Social media and technology are inherently unpredictable fields. Nevertheless, our CEO, Steven Bartlett, has found it his responsibility to shareholders, investors, employees, colleagues, clients and an audience of over 60oK to predict the unpredictable.
“If it’s true that I am able to see better things in the future where others can’t, it’s probably because I’m really unromantic about where I am now; I’m unattached to the now and I’m excited about being first somewhere else.”
Whether it’s AI, AR or VR, Steve insists predicting the next big thing boils down to common sense. Anticipating innovation, to him, simply means trying to see what better would look like. Whatever is a better alternative to what already exists, based on a number of factors, is the future. And where others may cower from innovation, Steve understands that better always wins – whether you want it to or not.
Take UBER for example. The reason UBER saw enormous success and worldwide adoption is because it solved problems that its competitors had not. Its service was far more convenient than making a phone call and making sure you had cash out ready to count and pay with at the end of your trip. But where most would view UBER as peak innovation in its field, Steve can see room for improvement still.
“We have to decide what improvement means to us, but there is always room for improvement. I’d much rather call an UBER just by thinking about it; if you look at the work Elon Musk is doing with Neuralink you’ll see that it’s possible.”
Elon Musk’s work with Neuralink – essentially a brain-computer – may sound like science fiction to us, but Steve is quick to remind us that we’re already living in the future – our grandparent’s future. Sometimes technology’s likeness to apocalyptic television and film is enough to scare the majority of people away from unleashing its full capability because the average consumer has an idealistic view of what they think the future should look like. For instance, if we were told artificial intelligence could one day replace our job, we’d reject the idea because, unlike Steve, most of us remain attached to the way things are now. But as time has proven time and again, better always beats that.
However, one thing he never predicted was the dark side social media has revealed itself to have. Sometimes innovation comes at a cost; the revelation that social media is having a profound impact on young people’s mental health is an issue growing more prominent by the day.
“Social media is described as anything that connects us – but really it’s a disconnection. Look at the data from the last 10 years – we’ve become fundamentally disconnected because of technology.”
Steve says he never envisaged it taking this turn because, initially, social media felt like something that was accommodating genuine intimate connections. When we FaceTime a relative on the other side of the world, it feels meaningful and special because ordinarily, we wouldn’t have that chance. But while on the surface it may feel like we’re in the room with them, in reality, we’re often alone, tapping a piece of glass.
He goes on to say that, in hindsight, it was always going to happen that way; every early innovation has come with dramatic side-effects for the well-being of the world. Look at petrol or human labour. Every time, we begin with initial assumptions on how something will go and, as time goes on, we learn more about our creation for better or worse. As with every innovation born imperfectly, social media is something we can continue to improve on and constantly strive to learn from our past mistakes.
Steve also understands the role he must play in improving social media and educating on its correlation to our mental health, having given hundreds of lectures on the topic. But where some might find his open critique hypocritical, Steve insists there is no one better placed to bring change than someone working in the epicentre of the action.
“Whenever something’s broken you can run away and disassociate from it or you can try and fix it from the inside.”
And what is Steve’s biggest concern? Those who seek to ‘meddle’ with innovation and end up censoring a beautiful thing out of fear rather than fixing it. This year has been a turbulent one for technology; scandal after scandal has inspired fearmongering in the mainstream media and, as a result, our governments now seek to regulate the platforms despite not fully understanding them – something Steve says would be a catastrophic mistake, because interfering with what you don’t understand could have the most damaging effects of all. To hear Steve’s candid account of the state of social media in full, watch Episode 008 of Social Minds below.
This was taken from Social Minds, the UK’s first dedicated social media marketing podcast, brought to you by Social Chain. With each new episode, we cut through the BS to deliver you hard-hitting truths and unforgiving industry insights – exposing the shocking realities of how social media is affecting us in the here and now. To earn your thought-leader status, subscribe now.
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