It’s that time of year, again. Time for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to announce his annual personal challenge. In previous years, he did normal things like vowing to learn how to speak Mandarin. Then, life got messy and last year he pledged that he would only work on fixing Facebook. This year, he’s determined to launch some kind of talk show or something.
Zuck’s yearly post in which he tells us all about his latest “personal challenge to learn something new,” has gone from being a fun, humanising tradition about self-improvement to something more like a temperature reading on how things are going at Facebook. There once was a time when the CEO, now 34, spent a year programming his smart home and showing off the results with an awkward video of him eating toast. These days, he has to focus on solutions for all of the problems that Facebook is causing in the world and the company’s ailing stock price. And it seems like Zuckerberg is all out of ideas, so he’s hoping other people will give him some when he holds a series of public talks with leading experts from a variety of fields.
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg outlined his plan in a blog post and explained that these talks will take place “every few weeks” and will mostly be found on his Facebook or Instagram page. In addition to a series of unnamed experts, Zuckerberg said that he will also speak with “people in our community from different fields” and try out different formats along the way. The topics of conversation will include:
Do we want technology to keep giving more people a voice, or will traditional gatekeepers control what ideas can be expressed? Should we decentralize authority through encryption or other means to put more power in people’s hands? In a world where many physical communities are weakening, what role can the internet play in strengthening our social fabric? How do we build an internet that helps people come together to address the world’s biggest problems that require global-scale collaboration? How do we build technology that creates more jobs rather than just building AI to automate things people do? What form will this all take now that the smartphone is mature? And how do we keep up the pace of scientific and technological progress across fields?
These are all what Facebook likes to call “hard questions.” Facebook has been around for almost 15 years and questions like these have only gotten harder for Zuckerberg. What better way to show the world just how hard it is to find answers to these questions than to have other people periodically come around and engage in a meandering dialogue that will likely come to no conclusions?
Zuckerberg’s 2018 challenge was all about acknowledging that Facebook has some problems, and the leader of the company was going to put his nose to the grindstone in order to fix them. By the time December rolled around, Zuckerberg was as tired as we all were, and he admitted that “addressing these issues is more than a one-year challenge.” In fact, he did a little lowering of expectations and went as far as to say that some issues “like election interference or harmful speech” will simply never be solved. As the old saying goes, “those who can do, those who can’t hold a series of panel discussions.”
This isn’t all just about answering hard questions, it’s also about Zuck getting more comfortable with us and us getting more comfortable with Zuck. In today’s announcement, Zuckerberg wrote that he “used to just build out my ideas and hope they’d mostly speak for themselves.” Now, he sees “that doesn’t cut it anymore,” and it’s time put himself “out there more.” While we have no hope that this will do anything to fix Facebook’s troubles, we’re actually quite looking forward Zuckerberg’s talk show. It sounds like a more awkward Space Ghost Coast to Coast with a host who’s wetter and less-obviously human.