Bob Franken


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The problem with high tech is not the technology — it’s the humans. How’s that for a pearl of wisdom? No matter how brilliant or useful, we will muck things up. So it is with Facebook, which has created a remarkable global village in which personal news can be instantly shared with the world, along with all the fake news.
No matter how laudable the concept, it will be tarnished. Another pearl. That’s particularly true in the world of such cybermechanisms that have a profound cultural impact. The problem is that the genius creators often are dunderheads when it comes to figuring out social complexities. They and their revolutionary inventions are easy prey for the hustlers, who inevitably will figure out ways to corrupt them.
If that seems a tad cynical, let’s do ponder Facebook and the other innovations of the Internet Age. To a large extent, they harness algorithms to entice billions of people across the planet to surrender their personal information, often without realizing it, so that they can communicate with others everywhere who have made the same Faustian bargain. Among the devils are the merchants who take all this data and scrape off everything of value, much like strip mining. The toxic byproduct is a loss of privacy, to be exploited for profit by the likes of Cambridge Analytica. For those who have trouble keeping up with all the daily outrages, that is the corporate group with ties to the Trump organization. It broke the few rules of the high-tech frontier by allegedly feasting on data in ways that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg now grudgingly acknowledges were inappropriate. For all his success, Zuckerberg is not very swift when it comes to taking accountability for the debacles that constantly erupt under his watch. He certainly is not adept in dealing with the politicians constantly looking for targets of faux outrage, particularly vulnerable individuals and most particularly, those who don’t realize that they’re vulnerable. Like Zuckerberg.

Now he’s telling anyone who will listen, especially those with cameras or notebooks, that he might be willing to appear personally in front of a congressional hearing, as opposed to sending a subordinate. Let’s see if this will penetrate his hubristic bubble: The committees have subpoena power, so the members don’t need to ask. If they want him to show up, and at least two committees already do, he damned well will, when and where they specify; it’s not optional.
In fairness to Zuckerberg (if anyone wants to be fair to a snot-nosed kid who’s a gazillionaire), it’s not just his baby that’s grown into a monster. We already forfeit most of our privacy whenever we sit at our computer and order anything. It’s convenient, but every mouse movement, every keyboard peck, is recorded and chewed over for information nutrition. If we step outdoors, our every movement is visually observed by the millions of surveillance cameras we have decided are necessary to physically protect us. They’re invaluable when it comes to solving crimes (see the Austin, Texas, bomber), but all of us nonbombers also are under constant scrutiny. What the cameras don’t reveal, our smartphones do, tracking our location step by step. They work hand in hand with all the satellites whirling around subspace.
If it can be abused, you can bet that it will attract swarms of political operatives. Cambridge Analytica has ties to Steve Bannon and others in the Trump cabal, but to be even-handed, any candidate or officeholder would be a fool to not maintain a digital operation. It’s the new means of figuring out how to push everyone’s buttons.
Any hearings Congress does hold will be for show. They could come up with regulation, but why would they? The members take full advantage of this very anarchy in pursuit of their ambitions. Besides, someone inevitably will come up with some bright, shiny, new technology, which we will quickly turn dingy.

© 2018 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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