Tech companies are a net negative to society

Tech is making our society worse. This does not apply to every company of course but as a whole, tech companies making our lives "easier" is causing more depression, anxiety, ruining our attention span, etc. I realized how screwed up everything is when I sat down to read a book and could literally not even read for more than 15 minutes without getting distracted and stopping. Growing up with social media and receiving constant stimulation is a very bad thing. Also social media leads to depression and anxiety by constantly showing you others who are happier, more successful, etc. And to top it off everyone in tech acts like they are some force for good and are making the world a better place. Like buddy if you work at Facebook you have an ESG score of 0

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Comments (84)

Most Helpful
Jan 1, 2022 - 8:10am

I'm no luddite, but I agree with the sentiment that Facebook and similar services are harmful. Had nothing to lose deleting my account years ago, if anything it improved life substantially. One of Facebook's former execs, Chamath Palihapitiya, did a talk on this that is popular online.

Saying this, I once managed a large network of social media bots in a marketing role for a finance company. It is more effective than television or radio, and it drives the consumer economy. Similarly, luxury tech companies like Apple also drive consumption, even if they have a net negative effect on the entire globe. Is a corporate raider or a vulture capitalist on Wall Street more noble?

I don't think there is a moral high ground when it comes to big business. It is what it is, but at least Wall Street does not pretend it's something else. Wall Street's influence is also far more subtle, often completely undetectable by the public at large. This is because Wall Street operates on financial abstractions and other complex mechanisms that are hidden by the public's lack of specialized understanding.

If you understand the inner workings of the financial world, which is really the beating heart of global capitalism, you are most likely the kind of person that wants to be a part of it. If you want to be a part of it, you have to keep a lot of trade secrets and sensitive information. You are "behind the curtain", and awareness of the geopolitical implications of the global financial system is guarded by an incentive to maintain the status quo.

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Jan 1, 2022 - 10:31am

I'd argue it is. I got my phone in 6th grade so I was 10. Huge difference though between my LG Xenon which had a slide out keyboard and an iPhone nowadays that is a computer in tote hands. I never texted anyone and just used it for calling my parents.

I'm addicted to my phone and am working on it. I'll close an app and reopen it like 2 minutes later bc I get bored. It's even worse for kids who grow up with parents that give them an iPad at 3 years old instead of playing with them

Jan 1, 2022 - 6:56am

Yes, almost all tech companies are shit, totally agree.

Social Media (Instagram, FB, Tinder) - Psychology issues (anxiety, insecurity, distraction, etc.). 

Technology (Apple, Tesla, etc.) - Expensive shit which people do not need mostly when there are cheaper alternatives, so people getting in debt to have the last tech toys.

Amazon - Overspending and impulsive buying (some may say it's good but if they really cared about their costumers they would not save your card so you directly can purchase everything, instead some steps for confirmation would be implemented on the card so you can be more mindful).

No surprise those are also some of the most valued, because they can exploit the shit out of your mind and wallet without you even noticing it.

Respect only to Google and other software, hardware and applications (Adobe, Intel, Zoom etc.) which really improve our lives each day.

Jan 1, 2022 - 11:28am

That's not the tech side of Amazon lol, that's the e-commerce side. The tech side is AWS which is what really brings them profit and on top of that is what holds up a good chunk of the modern centralized internet, or web2.0.

Jan 1, 2022 - 1:04pm

You could make the same argument about social media as you could with any legacy media.  TV producers want you to sit through endless commercial breaks, movie directors want you to buy overpriced popcorn and sodas, etc.  But nobody is suggesting that entertainment is a net negative on society.

Same with legacy consumer discretionary companies.  They sell things people want but don't necessarily need.  But the fact that things other than food or basic clothes are in stores is not a drag on society either.

Jan 1, 2022 - 5:52pm

Ease of access is the main thing here. Watching the TV requires you to be close to a TV, buying food and drink at a theatre requires you to be at a theater, etc. Whereas with a phone you can literally have it by you 24/7.

