I think there's at least one place where there probably is a legislative remedy, which is around how personal information is used and exchanged with these companies. The laws regarding what companies can do with personal information are 40 years old, and they don't really anticipate this economy where there's so much value in something as subtle as, "I logged into this website and clicked on something once." So an update that resets the balance a little bit – not necessarily taking away the transaction of "I'm going to give my information over in exchange for a service," but at least requiring some ground rules so that it's a fair transaction. Someone pointed out to me something that I thought was interesting. He said, "The thing with that transaction is that the companies do their best to hide from the consumer the value of the information that they're getting." You need an asynchronous information environment in order to make that deal, and people might behave differently if they knew that Google had an internal figure that said that it's $6 a year for getting someone's gender. It might reset how people think about the bargains they're making with these companies.
Maybe we make it explicit. "I'm willing to sell you my gender for the following privileges." Tom Rushcoff gave a talk on Tuesday at an event I was at and uttered a phrase that he's being trying out a lot, which is, "If you're not paying money, you're not the customer, you're the product." And I think that's one thing this book does a great job of putting forward. I want to shift back a little into the political side of this . . . One of the things that I'm struck by in all of this is your origin myth for the book: that you were trying to follow more conservatives on Facebook. You're a noted progressive organizer and enemy of the Right, but you were making that effort to diversify your viewing. How common do you think that is? Do you think that experience of looking at the Internet as a tool for broadening your worldview – do you think that is what most people are looking for, or does that make you an anomaly? Are you way out on the edges of the bell curve on this?
This is sort of one of those questions like, "Do people care about politics, or are they apathetic?", where actually the answer is that most people have both of those things inside them. A lot of people are perfectly capable of seeing a national crisis and doing nothing. And also a lot of people, under the right circumstances, are totally willing to jump in and do a ton to help solve a big problem. I'm a big fan of John Dewey, who says that the best institutions call out the citizen in people and call out the spirit of discourse in people. And in turn, that then creates a citizenry that wants institutions that do that, and you get this virtuous loop. Wanting to know people who are different from yourself and getting different views of the world is something that a lot of people have in them, but we don't have institutions that strengthen that muscle very much. We don't encourage that a whole lot as a a society. And especially as people are getting more and more geographically self-sorted and segregated, it just becomes a more and more unfamiliar experience. "Why would I ever talk to someone who wasn't like me? They're weird." You have to start that virtuous cycle somewhere, and once you do, you can actually get a lot of people engaged in that process.
, Technology, Facebook, Harvard Book Store, More