A New Social Media Paradigm

Johann Hari: We just have to say that a business model that’s premised upon discovering the weaknesses in your attention in order to hack it and sell it to the highest bidder is fundamentally immoral and we will not allow it.

Interviewer: What would replace it?

Hari: One possibility is subscription – and everyone knows how platforms like Netflix and HBO work. Another model is something like the sewer system. Before we had sewers, we had shit in the streets, we had cholera. So we all paid to build the sewers and we all own the sewers together. And just as we all own the sewage pipes together, we might want to own the information pipes together, because we are getting the attentional equivalent of cholera and the political equivalent of cholera.

Whatever alternative model we adopt, the crucial thing is to understand in this different model, your attention is no longer the product they sell to the real customer, the advertiser. Suddenly, you are the customer.

We need an attention movement to reclaim our attention and focus. And it requires a shift in perspective. When I couldn’t focus and pay attention, I would blame myself. I’d say, “Oh, you’re weak. You’re lacking in willpower.” This is being done to all of us. It’s like we’re having itching powder dumped on us all day and then we’re being told, “You know what, buddy, you might want to learn how to meditate, then you wouldn’t scratch so much.” We need to get out of this psychology and remind ourselves that we’re not medieval peasants begging at the court of King Zuckerberg for a few little crumbs from his table.

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