Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Harvard graduates on Thursday that they need to help others find purpose in a world where machines are taking away some of the steady jobs and communities aren’t as stable, leading to isolation and nationalism instead of people coming together globally to solve problems.
“When our parents graduated, purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community,” Zuckerberg, 33, said in a commencement speech. “But today, technology and automation are eliminating many jobs. Membership in a lot of communities has been declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void in their lives.”
The social network Zuckerberg started in his Harvard dorm room now has 1,9bn users around the world, large enough for the CEO to feel pressure about its impact on society. Zuckerberg has spent this year travelling around the US to understand what people feel about Facebook and how they form connections with each other, after the country’s presidential election revealed deep divides.
Zuckerberg said that on his tour around the states, he met opioid addicts and others who had fallen on hard times with factory closings, who said they might not have suffered if they had something to do. Stress felt by many American communities will increase as tens of millions of jobs are replaced by automation, such as self-driving cars and trucks, Zuckerberg said. Without a sense of purpose, people will turn towards isolationism, nationalism and authoritarianism, instead of openness and global community, he said.
“There’s pressure to turn inwards,” Zuckerberg said. “This is the struggle of our time. This is not a battle of nations, it is a battle of ideas.”
Unless people work together globally, they can’t stop disease pandemics or climate change, he said.
“We have the potential to do so much more together,” Zuckerberg said. He spoke of the achievements of previous generations, such as the moon landing and inventing the polio vaccine. “Now it’s our generation’s turn to do great things. Ideas don’t come out fully formed, they only become clear as you work on them. You just need to get started.”
He suggested stopping climate change by putting people to work manufacturing solar panels, curing disease by getting people to volunteer their health and genome data, and modernising democracy so people can vote online.
Zuckerberg said that it will cost money to help society, and that people who are rich like him should pay. Zuckerberg, the world’s fifth-richest person, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have a philanthropic foundation and have pledged to give away virtually all of their considerable wealth in Facebook shares.
He called for affordable childcare and healthcare that doesn’t just come from an employer, and asked Harvard graduates to volunteer their time, not just their money, to people who don’t have the same opportunity.
The Facebook founder, who dropped out of the university in 2004 to work full-time on the social network, is the youngest person to deliver a commencement speech at Harvard and was given an honourary degree for the effort. — (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP