Pando

Behind the money: What the last decade of social media has done to culture

By Sarah Lacy , written on June 17, 2016

From The Pandoland 2016 Desk

Pandoland 2016 was the best single day of content we’ve ever produced.

Not only because of sheer volume -- we’ve never done 13 interviews in a single day -- but also because of something I didn’t quite intend.

We had the usual Max Levchin, Bill Ready, Dick Costolo, Sam Yagan types who have driven so much of the success of this past era of social media and the early innings of mobile. Levchin-- and the rest of the PayPal mafia-- has been a huge force in funding and founding all of this. Bill Ready’s Braintree sold for nearly $1 billion to PayPal, because if focused on mobile commerce before anyone, and well, no one has to explain why Costolo taking Twitter from nearly zero revenue to a public company worth tens of billions of dollars (then) was a seminal moment in social media. Chicago hometown hero Sam Yagan was CEO of Match Group when Tinder changed dating…. for better or worse.

But that’s all just a tech conference doing its thang.

What was somewhat less expected-- even by me-- was the intertwining between these interviews and a series of conversations about the other side of the hundreds of billions of dollars the social media and mobile worlds have wrought. How these platforms are fundamentally changing society.

It’s something our industry doesn’t discuss enough.

The most obvious example was Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair reporter and author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. The title says it all: This is a book that talks about the toll social media-- particularly in a mobile age-- is taking on young girls.

Margaret Atwood and I spoke about post-apocalyptic futures, although for a woman who writes them, she was surprisingly upbeat. She believes humanity’s odds of survival are now over 50% and exhorted Elon Musk in particular not to go to Mars because we need him here. She said a “Crake” -- the megalomaniacal genius who destroys the world in her famous MaddAddam trilogy-- wouldn’t be found among consumer Internet entrepreneurs. He’d be found in the biotech world. Phew, I guess.

And then there was Jimmy Chamberlin of the Smashing Pumpkins. We talked about the music industry -- spoiler, he hates labels. But more interesting was his view on how technology has changed what music does in our lives by making it so omnipresent. He explained that because it exists on a phone with so many other things to distract you, music has become more of a soundtrack for us. It’s more omnipresent, yes. We have access to millions of songs anywhere and at anytime. But it doesn’t consume focus the way it once did. We have more of it, but it’s relegated to the background. He remembered a time Billy Corgan asked him to come listen to a Smashing Pumpkins album Chamberlin hadn’t worked on to get his feedback. He wondered what the point was. The album itself is no longer a thing anymore.

Technology will always change culture for good or ill. But in the tech world, we typically focus on the products, the valuation, the cash and the business model, not those changes that are rippling out to teenage girls, authors, musicians and the other salient parts of our world.

We’ll be slowly rolling out clips from Pandoland and entire interviews for those who couldn’t attend. Each in and of itself was fascinating. But like an album, there was something about the whole that both celebrated the wins, the disruption, and the successes, but also pondered the costs of all of it to the world.

(To get involved in next year’s Pandoland as speaker, sponsor or anything else, email [email protected])