Today’s fatalism about the brokenness of the internet feels similar. We’re still in the infancy of this century’s triple digital revolution of the internet, smartphones, and the social web, and we find ourselves in a dangerous and unstable informational environment, powerless to resist forces of manipulation and exploitation that we know are exerted on us but remain mostly invisible. The Doomsday Machine offers a lesson: We should not accept this current arrangement. No single machine should be able to control so many people.
If the age of reason was, in part, a reaction to the existence of the printing press, and 1960s futurism was a reaction to the atomic bomb, we need a new philosophical and moral framework for living with the social web—a new Enlightenment for the information age, and one that will carry us back to shared reality and empiricism.
Andrew Bosworth, one of Facebook’s longtime executives, has compared Facebook to sugar—in that it is “delicious” but best enjoyed in moderation. In a memo originally posted to Facebook’s internal network last year, he argued for a philosophy of personal responsibility. “My grandfather took such a stance towards bacon and I admired him for it,” Bosworth wrote. “And social media is likely much less fatal than bacon.” But viewing Facebook merely as a vehicle for individual consumption ignores the fact of what it is—a network. Facebook is also a business, and a place where people spend time with one another. Put it this way: If you owned a store and someone walked in and started shouting Nazi propaganda or recruiting terrorists near the cash register, would you, as the shop owner, tell all of the other customers you couldn’t possibly intervene?