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tv   Amanpour on PBS  PBS  June 16, 2018 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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. welcome to amanpour on pbs. tonight, the dark side of our digital age. celebrated tech pioneer jeron lemire on how it affects us all. plus from the negative power to the positive. the oscar winning director morgan nevil joins me about his new movie "won't you be my neighbor" on the live and legacy of mr. rogers who charmed generations of american children by treating them with respect.
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>> good evening, everyone. welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london. what would we do without facebook to connect us and social media to blast our missives far and wide at warp speed? it has over two billion users around the world but facebook's influence is a matter of serious and growing concern. earlier this year, a campaign for people to delete their facebook accounts began to gain traction in the wage of the cambridge analytica scandal which saw the data of over 50 million users exploited by the political consulting firm cambridge analytica. #deletefacebook started trending on twitter. ironically people were musing about quitting social media on social media. my next guest has a more radical solution. immediately delete your accounts. not just if. jaron lanier is author of several books including "you are not a gadget."
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his latest has the straightforward article "ten arguments for deleting your social media account right now." he joins me in london. jaron, lani jaron lanier, thank you for joining me. >> thank you so much for having me. >> how is this going for you so far? you've deleted your accounts, right? >> absolutely. >> and? >> i haven't had accounts for a long time. i have a successful career as a writer and public figure. i think it's a con job. if you give up the stuff you still have friends and your career. >> that's an important message, isn't it? especially for young people who are programmed to believe that instagram and likes on facebook is what life is about but it's not. >> a vast number of people are genuinely addicted by design and there's nowhere else to go if you want to enjoy the genuine benefits of something like
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facebook so most people will not or cannot quit and i understand that. yet it's still important to bring up the idea to ask people to quit because it's an opportunity for self-discovery for young people where they can experience the world in a contrasted way and that's so -- self-knowledge is the most important kind and it creates a body of people in the world even if they're in a minority who can see things differently so we're not stuck within this one system. >> today's newspaper in great britain are full of one of the big schools here, eton, a very famous school and they just told parents it will reduce and curtail the students use of their devices before they go to bed. and eton was expecting a backlash and the boys were saying they were relieved.
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>> people talk about how they have better relationships. it's really striking. >> i was thinking about something that you drilled down as an example that you're talking about which is the tribalism of what's happening in society magnified by social media and the polarization of people. but even the breaking down into silos we didn't know existed that we didn't know we cared about. you said like a white man from kebt, you wrote something very interesting. >> what happens is the algorithms running behind the scenes that are up to past that have nothing to do with your positive experience for manipulation potential and it turns out they're more sensitive to these impulses people have of getting irritated rather than the slow build of positivity so
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if something you're doing can upset someone else than that upset will be reinforced and reinforced so suddenly you're creating these bodies of irritated people opposed to other people. >> just a quick think to establish off the top. the mark zuckerbergs of the world, the people who run and create google and all the rest of it, is this something they're aware of or is this a by-product? >> this is interesting because many of the foundational figures of facebook have come out publicly and apologized and expressed strong regrets. that doesn't mean zuckerberg has, but many of his colleagues have.
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it's an extraordinary shift, particularly since the trump election with its realization that what we're doing has side effects. that the collateral damage might not be survivable. so you're seeing mea culpas, the atmosphere is entirely different than it used to be. >> and you're talking about inside the tech industry? facebook particularly? >> well, the resignation -- >> so you're talking about inside the tech industry? >> yes, absolutely. >> so in the trump era, we're all very mindful of people who don't seem to be able to have political discussions or political differences anymore. because everything is -- seems to be devolved into a massive attack. you have to destroy opponents and even use these words opponents in civil discourse. that seems to be driven by this even more, right? >> none of this is new to human nature but it's been focused in
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a new way and amplified for commercial purpose that it wasn't before. i'll give you one example. i met donald trump over the years, over the course of a few decades, i never knew him, i never had a deep conversation, but it's very clear his character has changed because of his twitter addiction. he didn't evince this astonishing level of insecurity, his weird irritability. there's a kind of a degradation, and i view him as a victim, actually. >> that's so interesting. >> ah. >> now, tim cook, the ceo of apple, has talked about use of social media in terms of addiction and, you know, he told this to cnn last week. let's just play it. >> i thought i was fairly disciplined about this and i was wrong. when i began to get the data, i found i was spending a lot more time than i should
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>> like where? >> i don't want to give you all the apps but just too much. >> being a little coy and interesting we want to know what apps. this isn't the first time he's opined on this. at one time he said he wouldn't let his young nieces and jeff yous spend that much time on the phones. >> people on silicone valley never let their own children do this. >> i find that extraordinary. >> isn't it? >> and also you write, and i know this concept, the waldorf schools, the waldorf system is about being absolutely disconnected from anything tech. and you write that the silicon valley executives send their kids, a lot of them, to those schools. >> well, not exclusively but there tends to be quite a distrust of our own product and i should say companies like apple, amazon, microsoft, don't depend on this model of surveillance and behavior modification so they have a much easier time rejecting it and
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they are, as we saw with tim cook. it's really more google, facebook, twitter, and few others, reddit. that's where this problem resides. >> so your problem is it's the ten reasons to get off the internet. give us the ten reasons. >> reason number one, you are losing your free will. the process of addiction, almost by definition gradually erodes your free will. it becomes an addictive cycle and as the founders of facebook have admitted deliberately addictive processes are in effect. number two, quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times. here's why i say that. if people launch an effort within facebook to oppose the insanity and the insanity is the day that's getting me, the worst is this news that we're separating mothers for from children at the border by tricking them with the idea