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Jan 3, 2022 - 12:21pm

Isn't Google selling our info to all of these "bad" companies to exploit us? Sure, their search engine is super useful, but even that prioritizes sites that pay for priority.

Don't mean to flame you here but it seems like even some of the tech companies that appear like great utilities are riddled with more toxic stuff. Such is the way of the world I spose.

Jan 5, 2022 - 4:59am

I hate arguments like this. Yeah, no shit your data is sold by the bundle. They have to fund their services that are to a large extent the backbone of society. Also, why would you care if your data is sold? It's not like you loose actual privacy whatsoever. 

What will you do about it?

Jan 1, 2022 - 7:22am

This is kind of ridiculous. I guess you prefer the days where you had to flip through yellow pages to find anything you needed or walk to the bank to get anything done with your finances.

Technology is just technology. It is neither inherently good nor bad. It's people who mismanage technology and use it for evil. Let's focus on the root cause that has turned social media into a disgusting platform.

People are selfish, greedy, self-absorbed assholes. Kids are too vulnerable. Mental health is overlooked. Parents are overworked. People are uneducated.

These things have always been true. It's the same shit Mcdonald's, MTV, Vogue has been exploiting for decades.

Controversial
Jan 1, 2022 - 8:00am

What ever happened to personal accountability?  It's not Zuckerberg's fault you're insecure about some Instagram model or you're jealous of your buddy's new car on Facebook.  It's your fault.  And the recommender algorithms simply show things you may be interested in.  Just because you can't stop clicking on them doesn't mean I shouldn't get the best recommendations.

Thats my take, from someone who uses social media very sparingly.

Also, interesting how there's no mention of misinformation… hmm… that's a common critique of social media companies…hmm

Jan 1, 2022 - 11:38am

I may disagree with you on many things, but on this I agree. People who hate social media yet proceed to use social media are the biggest idiots and are the causes of their own misery. I am not a fan of Zuckerberg so I took responsibility and stopped using the apps. Haven't had an IG in years and don't even use facebook anymore. You're 100% right on the accountability thing.

Jan 2, 2022 - 2:45am

People have been absolutely stripped of their agency in the last 20 years, and it's appalling. I should rephrase that, people have been willfully giving up their agency, and it's appalling. You hear it all the time, "oh their environment made them do it, how could they know any better, they're too stressed out to make good choices, the peer pressure is too great to quit social media, etc. etc."

The more you realize it the more you see it pop up in arguments as excuses for behavior. And the culprit is almost always capitalism, "capitalism made me do this or that, I can't make my own decisions because capitalism was there." It's so childish, not to mention they completely fail to explain how capitalism itself caused those issues as if human nature would be any different under a socialist or communist economic system. People would still be addicted to Facebook. I'm glad Stalin never had access to this shit and I pity the Chinese people that have to deal with Xi. 

Jan 2, 2022 - 10:47pm

What your pea sized brain doesn't comprehend is that these services are literally designed to condition our monkey minds into using them. See the video 112343321 posted above with the commentary by Chamath (who was one of the key players in this design). The issue is not simply 'don't use it' esp for younger people whose brains haven't fully developed the willpower mechanisms. You think a 12 year old has the awareness and self-control to stop using TikTok which has arguably the most attention-keeping algo in the world?

Moreover, this completely ignored the social aspect. When all your friends have social media (IG / TikTok), you really think a 12 year old can just totally ignore it without social consequences? Some of us have the luxury of remembering the pre-social media world and are also getting older so we can eventually delete it. For a digitally native generation like Gen Z, it is infinitely harder to ignore using social media -- let alone the years of conditioning that make it psychologically very hard to break from. How is it possible for you to consistently have the most autistic takes?

Jan 3, 2022 - 1:17pm

Whatever happened to personal accountability? It's not Zuckerberg's fault people can't tell what an obviously fake news article is and fail to do any type of follow up research. It is the people's fault that fall for it. Yet, I think a lot of people would argue, maybe you included, that misinformation on Facebook is a net bad for society.

Jan 7, 2022 - 6:30am

What I mean is there is a large segment of this board who believes in blatant misinformation on COVID vaccines or climate change.  I presume they came across such content on Facebook or something, so they don't mention that as a negative to social media.

Jan 1, 2022 - 11:05am

I can't say that technology in general is bad for society because it helps companies run more efficiently.  I would not even have a business if high tech did not exist.  I depend on people finding my business online and so do a lot of businesses.   I also participate in social media groups for business purposes.  I do agree that that social media for personal use is bad for society but I rarely use it this way.  I could not possibly care less about anyone's update or a selfie boasting about something. 

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Jan 1, 2022 - 5:53pm

Amazon has made my life significantly better. I am a big consumer and not having to drive to the store for these items is a large convenience.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Jan 1, 2022 - 6:07pm

Isaiah_53_5 💎🙌💎🙌💎

Amazon has made my life significantly better. I am a big consumer and not having to drive to the store for these items is a large convenience.

Amazon almost has a cult following.  Quite a bit of what Amazon sells can be bought at other online stores like Target and Walmart with delivery times that just as fast, especially with Walmart.  With that said, getting everything delivered and quickly is great, regardless of which company you use. 

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Jan 1, 2022 - 6:41pm

Target and Wal Mart do not have any of my endurance products or triathlon/MMA gear. 

Like this box of gels off of Amazon (purchased 108 times). That's 2,592 gels. 

-
 

Amazon literally has everything. 

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Jan 1, 2022 - 6:04pm

This thread is like saying a knife is bad because it kills people. Knives can be very helpful in many ways. 

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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Jan 2, 2022 - 1:21am

I am of such a divided mind on social media, the internet, tech sector, Silicon Valley, etc., but what I don't like is how we have framed the tech sector as "technology" and their products as "innovation." Technology, to me, is radically improving on a jet engine design, figuring out how to grow meat from cells, farming in a skyscraper, creating re-usable rockets, autonomous vehicles, improving solar panel energy density, building ocean clean-up vehicles. For the most part, we don't classify real innovation under "technology"--we classify faux innovation under technology. For example, social media companies are just glorified advertising agencies--Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are just ad agencies. NFTs and cryptocurrency (and I'm a crypto investor) are just new methods to push money around--there's no real innovation in them. Google's only innovation has been its search engine, which was launched 2 decades ago now--since then it's been a series of strikeouts (remember: Google purchased YouTube and Waymo has been a total flop). Apple innovated with the smartphone and for almost 15 years now that one innovation has carried the company. The so-called tech sector produces little innovation--it just pushes bits around.   

In other words, most real technological innovation has been outside of the "tech" sector. Unfortunately, the tech sector has sucked up a disproportionate amount of investor capital, thus leading to 20 years of relative technological stagnation. 

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Jan 2, 2022 - 6:20am

Just because a particular innovation isn't utilitarian enough for your tastes doesn't mean it isn't inherently innovative.  Social media has changed the world we lived in completely, and billions use it every day.  Look at Trump's twitter, even global politics have been radically changed by it.  Not exactly "ad agencies".  Are you also going to say that any of the previous mass media developments (newspapers, television, radio, recorded music, etc.) are not innovations?

I agree with you on cryptocurrencies, at the moment they are still vehicles to make or break fortunes, and don't really impact the larger economy.

Jan 2, 2022 - 10:20am

You're wrong about literally every topic on which you comment, so we're not going to agree--you're actually a really terrible thinker, which is why you're wrong so often. 

The larger point is not to play word semantics over the word innovation (that's what shallow thinkers like you are about); it's to point out that useless technology companies are snuffing out investment in real innovation, which is bad for society. Humans have for eons figured out new and innovative ways to kill, enslave, and addict people. Facebook, et al have created innovative algorithms for addicting people to produce ad revenue. That's not something to celebrate. 

,

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Jan 2, 2022 - 7:38pm

The most disgusting thing about tech companies is they're hardcore open borders policies and PC rinse the world.

