Clicks vs. ResponsibilitySeptember 29, 2017
Excerpt from my book, The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, which drops this Tuesday (10/3). Pre-order on Amazon — in hardcover, Kindle, or Audible — from Barnes & Noble, or from an indie bookseller.
Clicks vs. Responsibility (from Chapter 4, Facebook)
Forty-five percent of Americans, and much of the world, turns to Facebook for its news. Yet Facebook doesn’t want to be seen as a media company. Neither does Google. The traditional thinking in the market is that they resist this label because of their stock valuations.
Why? Because media companies only get a mildly insane valuation, while the Four are addicted to ionospheric valuations — hundreds of billions. That way everyone in their small and select workforce can be not just comfortable or prosperous, but filthy rich. And that’s a retention strategy that is always en vogue.
Another reason they don’t want to be positioned as media companies is more perverse. Respectable companies in the news business recognize their responsibility to the public, and try to come to grips with their role in shaping the worldview of their customers. You know: editorial objectivity, fact-checking, journalistic ethics — all that kind of stuff. That’s a lot of work, and it dents profits.
In the case I’m most familiar with, the New York Times, I saw that editors not only wanted to get the news right; they tried to achieve a balance in the stories they edited. If there was a bunch of news that seemed to appeal to the left — say, Dreamers being deported or big chunks of Antarctica breaking off and melting — they’d try to get some conservative balance, maybe a David Brooks column attacking Obamacare.
Now people can argue forever about whether the shrinking ranks of responsible media actually achieve balance and get it “right.” Still, they try. When the editors are debating which stories to feature, they at least consider their mission to inform. Not everything is clicks and dollars.
But for Facebook, it is. Sure, the company tries to hide this greed behind an enlightened attitude. But basically they have the same MO as the other winners in the tech economy, and certainly the rest of the Four — foster a progressive brand among leadership, embrace multiculturalism, run the whole place on renewable energy — but, meanwhile, pursue a Darwinian, rapacious path to profits and ignore the job destruction taking place at their hands, every day.
Don’t kid yourself: Facebook’s sole mission is to make money. Once the company’s success is measured in clicks and dollars, why favor true stories over false ones? Just hire a few “media watchdog” firms to give you cover. As far as the machine sees it, one click is one click. So, entire editorial operations hatch all over the world to optimize production to this Facebook machine. They create crazy, fake stories that serve as clickbait for the left and the right.
The shit sandwich here is that having legitimate news next to fake news has only made the Facebook platform more dangerous. When standing in line at Kroger, you may suspect Hillary is not an alien, despite what the Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids tell you. However, the presence of the New York Times and WaPo on Facebook has legitimized fake news.
Taking Affection Back
There’s a great post on Medium about how affection has been taken away from males. As boys we’re trained that affection is either a means of progressing to sex (seduction) or a signal of homosexuality — which was, when and where I grew up, a bad thing. Because of bad behavior, our touch is not trusted. So most males are robbed of affection. It’s lost from our arsenal to express friendship, fondness, or love.
Touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health. Touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Touch signals safety and trust, it soothes.
— Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, UC Berkeley
As I get older, which is happening faster and faster recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to take affection back, especially as it relates to my boys. It bonds us, and I’m fairly certain it will add confidence to their lives, and years to mine.
One of my closest friends, Lee, comes from an Italian family. His dad owned furniture stores and looked like Burt Reynolds’s younger brother. Lee Sr. had come up to San Francisco to visit Lee, after Lee had moved up to join me at my first firm, Prophet. Lee was diagnosed with a wicked kidney stone and asked me to spend the day with his dad. Easy duty, as I liked Lee Sr., and it provided an excuse to go see the USS Pampanito submarine docked at Fisherman’s Wharf. What dad wouldn’t want to tour a submarine?
A couple memories from the day:
Being stuck in a tin can, 800 meters below the surface of the ocean, on the wrong end of innovation (sonar), and registering your likely demise (of the 50,000 young men in the German U-boat corps, only 10,000 survived) makes you realize you are a function of where and when you’re born. But that’s another post.
The thing I remember most about that day was when Lee Sr. first showed up. He walked into the apartment, and he and Lee Jr. kissed … on the lips, as if they were shaking hands. I had never seen two grown men kiss before. Twenty years later, my other touchstone for Italian culture, The Sopranos, confirmed this is common practice. I remember, after the initial shock, thinking it was nice.
I kiss my boys, a lot. The act itself is nice, but the real reward is the respect my boys have for the moment. They can be watching TV, fighting, complaining (they complain a shit-ton), but when I signal the kiss (I lean in and pucker), they stop everything, angle their chin upwards and kiss me on the lips … and then go back to what they were doing. It’s as if they know, this has meaning — the other stuff can wait a few seconds.
I never enjoyed holding hands until I had kids. The things we do for our kids — soccer practices, the worry, the carpools, the bad movies, setting up remote controls, working to give them a better life than yours. In isolation, each of these things is ok — tolerable, but nothing anybody who doesn’t have kids would ever do. Have you seen The Emoji Movie? However, the sum of these parts forms and checks an instinctive box. It gives you the sense you’re serving a larger purpose — the whole evolution thing.
Few things encapsulate this reward and distill it into a single action more than holding your child’s hand. Every kid’s hand fits perfectly into his or her parent’s. It’s one of those moments where you feel if you were to drop dead, it would be bad, but far less tragic than had you not marked the universe with purpose and success. You’re a parent, and your kid is holding your hand.
My oldest is holding my hand less, as he’s 10 and feeling his independence. At least he doesn’t freak out and scream “Stop it!” like the 14-year-old girl I overheard on the soccer field tonight, whose mom had committed the crime against humanity of grabbing her teenage daughter’s hand. My guess is, later the daughter felt bad.
My youngest, 7, still instinctively grabs my hand whenever we’re walking outside, and it’s magical. He’s a barbarian at home, terrorizing us all. But out in the wild he’s a bit intimidated and wants the security of touch from someone he knows will protect him. He goes for his mom’s hand first; I’m runner-up … but that’s ok.
I started registering the individuality of my parents at 6 or 7. Parents are like consumer brands in that, as kids, we remember only 2 or 3 key things about them, missing the nuance you only appreciate as you get older and realize people are complicated. My mom was smart, loved me, and was no-nonsense. My dad was intense and quiet around us as a family, but uber-charming and outgoing around strangers.
Hard to speculate what your kids will remember about you when they’re older. I’ve inherited some of the anger and intensity of my father, which makes our home less light than it could be. But I’m committed to ensuring one of my kids’ associations with me is “always kissing us, always extending his hand.” If men who look like Burt Reynolds can kiss other men, so can I. I’m taking affection back.
Life is so rich,