I had the opportunity a few summers ago to spend an afternoon with Mark Zuckerburg. As the founder and CEO of Facebook, he has ultimate control over what has become a cornerstone of civilization and the modern world as we know it: social media. Whether social media is a good thing or not is a charged topic of controversy and there are respectable points to be made for both sides. I am the first to admit that there is no shortage of problems when it comes to the effects that it is having on young people, and I am commonly called out as a hypocrite when I emphasize the importance of getting off Instagram via Instagram. Today I want to take the side of the anti-Facebook tribe and share something that I learned from my meeting with Zuck and subsequent thought experiments.
Let me start by saying that people like Mr. Zuckerberg are in no way prepared or qualified for the responsibility that comes along with creating a network of over 1 billion people. No one is. The CEOs in these positions get there through a combination of intellect and luck, and they could never forecast the great power and accompanying responsibility that awaits them. Zuck is a smart person, but he went from being a dorm-room programmer to one of the most powerful men on Earth in a matter of years. I felt in my conversations with him that he was just another computer-savvy homie who had a good idea manifest into something greater than the sum of its parts. He certainly wasn’t an easy person to talk to, and that brings me to my next point. It is almost always people like Zuckerburg that are creating our dominant social-media platforms—people who excel on a laptop but have below-par social skills. Isn’t it ironic, that the people controlling our social media have worse social abilities than the people using it? I think that is one of the reasons we should be careful with it—we shouldn’t let groups of hunched-over programmers tell us what it means to be socially competent. Those are just a few thoughts, but they are ones I think are worth pondering. It is critically important that we learn to use our new tools in a way that is societally constructive and benevolent.
I should add that my experience with Mr. Zuckerberg was nothing but positive. He is a nice guy who seems genuine in his attempt to bring people together. I told him that I was into astronomy and he said, “Oh, so Elon Musk must be your hero.” I responded by saying that I was impressed by the work SpaceX was doing, and he told me he was still salty with Elon after a dozen Facebook satellites exploded during a failed Falcon 9 launch. The problems of a billionaire, I suppose.