Meanwhile Sergey Brin won't be living next to your typical new Sudanese or Egyptian immigrant. He lives far away in a white neighborhood far away from the malaises of the world where people who he covers for come from are plagued with.

I hate the PC culture at the exec suite. If you notice YouTube wont let you post any raw comment. All are deleted automatically. I can't even write Islam is a threat without having it automatically deleted. It's obstruction of my freedom of speech.

Jan 3, 2022 - 11:31am

Ubiquitous pornography is destroying a generation of men (and the women who suffer from the destruction of men). At the very least, kids should not be able to access it, a commonsense position that we can't get any agreement on because of the degenerate libertarians. 

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Jan 3, 2022 - 4:24pm

I could argue that pornography is a great outlet for a lot of young men to release their sexual frustration. The world of dating is getting more and more competitive, and many young men of today will be left in the dust, partner-less past the age of 30. What are guys like that supposed to do? A bunch of disaster like the Columbine shooting and the like were caused by incels who didn't get what they want. It's a good thing if these guys can be pacified in any way.

Jan 3, 2022 - 11:43am

FD: I despise social media and therefore WSO is my only public online presence apart from my professional website governed by my company, just wanting to offer counterpoints

if someone uses a phone to call in a murder of an enemy, is it the phone's fault? the telecom company's fault? the individual's fault? or the VC sponsor that bootstrapped the development of said technologies?

if someone uses a technology in a way that was not intended like social media to steer public opinion one way or the other, is that the consumer's fault for not being curious enough to fact check? is it the social media company's fault for not being able to distill what's real and what's not? is it government's fault for not being more involved/being too involved? is it advertiser's fault for continuing to pay money to these platforms? 

on the net positive/negative to society, who decides that and who quantifies that? should it be government's job to prevent everything that's a net negative to society from being there? in that case, I'd argue that corn subsidies, monocrop agriculture, benzodiazepines/SSRIs/antidepressants, offshoring of critical goods, seed oils, the food pyramid (and anything remotely connected to ancel keys), the war on drugs/drug policy, the university system, alcohol, tobacco, cars that can go faster than 50mph, pornography, racial classification on all documents, ta-nehisi coates novels, pharmaceutical companies, the entire financial services sector, advertising in general, television, and much much more are net negatives on society (the way I see it). 

that said, I don't think we should just outright ban things that people think are negative. I think that problems start emerging when there's a lack of informed consent which is where I think tech companies fall. before apple introduced the tracking consent thing, no one had any idea how much applications were tracking them, and that's just a teeny tiny step. I'd rather see freedom of speech, freedom of choice, informed consent, and go from there. I trust governments to regulate social media effectively and without taking away too many freedoms about as much as I trust zuck to act ethically

Jan 3, 2022 - 1:46pm

I reject the premise that you put forth. Social media is already regulated and censored by a large, unaccountable oligopoly that outright prevents competition (it literally killed a competitor just 1 year ago). It's such a bizarre notion--"what if we use the government to regulate social media? What happens if the wrong people get in control and regulate social media? I don't trust the government." The wrong people already DO regulate social media. At least if government regulates it the elected officials are accountable to voters and the Bill of Rights. 

There is this bizarre libertarian notion that private companies can do anything they want, even if it's to crush the freedoms of the American citizen. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution states the following: "We the People of the United States, in order to...secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States of America." That's literally the stated purpose of the U.S. Constitution--not to secure rights threatened by government but to secure rights, and to secure rights of future Americans yet born. 

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Jan 3, 2022 - 2:24pm

I don't recall saying private companies ought to be able to do anything they want, that seems like you're trying to put words in my mouth. and I never said we shouldn't regulate, I said we shouldn't ban things that someone believes are a net negative, again this feels like you're trying to put words into my mouth. I said I don't trust governments to regulate social media effectively about as much as I trust zuckerberg to act ethically, so it appears we agree that the current state of things is not ideal.

the premise of my post was not to question the conclusion (that something should be done about social media companies) or offer solutions (because I have none), it was simply that before individuals call for something to be banned or regulated or curtailed in some manner, really think long and hard about that, because it's a slippery slope. if you reject the premise that we should think long and hard before jumping to a top down solution, then we're just going to continue to talk past each other, have a nice day

Jan 3, 2022 - 1:31pm

This is an absurd take, lol. Enjoy the 20th century while I order groceries/food like a fat f*ck from my couch, enjoy way more entertaining steaming platforms from said couch (instead of a movie theatre), drive an electrically powered car (I don't but just pretend), find a hot date from hinge every weekend, and work remotely from SAID COUCH. Yes, I love my couch, and the 21st century babyyyyy.

