Nathan’s Blog

Social anxiety

Is Facebook really destroying the "social fabric of how society works"?

I saw a tweet yesterday that made me chuckle:

Chamath praising Elon Musk

If you don’t know who Chamath Palihapitiya is, he is a guy who used to lead the Growth team at Facebook and now is a venture capitalist / NBA team owner. Obviously I don’t know his motives for publicly declaring Elon Musk to be our generation’s “most important entrepreneur,” but it’s hard for me to shake the suspicion that it has something to do with another opinion he articulated recently:

From The Verge:

Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.

The thing is, Chamath isn’t the only former Facebook executive to turn against the company. Sean Parker, speaking at an Axios event in November, also had some harsh words for Facebook:

[they’re] exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology


The thought process [was] ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’


[Facebook] literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.


What’s happening?

This is a fascinating case study in human behavior. What makes a person publicly attack the company they built a significant portion of their fame and fortune on?

More interestingly: are they right? Is Facebook really that terrible?

Personally, I find it hard to imagine that Facebook is destroying “the fabric of society.” I mean, what would that even look like? But even if they aren’t destroying society, I do think clearly they’re making a permanent mark.

And indeed, the 2016 election seems to be the ultimate proof that American society is splitting into two incompatible factions with two incompatible ideologies. It seems to not just be happening here, but also globally (Brexit in the UK, Le Pen in France, whatever is happening in Catelonia, etc.

It’s hard to believe this is all just “politics as usual.” But we should remember that the world has lived with these technologies for a very short span of time, and throughout history, when major technological shifts have happened, culture eventually adapted and evolved.

Take, for example, urbanization.


When it first started happening, people really, really, hated it. Cities were hotbeds for disease, crime, poverty, and all sorts of social ills. It seemed like the normal world was ending.

other half

But that’s obviously not how people think of cities today. We evolved new mechanisms to solve the new problems that cities created. City life isn’t perfect, but it feels perfectly normal and healthy to live in one.

The same will happen over time with social networks, which exert a kind of urbanizing force on our minds. New memes, norms, policies, and institutions will emerge that solve problems as we get a better understanding of what they actually are. If you pay attention, you can see it happening already.

Life goes on the same as always: unlike ever before.

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