On October 29, 2018, Virtual Reality Pioneer, Jaron Lanier, came to UC Santa Cruz to deliver the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture. Lanier’s lecture, How the Internet Failed and How to Recreate It, kicked off a year of programming dedicated to Data and Democracy.
Ahead of the scheduled evening lecture, Lanier met with a small group of first year students from the College Scholars Program. As Nick Ibarra details in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Lanier invited the students to quit social media for six months as an experiment. But, the students weren’t necessarily on board. Ibarra writes, “Kora Fortun, a freshman linguistics and math major, told Lanier that she agrees with many of his premises but sees a different path forward. ‘I see more hope in a new generation of social media users being aware and thus maintaining some control of the platforms we use,’ Fortun said.”
The opportunity for UCSC students to engage directly with Lanier gave them a chance to hear not only about the dangers of social media but about the realities of Silicon Valley. Lanier spoke directly to the many Computer Science students in the room, noting sharply that tech alone cannot make the world better. He encouraged our future coders and tech innovators to think creatively and to foster a belief that the world can be better.
October 30, 2018
SANTA CRUZ — Social media is destroying Democracy.
Or so goes the punchline to tech pioneer Jaron Lanier’s visit to Santa Cruz on Monday, where Lanier — whose varied career includes coining the term “virtual reality” and earning a spot on Time Magazine’s 2010 list of the world’s 100 most influential people — met with UC Santa Cruz students and delivered an evening lecture.
A renowned computer scientist, thinker and author, Lanier has been sounding the alarm about the supposed perils of social media for more than a decade, warning that the ad-revenue-driven, attention-hoarding algorithms of companies such as Facebook and Twitter are inherently structured to trigger a fight-or-flight response, and claiming the platforms could threaten the stability of modern society itself.
But it’s only recently, as current events provide frequent fodder for Lanier’s case, that an audience beyond the hills of Silicon Valley has perked up its ears.
“I’m really concerned Facebook is going to kill all the democratic governments before we have a chance to regulate it,” Lanier told an audience of freshmen from UCSC’s College Scholars honor program.
The students had just finished reading Lanier’s newest book, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” as part of their coursework and were invited to ask its author questions directly.
Lanier’s visit, which kicked off a year of “Data and Democracy” programming at the UCSC Humanities institute, could hardly have been better timed to underscore his central claim.