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Jan 3, 2022 - 1:49pm

ILikeCommercialRealEstate

This is an absurd take, lol. Enjoy the 20th century while I order groceries/food like a fat f*ck from my couch, enjoy way more entertaining steaming platforms from said couch (instead of a movie theatre), drive an electrically powered car (I don't but just pretend), find a hot date from hinge every weekend, and work remotely from SAID COUCH. Yes, I love my couch, and the 21st century babyyyyy.

What you put forth is a dystopia envisioned by Wall-E. And society is not happier for it--as a collective, we're way unhappier. 

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Jan 3, 2022 - 2:37pm

Exactly, a lot of what's being described is the streamlining of mindless consumerism or bombarding us with more and more data that our brains have no idea what to do with anyway. Like ok, it now takes 1 day instead of 4 weeks to get some useless junk on Amazon that you use once and forget about because your ADD brain is already too busy ordering the next thing to get that hit of dopamine. Or you have access to these dating apps so you can meet girls that you're again too anxious or distracted to form normal relationships with anyway. 

Are these things truly making our lives "better?" I'd say no. 

Jan 3, 2022 - 4:20pm

I'll chime in as someone who works at one of the aforementioned tech companies.

First of all, the premise that we believe ourselves to be "a force for good" and that we "are making the world a better place" is patently false. There will always be morons with their heads far up in their asses, but most of my coworkers and I are well aware that our work is not groundbreaking. Hell, as a junior engineer most of the time I'm tasked with some menial job like speeding up some data pipeline by a couple of milliseconds or doing some sort of BS low latency optimization. But they offered me over 200K+ TC as a new grad, and promised fast growth/promos + tons of learning opportunities. How does one turn an offer like that down, especially with rising inflation, real estate bubbles, and crippling debt from overpriced tuition??

The argument about social media wrecking our attention spans and making us all feel inferior is one I can agree with. As others have already mentioned, companies like Facebook and the like explicitly designed their infrastructure and algorithms to hook people, and keep them coming back again and again. But at the end of the day, isn't nearly every corporation profit-driven? How can you fault these tech companies for trying to squeeze every dollar out of mindless consumers? These consumers were not forced to sign up for these social media accounts and interact with these company platforms; it was of their own volition. 

So are tech companies morally bankrupt? Yes. But so are tons of other companies. Have we already forgotten about 2008? Just because you guys don't wear suits anymore, things are different? Any time any industry goes through the glory years, they also get criticized to kingdom come. These discussions are good, but when do we draw the line between a company's lack of morals and a consumer's lack of awareness? There are many, many people that are able to stay off social media and live a distraction-free life, focusing on only themselves. How do they do it? Why can't you?

Jan 3, 2022 - 5:25pm

I'm not sure I entirely agree with the line of thinking I'm about to present, but it's an idea I'm trying to workout, so hear me out (hypothetically). I think the argument is about externalities with potentially multiplicative effects and it goes something like this. with something like smoking cigarettes (2nd hand smoke notwithstanding), the risk is confined to the user, and doesn't reverberate outward to society. so if one does not participate in the risk taking of the harmful substance, one does not assume said risks. the government in this case just uses informed consent and market forces create disincentives (can't smoke in many restaurants, stigmatized publicly, warning labels on product, higher insurance premiums, etc.)

