Facebook, Smithereens, and the End of US Dollar Hegemony

tl;dr: A thought experiment about US dollar hegemony being replaced by Facebook hegemony and the dangers of “God mode.”

I woke up this morning with the intention of blogging about the evolution of ETL (Extract, Transform, Load), which has served as a standard pillar of the data management industry for decades now.

A conversation I had last week with a friend whose business is, in part, based upon the concept of ETL and, more importantly, “data cleansing” helped me realized just how much that industry is going to change in the future.

One of the things he has to worry about is data integrity and data veracity: how do you know that the data you are getting is accurate (it actually came from the source you wanted) and true (it wasn’t made up)?

With decentralized technologies, many of these problems go away. That’s an entire group of companies that will be no longer necessary.

In and of itself, that’s an interesting topic and maybe it’s worth another blog post in the future.

However, after (well, during) my morning meditation session, when I sat down to write, I couldn’t stop thinking about Facebook, the future of the US dollar and the latest season of Black Mirror and the Smithereens episode, in particular.

Black Mirror and the Power of Social Media Conglomerates

Without spoiling the plot too much, I’ll just say that the episode highlights the power of social media platforms to aggregate data and surveil people. As a result, they can assemble tremendously robust profiles that allow them to know far more about us than we may even know about ourselves.

While some took issue with the ending (spoiler alert) and felt it was a huge criticism of society’s ongoing desensitization to the lives of others when awash in a sea of information, I didn’t have that reaction.

Context could matter, of course.

I viewed the episode on a plane right after listening to a podcast about AI’s Near Future from Exponential View (highly recommend that one). The interviewee made the oft-repeated point that technology is neither bad nor good. It just is.

If I had a criticism of the episode, it would be that there’s too much blame put on the social media companies for working to create addictive engagement and not enough individual agency for the decisions we make about our lives.

Of course, I may be naive in that regard.

So, I’m less worried about the tech companies that create addictive experiences (though seeing my teenagers on their phones all the time should give me pause) than I am about the vast amounts of data that they have at their fingertips and what they could do with it.

To me, the most telling moment of the episode is when the Zuckerberg-inspired CEO says something like,

“you know what is the best part of my job? Sometimes I get to invoked ‘God mode.’

God Mode

Black Mirror, as the name suggests, forces us to look at our technology-enabled lives with a different lens, reminding us that there is a downside.

And it could be huge.

In addition to the desensitization that some highlighted and the addictive behavior which we may, or may not, be able to resist, the existence of a “God Mode” is what should give us all pause.

This is the mentality that I think does exist among many tech elite and which could actually be of really long-term significance. Facebook and Google and Amazon and Apple….they all have a “God Mode”

When the Gods Get Angry

Given the recent announcement by Facebook of its new cryptocurrency, Libra, and the reaction from governments around the world, it is starting to feel that the two are on a collision course.

There’s a part of me that wonders if Zuckerberg is deliberately picking a fight with the US government, feeling that “they don’t get it,” but let’s play this forward a bit in one scenario.

I’ll admit, the scenario below sounds crazy even to me, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

So, What if Facebook Leaves the USA?

Let’s say that Facebook decides to go ahead with issuing the Libra currency and that the US government sees it as a threat to the supremacy of the US dollar…which it is.

They decide to try and regulate it or even ban it.

What could Facebook do?

Well, it could simply stop the whole Libra project, of course, but what if there’s another course?

Facebook is mostly a collection of servers, algorithms, and data. They don’t NEED to be in California. They could be anywhere.

If Zuckerberg wanted to, he could pick up and just MOVE Facebook to another location. After all, he controls the majority of voting shares.

It’s not like there is no precedence for this type of thing. Crypto-exchanges, like Binance, have already done this before.

Sure, there is a physical plant in Menlo Park and a lot of people who work there, but this isn’t the type of thing that has to happen overnight. He could do it gradually and piecemeal.

Then, the US government would face a choice of banning Facebook entirely or sitting by and allowing Libra to take off.

With 70% of US adults on Facebook and many of them addicted (thank you Black Mirror), I don’t know how popular a choice the former would be.

Yes, there are validators of Libra like Mastercard that are US companies, but they could easily be replaced. Facebook doesn’t even need them. They could run the whole thing by themselves and people would probably still use it.

The End of Dollar Hegemony

As I said before, this was just a thought experiment and probably not fully flushed out, but I think it reminds us that the future is going to be different than the past.

Fifty years ago, the idea that a corporation could create a currency that would displace a national fiat currency would have been ludicrous and impossible.

Today, it may feel ludicrous, but it’s not impossible.

Combine that with efforts by China, Russia, and others (see: The Dollar May Be Knocked off Its Pedestal) and it all fits within a patter.

Global reserve currency eras come to an end.

Why should the US dollar be any different?

Only this time, unlike previous eras, it may not be another country, it might be a multi-national company.

Or Bitcoin.

Facebook, Smithereens, and the End of US Dollar Hegemony was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.