There is no perfect solution. Not when the solution is applied to a large group of people. Because with large groups of people, there are too many divergent communities of thought that stray from consensus. And to coordinate solutions at scale across globally connected communities, you need to compromise.
A compromise means no one is totally happy.
The impact of scale necessitating compromise is something that became crystalized in my mind when I visited India not too long ago. Having grown up in the United States, experiencing India was a complete culture shock. It was drastically different in so many ways. Beautiful, vibrant, and the most populated place I’d ever experienced in my life. Constant exposure to people.
I visited India with a group of friends on a large trip. Brazilians, Thais, Americans, and Indians. A multiethnic group of cultural exchange. Each experiencing the country in unique ways according to the communities we came from.
I learned through this experience the challenge of applying standards to a large group of people. It was a lesson that applied down to the most miniscule levels of Indian society.
Like the seemingly simple act of crossing the street.
It’s hard enough to cross the street in India by yourself. Cars don’t typically stop for you. You have to charge into the street in a game of chicken. Stick out your hand like you’re the Heisman trophy and march confidently towards the other side of the street. I was incredulous from the experience.
When our large group of 30ish people tried to cross streets it was virtually impossible to do as an entire group. As a local friend said to me, “Doug, what you have to understand is that there are 1 billion people in this country. If a car had to stop for every person that wanted to cross the road, no one would get anywhere. We’d all be late. So rather than wait for a car to stop, you have to move into the road confidently and the cars will adapt to a new obstacle in the road.”
Then later in the trip, I was able to attend an Indian Wedding. A personal bucket list item for me.
On our way to the wedding, we got stuck in horrible traffic. Cars began moving into the ditch to create extra lanes and in some cases completely turn around. I have never experienced a logjam quite like it. When I asked what could cause such a problem, my same friend said, ” The Prime Minister is visiting our city, and his security requirements when he travels typically create terrible traffic jams. There are so many people here that a little blockage can have big ripple effects.”
By this point in the trip, I was more acclimated to the reality large populations and this explanation made sense. But the PM’s visit got us to talking about Indian politics. Which I was relatively unfamiliar with.
And again, my friend was helpful in explaining to me why good policy creation was so challenging in India, “Doug, you have to remember how many people there are here. It gets considerably more complicated when you consider all the unique cultures, religions, languages, and local histories that our country has. They are very distinct and have different wants and needs. So when we come together on a national level with so many people and communities, it’s impossible to please everyone with policy. In India, we do the best we can for the most amount of people, understanding that at the end of the day, not everyone will be happy.”
It took me a long time to really process the many stories and explanations my Indian friends shared with me on that trip. Culture shock for me was primarily tied to the crush of people we were surrounded with on a daily basis. The extreme tale of two cities’ vibe that existed in most of the places we visited was startling. But in truth, the thing that stuck with me most, the thing that I think back to most, is how unbelievably hard it is to please everyone when you attempt to manage a community of such size.
I am reminded of this experience recently when I see the world attack Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
Zuckerberg gets attacked for policy choices, for strategies, and honestly, what seems like for the mere act of waking up in the morning. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and attack him and his company for their choices. I certainly don’t agree with many of their seemingly authoritarian approaches to information censorship.
But the criticism ignores the wide gulf in culture that exists between the massive number of people and cultures that exist within Facebook’s reality. What I mean to say is that Facebook has 3.5 billion monthly active users. Put in perspective, that’s 3.5x the population of India. Can you imagine the extreme challenges a Prime Minister and government would have making policy that would appease everyone in a nation that large? It would be impossible. It is impossible. And I think that’s what’s so fascinating about how we as a society approach Facebook. Especially given Facebook’s recent launch and pivot to Meta, a Metaverse oriented business plan.
A lot of the public outcry is captured by the following: How dare Zuckerberg make such an audacious move to build and control an idea that was dreamed of as a decentralized utopia?
And yet, who else has the understanding of how to build policy frameworks on such a massive scale for such a diverse group of people than Facebook and Zuckerberg? Who else handles issues on such a global and interoperable scale? Who else is most experienced in the challenges created by such a massive digital network of people jockeying for influence and control?
My point isn’t that I want Meta to control the future Metaverse. I don’t.
It’s an irrelevant thought in my opinion. Especially given the rapid development of decentralized digital infrastructure. There will be many alternatives to the technologies Meta develops for accessing an immersive digital experience.
My point is who better to lead a push towards a more immersive digital future than one of the major pioneers of the information age? A person that built one of the most expansive and interconnected social networks in history. Will he do everything right? Absolutely not. He’s likely to make significant mistakes along the way. But will his investment and leadership help bring to reality an immersive digital existence sooner than it would have otherwise emerged? I believe the answer is most definitely yes..
It’s a tradeoff and a compromise. We want a digitally immersive reality as soon as possible. And one way to get that is to have a centralized power make an investment at a scale where this would be possible. A grassroots decentralized effort is unlikely to move as quickly as a centralized effort would. But that doesn’t prevent decentralized efforts for happening simultaneously.
We should aim to look at the positive aspects of this massive company’s pivot.
Meta is deploying vast sums of resources towards accelerating an outcome that was already underway. And we should reframe how we approach Zuckerberg’s decisions. Understanding that we’re all experiencing a new type of culture shock called Future Shock. The world is changing at an accelerating pace, and we struggle to keep up with these changes. We struggle to come up with a framework for how to think and feel about the cultural and societal impact of technological change.
With future shock we struggle to understand the significance of Zuckerberg’s actions because no one has ever had such influence before.
Consider: Mark Zuckerberg essentially runs a digital country of 3.5 billion people. He’s building a digital currency. He’s building a digital frontier for his people to inhabit. And he’s being attacked by foreign nationalist rivals that want to minimize his influence because they still play zero-sum games of the late industrial age. How should we feel about this?
Which brings us full circle.
There is no perfect solution in a digitally connected world. There is no right or wrong answer for how we should feel about Mark Zuckerberg, Meta, and the Metaverse. But we should be open to change, we should be empathetic to those that struggle to adapt, and we should understand that compromise and tradeoffs are essential for the digitally connected society of tomorrow.
I’m tracking a new narrative that makes sense of society’s shift to the Digital Age. The goal: documenting how to become a Sovereign Individual. Giving you the facts and tools to successfully navigate digital life. I cover topics you can’t fully appreciate because you’re in the thick of it. Everything you need to know is delivered in a weekly newsletter.
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iPhoto by Lewis J Goetz on Unsplash