now, switch to something like the mortgage market destabilizing the entire banking system for all, chemical companies polluting the air and water, or in this case, social media polluting the democratic system. the question is (and again, idk if I agree or disagree with this, I'm torn) since a non-user is exposed to the ill effects of a product, should said product be regulated to control the negative externalities? in the other examples, obviously it makes sense, a company should not be allowed to destroy the water supply just like (even though this isn't the case) banks shouldn't be allowed to offload risk to society and reap all of the rewards. so where does that leave us with tech companies? I see a lot of "good" with social media and tech in general, friends who were able to grow their businesses via advertising their products while circumventing the more expensive and lower ROI media of TV and newspaper, being able to stay in contact with friends who are across the world, learning new things (e.g. khan academy on youtube, easy language group, wikipedia), and everyone obviously knows the bad. is the good worth the inevitable cost to society? the idealist in me says it should be, because there's plenty of good to go around, but I highly doubt the majority of youtube users are doing something like learning statistics or brushing up on their french rather than watching hot take videos or girls squatting in leggings that're 2 sizes too small.

is the solution as simple as informed consent? telling people what they're getting into? or does that not go far enough? I'd argue that whether or not it's provable that social media stole an election or not, it's had a profound effect on every election since 2008 and I don't see that changing. on the other hand, when has society not been influenced by power hungry types? we have the war on drugs because of yellow journalism, does that mean the newspapers are bad? maybe, but I'd argue not necessarily. part of me thinks the solution lies in simply taking off the moderation function (unless it directly violates a law like slander, libel, incitement, etc.) and letting the best argument come to the top, but I don't know.

what I do personally is not use the shit, I doubt I'll let any kids I have use it, and I'm really torn as to whether a top down solution is right here. I can see an argument that since it does affect society negatively, yes. on the other hand, you can't fix stupid, and if someone makes a voting decision based on a tweet (just like people believed because of yellow journalism that marijuana made black people rape white women), God help them cause the gummint sure can't.

hypothetically, if you were to design a regulation for social media/tech, what would it look like? would it be preventing moderation/censorship? would it be informed consent? would it be a change in the engagement algorithms to not try to maintain people's attention? I'm nearly tech illiterate, so I truly don't know. whatcha think?

Jan 3, 2022 - 4:21pm

I don't know what the answer to social media is, but a lot of the problems could be solved with better parenting and education. I believe parents should actually teach their kids how to responsibly use tech and that they shouldn't be allowed to use it before an appropriate age. An 11 year old is too stupid to know what is good for them. I'd like to see parents make better choices and not rely on the government to "help". 

Jan 3, 2022 - 4:25pm

I'd also hope that by the time my kids are older that other parents have come to grips with the fact that technology needs limits and I'm not fighting my 10 year because they want an Iphone like all the kids in their class. If all the parents decided that their kids couldn't have iphones and social media before say 16, no kid would be left out and everyone would be better off. 

Jan 3, 2022 - 8:50pm

But can you blame these companies? 

It's nearly impossible to compete against others, unless you're neck deep on VC money. And with VC money, comes a never-ending quest of growth. Growth at all costs. 

When investors want their ROI, it's time to either sell the company, or take it public. And from there, it's the never-ending quest for highest possible profit margins. 

Tech companies are, and have been for decades, vehicles to primarily make a relatively small group of people filthy rich. Google abandoned their "Don't be evil" moto a long time ago.  

And, not to mention, it's rich to call tech companies a net negative on a finance board. Few sectors have gained more from the tech revolution than finance, from VCs to M&A deals to PE firms. 

It's difficult to act ethically, when you're competing against companies which are getting rewarded (hand over fist) by not doing the right thing.  

Jan 4, 2022 - 12:30am

on first look, tech make life easier. on 2nd look, their businesses are actually built upon exploiting human weakness (instant satisfaction, prying for privacy, etc.). on 3rd look, they successfully brand themselves as "good" guys to the detriment of the society, and becoming even more extractive than the worst kind of capitalism meanwhile keeping the public complacent and praising for their greatness. 

Jan 4, 2022 - 9:09pm

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Go, Go, Excel

Jan 17, 2022 - 3:03pm

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