Delete Your Account? Not Necessarily.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I am seeing a rash of political posts from normally apolitical sources in the tech press lately, and understandably so. Here's a sample, from TechCrunch, where the author tells readers to delete their social media accounts:

If you're running a startup delete your account and look up from your laptop. This can be your first effort at corporate philanthropy. Donate to the ACLU. Volunteer to help immigrants assimilate. Send some cash to Trump. I don't care. Get political. We had a solid decade of inaction. It's time to delete your account and do something.
Now, up to a point, programmer/writer John Biggs is right: Most political social media is a waste of time, particularly when spent in an echo chamber. That said, he seems to overgeneralize, as if social media is a complete waste of time. (And the fact that he wrote a short blog piece urging people to "take action" demonstrates one thing that can be done with social media, showing that activism and social media are, at minimum, not mutually exclusive.)

But Briggs also makes the same mistake many Trump voters did when they opted for someone who would "do something" without being too clear (or principled) about what he would do. This is the same kind of mistake people make when they act as if intellectual property isn't "real" property, or that managers and executives don't actually "work." And it's the same kind of mistake Peter Schwartz once memorably described in an anti-Libertarian (note the capital) polemic many years ago:
Libertarianism has no philosophy. To put this more accurately: It renounces the need for any intellectual basis for its beliefs. The volumes of scholarly material defending Libertarianism are self-admittedly pointless, since the true Libertarian position is that no defense is necessary. Murray Rothbard, widely viewed as the father of the movement, expresses this clearly in presenting his central arguments for liberty.


In other words, the way social change takes place is as follows. People somehow conclude that the existing political structure must be overthrown, they decide to make a revolution, they deliver rousing speeches and print up fiery pamphlets, they draw up plans to storm the gates of government -- and then, like last-minute shoppers, they look around for the right brand of philosophy to grab off the counter in order to find out what the hell they are doing... (The Voice of Reason, pp. 311, 322)
The last thing we need even more of is blind action, not that we need people spending all of their time in high-tech "Amen corners," either. Perhaps more time spent learning and thinking alone, followed by actual debate (sometimes using, yes, social media), and then deliberate action based on what one has learned would be in order. But certainly, social media isn't to blame for the fact that we have just elected a populist with a scattershot agenda. A quote from the last link puts it quite succinctly: "If we don’t like the world, we should rethink the choices that produced it." Before you delete your account, ask yourself what you are doing with it, and whether you can do better or different. And think carefully, or risk epitomizing that which you find so alarming now.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

"He's suffering from Politicians' Logic;

Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it.

From, "Yes, Prime Minister" (British TV program)

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...

Hah! As in "Send cash to Trump!"