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their kids are getting a bath. i mean -- i can't even -- >> it's emotional. >> the problem is, if somebody tries to create a campaign to oppose that, let's say on facebook or twitter, because the algorithms are looking for the most irritable and upset people who become the most engaged, it will backfire. the benefits the arab spring gains will be reflected in even greater benefits for isis. the benefits that black lives matter might gain will be reflected in even greater gains for the ku klux klan. so in order to protest this, you must not play the game at all. >> mark zuckerberg talks about this utopian idea of a facebook global community. so there are clearly a lot of people who want it to be used for the best sides that it can offer. >> and that can still happen. what we need to do is give up on this manipulator machine in the background. if we only had people connecting, i think the world would get better. we've created a society where
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any time two people connect over the internet it's financed exclusively by third parties who wish to manipulate them. it's a society based on trickery and deceit. it must not continue on this line. >> so mark zuckerberg has now been questioning in two public forums recently since the cambridge analytica, at the european union and in front of congress in the united states. >> right. what more can he do and how does one stop this cycle you're talking about given that it's a multibillion dollar business. >> well, i think what he should do, what he must do is change the business model so there's no longer such a strong incentive to run the manipulation machine. as company example, one option is to make facebook a paid service. i know people react with terror, but look what happened when netflix said instead of free movies what if you pay for your movies but we make better movies and tv. and with all respect to your
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network, the result was called peak tv. it worked out to everyone's benefit. so why couldn't we have peak social media where the business model is simply that the people who are getting what they want pay for what they want and third parties are no longer in charge. >> why can't we. do you think there's been enough pain inflicted on the ceos in public that they might begin to think about that? or not? >> the ceos are definitely thinking about it. i don't think facebook is ready to make the transition but i think it's an inevitability. there's really no alternative. >> does government play a role in this? does it mandate it? can it even in these huge private enterprises? >> this is a global problem and every level of everything has to be involved in fixing it and that includes government. the precise peripheral of government has to evolve as the situation evolves so it's not possible to say what should happen but i think one idea is for government to enforce commercial rights for people to their own data so that if their
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data is exploited they are actually owed money. i think that would reverse incentives. >> jaron lanier, i hope we can continue this conversation. >> i would like that very much. >> thank you so much. >> thank you again. >> thank you. so while the down side of mass communication is abundantly clear, a new movie shines a warm, bright light on the power of media to build community and to impart essential lessons of love and empowerment to our children. "won't you be my neighbor" is a new documentary about fred rogers, the much-loved public television children's show who made each child in his audience feel like a unique and special person. here's a little clip. >> won't you be my neighbor? it's an invitation to help somebody know that they're loved and capable of loving. love is at the root of
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everything love or the lack of it. >> so granted, this movie, this tone is from half a century ago. it is directed by my next guest, morgan nevil, who shows mr. rogers' particular magic at work using his gentle empathy to support children through life's joys and its challenges, like tying their shoes, living through divorce, and coping with an often violent and scary world. morgan nevil, welcome to the program. >> thanks for having me. >> so look, it's kind of unusual to do a documentary on fred rogers but maybe not. what was it that actually made you want to do this? it's not your normal biopic, it's not just about the guy. >> it's not. fred rogers was the most famous children's television host in american history. he was on television for more than 30 years. but he wasn't your average television host for a child. he was trying to teach children important lessons emotional
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maturity, civics, how to behave in society and that's what attracted me to want to make this film. it was not a nostalgia trip as much as it was trying to remind ourselves of some of these fundamental lessons that fred rogers was teaching us for all those years. >> has there been anything like it since? and what is it about the times that made you want to -- or not? when did you first conceive of doing this? >> well, first of all, it was not only ahead of its time, the show was really kind of out of time. i don't think we've caught up to what he was doing on his show yet but it was me coming across -- i grew up watching the show and loved him as a child but i didn't think about him for decades but i had kids of my own and i rediscovered him and there was something about the way he was talking that it just felt like this is a voice i don't hear in our culture anymore, a grown up empathetic voice trying to help us process the trauma of
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the modern world and help us understand how we live in the neighborhood together. that's essentially what he was trying to model. he talked about the neighborhood around it felt like this was an interesting voice to bring back into the cultural conversation. >> i want to play a little bit from one of the producers featured in the film. >> we had a director that said to me you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite you have mr. rogers neighborhood. low production values, simple s set. unlikely star. yet it works because he was saying something really important. >> so the cynics would say it worked then, 30 years ago when people were simpler, when we didn't have social media. when our public discourse was more civil than now and partisanship and politization of
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everything wasn't as pronounced as it is today. do you think it could work today? >> i don't think a television show could work today. even fred rogers said by the 1980s if he'd come along then he didn't think he'd get a tv show. but people have responded consistently. they've responded not only to this film but his videos go viral all the time. in the millions and millions so there's a hunger for this type of voice that is about what we share in the neighborhood, how we should live together. what we have in common more than what sets us apart and that's why i wanted to make this film. he's a rare cultural figure that has no political baggage. most of us who watched him watched him before we had a sense of self mump less what tribe so it's a way of getting back to basics.
