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Franklin Foer argues that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has redefined the concepts of

counterculture, “hacker” culture, and “transparency”; he has done this in the service of a
paternalistic conformism posing as individualism and personal integrity. “Facebook,” Foer writes,
“would never put it this way, but algorithms are meant to erode free will, to relieve humans of the
burden of choosing, to nudge them in the right direction” (77). Interrogate this assertion, and what
kind of insights or assumptions underpin this claim. Using arguments supported by citations and
examples from the text, construct an essay responding to the following prompt: How do notions of
“mechanical thinking” and the engineering mindset (re)frame the debate on human agency?

Zuckerberg’s “redefinitions”:

1. Counterculture: a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing
social norm.: "the idealists of the 60s counterculture".
a. Z:
2. “Hacker” culture: a subculture of individuals who enjoy the intellectual challenge of creatively
overcoming limitations of software systems to achieve novel and clever outcomes
a. Z:
3. Transparency: free from pretence or deceit
a. Z:

Paternalistic Conformism (the restriction of the freedom and responsibilities of subordinates or


dependents in their supposed interest; Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors
to group norms) BUT it’s acting as individualism (a social theory favoring freedom of action for
individuals over collective or state control) and personal integrity (the sense of having societally-accepted
good values)

“Facebook, would never put it this way, but algorithms are meant to erode free will, to relieve humans of
the burden of choosing, to nudge them in the right direction”
1. Erode: gradually wear away
2. Free will: to act at one’s own discretion
a. Free will is something we all want, a cornerstone of human rights. Foer’s assertion that
facebook’s algorithms are meant to erode free will show that he has a critical view on
them.
3. “Relieve humans of the burden of choosing”: makes it sound like making decisions is too much
for humans
4. “To nudge them in the right direction”: makes it seem like humans aren’t intelligent enough to
make their own choices and need the intervention of algorithms when making simple decisions

How do notions of “mechanical thinking” and the engineering mindset (re)frame the debate on human
agency?
1. Mechanical Thinking: algorithms, the entity that is replacing human thought and decision making
2. Engineering mindset: the idea that everything must be streamlined, and that efficiency is key
3. Human agency: the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free
choices, based on their will, (free will)