a spotter’s guide to the revolution: apologies, bankruptcies, and forwarding addresses

recently facebook has amped up its apology tour with the launch of a new, highly criticized ad campaign, and the promise of being able to actually wipe all the data you don’t want shared. WhatsApp co-founder jan koum confirmed he is leaving Facebook, reportedly because of a clash over its approach to personal data and encryption. cambridge analytica is filing for bankruptcy, and reputable news coverage continues to roll out evidence of data rape by everyone from google to wireless providers

citizens and ex-tech executives alike have been hedging their bets on what happens next: when this social house of cards falls to the ground, what do we build in its place?

brian acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, left Facebook a year ago for similar reasons to jan koum. acton’s non-profit signal, an encrypted messaging service, “could become a high-profile example of a better path to tech success — one driven by a public-good mission and user benefit instead of profit.”

alternatives to facebook are a good place to start. but i think what comes next also needs a new narrative that replaces the fear-based one we’re currently living.

Right now the social “town square” feels dangerous, and it’s fueled by fear. The overwhelming evidence is that we’re a nation living in a cortisol state, our minds overwhelmed with stress, which according to neuroscientist tara swart, “biases our decision-making systems to avoid risk, avoid change, and avoid anything we feel like we can’t control.” 

A new, productive narrative for our social discourse that is not, as jaron lanier puts it, mediated by a third party who wishes to manipulate us, is crucial. We’re being had by fear mongers, and doing very little to stop it. We’ve all joked about FOMO, but from a brain chemistry perspective, the worst thing that can be done to a human is to cast them out as it triggers feelings of physical and emotional vulnerability — and it triggers a big dose of the stress hormone cortisol.

The opposite of this would be high societal oxytocin, or something more like the hope that India is expressing. Oxytocin is the brain hormone associated with optimistic, good feelings and human bonding.

To shift our brain chemistry, we need new inputs and a new context. That’s going to take creative leaps from each of us. I’ve been a creative director for nearly 30 years and I have never, ever, not once, seen great creative leaps come from fear. I have seen, however, time and time again, great creative leaps take place when there is a known challenge and a context that nurtures risk, change, and relinquishing control.