Sean Parker, the visionary techno-elf who cofounded Napster and served as Facebook's first president, seems to have some regrets about building the social behemoth that's taken over our world, telling an audience this week, "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
At an Axios event on Wednesday, Parker reportedly described as himself becoming "something of a conscientious objector" to social media off-camera before sharing some interesting nuggets about Facebook and immortality onstage:
When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, "I'm not on social media." And I would say, 'OK. You know, you will be." And then they would say, "No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy." And I would say, ... "We'll get you eventually."
Suckers, Justin Timberlake's nerdier alter-ego seemingly thought to himself at the time. But more than a decade later, Parker's perspective has changed. "I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other," said Parker. "It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
Parker also shed light on the Facebook's early ethos and outlook. "The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'"
They accomplished that by creating "a social-validation feedback loop" based on giving users "a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever," Parker explained. "And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you more likes and comments."
Now, as a 38-year-old philanthropist and founder of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Parker admits that social network "creators" like him and Mark Zuckerberg "understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."
And what's the payoff for those Silicon Valley elite who made billions off "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology," as Parker refers to it?
"Because I'm a billionaire, I'm going to have access to better health care," he said. "So I'm going to be like 160 and I'm going to be part of this, like, class of immortal overlords. [Laughter]"