I’m going to unplug Facebook. I was told to join it a few years ago by a teacher group who told me it was a great way to have meetings, and share information. It is. It’s also a great way to organise to meet people. But I don’t care. People can email me. Or call me. And I can email them. Or call them. Sure, I’m not the most reliable and regular guy when it comes to calling or emailing friends for a quick catch-up, but I’m even worse at checking Facebook so there’s no real difference. The main difference will be that I won’t be complicit in Facebook’s increasingly fast slide into commercialism and politics.
There are two things I don’t like about money’s, shall we say, tendencies when it meets organisations that were previously free. Firstly, when money enters the picture it tends either to cut off access to things I used to like, or it flogs things I used to like to death in order to make more money. Secondly, money tends to make people undemocratic.
A long time ago I used to watch cricket. In the late 80s you would often find, in the long middle of the summer holidays, after the glorious binge of Christmas, that there was a five day test match on TV One. It was nice, if things were slow, to sit around and watch it. Then we got SKY. I haven’t seen a game of cricket since. When SKY arrived in New Zealand I was pretty excited. It sounded pretty good. You pay some money and get channels with loads of stuff and no ads. Whenever my mother and I stayed in hotels in the 90s one of the things that made it cool was that hotels always had SKY. Which is how I learned that there is nothing on SKY I want to watch. SKY have got around this problem by making a few good channels like SoHo, and making you pay again to get them. Two pay walls to get at good content? And networks wonder why illegal downloading is so popular.
Rugby, on the other hand, was sort of protected and didn’t entirely disappear into the SKY. Money did something even more terrible to rugby. It made it boring. Even though the players are faster, and stronger and playing on fields that are 100 times better, they play so often, and for teams they don’t care about, that I have stopped caring about them. Having branding on the All Blacks jersey was the thin end of the wedge. Now we have All Blacks selling us all kinds of things. Dan Carter is a very fine rugby player, but I dislike him purely for the vanity he displays by participating in Rexona, and Jockey ads. I hate all of the trading on history, tradition, and pride these ads often do, when all of those things came from the amateur age. I also hate being told that Dan and Richie and Nonu have to make a living. That’s true. But then I imagine their rugby contracts are pretty lucrative, and I imagine they could – if they were sensible – set themselves up for life off the back of it, without trying to sell me deodorant, or Visa, or Ford, or Weetbix, or Air New Zealand… (it’s a long list).
So, I have sort of stopped watching rugby.
And so it goes. The ads on Youtube are getting increasingly pushy and irritating, and I see that Youtube are now planning paid subscription channels. That will be fine for a while. Until more and more content goes there, and you have an entity that is essentially pay TV on-line. Tired of those annoying banner ads (that we introduced?) – why not try our fabulous ad-free subscription channels? Facebook is looking for ways to make money now that they are a publicly listed company. Google Ads. Ads everywhere. And what’s worse, the covert manipulation of it all which manifests itself in the “recommended for you” section of all these sites. The horror that is TV advertising is at least a blunt instrument. Everyone gets the same crap at the same time. It’s not a matter of a site profiling you over time and pushing certain things to the top of the page and certain things to the bottom. This is handy I suppose. I mean, I do really like Robert Kennedy, so if Youtube pushes something to my attention about RFK then that is kind of handy, it’s just this slightly queasy feeling I have about having things selected for me. Isn’t it normal to ask: “what aren’t you showing me?” It’s probably nothing, of course, videos about One Direction and cars, but, it’s the not knowing that it’s nothing, and that it’s not always nothing, that niggles.
Which leads to my second problem, which is a lack of democracy.
Facebook’s founder is backing a US campaign to get immigration laws changed so they can get more tech people into the US. Fine. A lot of ads for this super wealthy lobby group make it on to Facebook (if you’re in America), but corporate customers running counter ads about why this is bad have had their ads blocked by Facebook. Bill Gates is well-known for being a philanthropist. He gives a lot of money to worthwhile things. Some of these things are wonderful, but some aren’t really. In my opinion. Bill and I probably disagree about a lot of things. That’s fine. What I feel isn’t so fine is that he has thousands of times more power than me because he is rich. Thankfully he is in America and I am in New Zealand, but even from that distance his enormous largess with charter schools has an impact here. It enables fools. Fools who believe in secrecy and business, instead of openness and democracy. Bill can fund schools, and specific educators, and run campaigns, and lobby. I can’t. But isn’t my opinion of equal worth?
We have them here too. Owen Glenn is a man who likes to spend money “to get things done”. Owen Glenn seems an interesting person. He should contribute to the debates if he is passionate about the issues, but – like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – I wish he wouldn’t confuse wealth for importance. He makes a lot more money in a week than I will in my whole life, but on the principle of democracy his opinion should be worth the same as mine. The same goes for Mr Dotcom. As interesting as he is to splash across the news, we don’t need him thinking he has more right to be heard than anyone else in the courts.
Somehow it seems appropriate that we end with Kim Dotcom, because he naturally leads us to John Banks.