The Inevitability of Evil (Or "You Made a Deal With the Devil, So Calm Down.")

In the old days of Usenet (pre-1993), regular users would dread each September. New students would arrive at university, discover the “internet” and drag down the Usenet discourse until they too either bored or managed to mature. Eventually, an “Eternal September” arrived when AOL and CompuServe unleashed their members en mass and things have never been the same. Looking back, it all seems inevitable.

The same happens repeatedly with the social networks that we initially love and then loathe as they monetize their users. Facebook and Instagram are the two most recent examples of the public being shocked that they’re actually going to use our eyeballs to profit as best they can. Before that, Twitter created a backlash on their destroying third-party clients. And so on and on.

These services all increase in value as more people sign on. So, to initially kickstart adoption, they optimize for user experience. But, someone has to ultimately pay for all of those servers, stock options and investment bankers. Ultimately, the pressures to monetize are powerful and our experience suffers as our screens fill with advertisements or our personal data is sold.

Don’t sweat it: Much like Usenet, it’s inevitable that our experience, privacy and time will suffer as the social networks monetize. The only comfort is that these are better than the usual deal with the devil because we can always delete our account. However, the social networks are predicting we won’t because they’ve become too valuable to us — and they’re right.

Michael Girdley