in a pool of holy writing, turned his back on the garden, and set out for the nearest town. Hold on, hold on soldier. When you add it all up: The tears and the marrowbone, there’s an ounce of gold and an ounce of pride in each ledger. And the Germans killed the Jews, and the Jews killed the Arabs, and the Arabs killed the hostages. And that is the news. And is it any wonder that the monkey is confused. These thoughts come from the song Perfect Sense (I and II), written by Roger Waters, and released on his 1992 album, Amused to Death.
I am a huge fan of Roger Waters’ music and stagecraft, though not a huge fan of his politics. But now and again, he gets it right. A couple of weeks ago, Waters rejected a huge offer from the social media giant Facebook, to use a Pink Floyd Song in an advertisement. Water was quoted as saying “How did this little ##### who started out as ‘She’s pretty, we’ll give her a four out of five, she’s ugly, we’ll give her a four out of five,’ how did we give him any power?”
How can you not agree with Waters on this, and how can the monkey not be confused? While my staff does use social media sites, I personally have never posted anything myself. Why would I? Why would anybody want my opinion about how hot Britany Spears looks, or how great Tampa’s football team is? And while I understand that there have been many ways that the Facebook and other social media sites have been used for wonderful things (for example the people of Cuba have used social media to help organize protests against a totalitarian regime), I view these websites in a very different way.
I see Facebook, or Tic-Toc, or for that matter Google and Amazon, as a farmer milking a heard of cows. The users – well they are the cows, being milked by the companies for the most intricate details of their lives. My wife, as an example, has one of those Alexa devices in the house constantly listening to everything we do and say, and sending all of that information back to some Amazon employee to use for cooking up ways to sell us stuff, or at worst, to sell our information to spammers, fraudsters or the government.
Sure, in many cases it’s a trade. Google gives me a great way to search for information, and for that I pay by sharing my deepest secrets with John Hennessy and Sundar Pichai, but these giant network companies are more than that. They are in many ways a utility.
The Democrats in Congress are pushing some legislation to provide limited controls on these companies by, for example, requiring online platforms to allow users to communicate directly with users on rival services and giving states some power to determine the courts in which to prosecute tech antitrust cases. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like meaningful legislation is in the cards.
Issues such as platform censorship and lack of neutrality, or requiring users to pay for advertising to get placement on a search engine, or selling user information without their direct consent, are not likely to be addressed. And while some anti-trust cases may be brought, the way that government determines if a monopoly exists in a market does not consider companies that provide free services to be monopolies.
Particularly for those who use social media’s ability to stifle thoughts, to control purchases and to extract information from users is a sure invasion of privacy and likely a threat to their liberty, but they continue to use these sites and their influence continues to grow.
And that is the news. And is it any wonder that the monkey’s confused.