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first principle about how to behave and treat each other. >> you said he had no political baggage and that's interesting. he was a victim of -- even though he was a republican he was a victim and remained a victim of some of the more poisonous parts of the far right media sphere who criticized the very stuff that you're praising him for. who say he enabled and entitled generations of young kids and adults. >> it was a good way of getting people to read your newspaper column or get eyeballs on your show but i think it's a misreading. his message was you are special and people take that to mean a sense of entitlement for a generation of millennial snowflakes but the reality is he was more trying to protect children and say every child has worth, has the right to dignity, has a sense of worth that they are not worthless and that's a
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fundamentally humanist value. it's worth noting fred rogers himself was a presbyterian minister so he was very versed in the bible but he studied the world religions, he never mentioned god on his show but he was trying to find the common humanist elements that exist in hebrew. he learned hebrew in judaism, islam, buddhism and what are those things that unite us as humans? that's the message he was trying to put across. >> she was incredibly passionate about it. he comes across as a gentle person but when he went before congress to defend the budgets and this programming on public television he was forceful in his own way. let's play that clip and we'll talk about it. >> this is what i give. i give an expression of care everyday to each child to help
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him realize he is unique. i end the program by saying you've made the day a special day just by being you. there's no person in the whole world like you and i like you just the way you are and i feel if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentioning and manageable we will have done a great service for mental health. >> i think it's wonderful. i think it's wonderful. looks like you just earned the $20 million. [ laughter ] >> it brings me to a smile and i wonder whether anybody could imagine that exchange in congress today. >> no. that's what's so remarkable.
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this mr. rogers goes to washington moment. today everybody would smile and defund the program behind closed doors but it says a lot about him that he comes off as a bit of a milquetoast or a wimp but he had an iron will and i think his superpower was his ability to have this penetrating emotional dialogue with people that brought them to him. he never spoke to people on their terms, he made people come to him on his terms which was deep and honest. >> he discussed hard issues, didn't he? he discussed issues of life and death, divorce a sense of how h those intense and dark issues a
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child's sensibility. >> fundamentally i think that us as adults we want to shelter our children. i think our natural adult instinct to tell children not to worry about things and mr. rogers decided i'm going to level with kids and explain that bad things happen because the reality is kids are intuitive. they know when bad things happen and telling them not to worry about those things just allows those fears to fester so he said in age appropriate terms these are happening and this is how you can programming but i think what he fundamentally believed was that the light and dark is divided between love and
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fear and children are full of fear and if you don't help them ally those fears that fear becomes things like anger and resentment and hatred and bigotry but if we can get beyond those and get back to the root of what that stems from which is fear then we can make the neighborhood and society a better place. >> it seems like these aspects are now more necessary than ever, particularly he addresses the issues of racism. there was a famous episode in the '60s where he sat with a black officer, he portrayed that issue in the era of segregation and separation. >> in the wake of the assassination of martin luther king, he brought on a black police officer, officer clemmons in the land of make believe. and he would use officer
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clemmons, to model how we should treat people. so there's a scene where he has a kiddy pool and he's cooling off by putting his feet in the pool and this is a time when people didn't want blacks and whites to share pools together in parts of america so he invites the officer to come over, take off his shoes and share bathing their feet together in this pool and it's a quiet way of modeling how he thought we should treat other people and then at the end of it fred helps dry his feet with a towel. >> oh, my goodness. >> fred as a minister knew exactly what the symbolism was of that. >> exactly. that's jesus christ just before easter. that's very, very powerful. and just to pick up on what you were saying, his theme of love and validation. i'd like to play this snippet of what he said at a commencement address. >> in fact, from the time you were very little you've had people who have smiled you into
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smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sang you into singing, loved you into loving. so on this extra special day let's take some time to think of those extra special people. some of them may be right here. some may be far away. some may be in heaven. no matter where they are, deep down you know they've always wanted what was best for you. >> would you say that is his legacy, that absolute empathy and determination to link community, whether it's a family, friend, whoever it might be, neighbors without a doubt.
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>> i call it radical kindness, he called it grace. this idea of doing good to others even if they don't deserve it. to act gracefully is to put as much good in the world with no consideration of what may come back to you around if we had a society full of people like that we'd have an incredibly healthy society. >> morgan nevil, thank you so much. what a marvelous conversation and a reminder those children > and that's it for our y program. thanks for watching amanpour on pbs and join us again next time.
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