Hi, Mark -
Nice to meet you. How are you?
So obviously icebreakers and small talk are not my thing but so I will just tell you why I’m writing to you. I couldn’t help but notice you posted a picture on January 9 of an enormous steak in the foreground and you sitting with a pink slab of meat on your plate, grinning, hands seemingly eager to slice, on the table. You kind of looked like a kid at his birthday party, excited for his cake. I couldn’t help but notice the post because I’d been tagged and messaged about it at least a dozen times from people wanting me to comment on it.
First, though, after seeing the picture, I had to read your words. You wrote: “Started raising cattle at Ko'olau Ranch on Kauai, and my goal is to create some of the highest quality beef in the world. The cattle are wagyu and angus, and they'll grow up eating macadamia meal and drinking beer that we grow and produce here on the ranch. We want the whole process to be local and vertically integrated. Each cow eats 5,000-10,000 pounds of food each year, so that's a lot of acres of macadamia trees. My daughters help plant the mac trees and take care of our different animals. We're still early in the journey and it's fun improving on it every season. Of all my projects, this is the most delicious.”
I will take your word at that.
. . .
We have never formally met, Mark, so let me give you a little boilerplate intro to me, Marla Rose, a user of your platform for 15 years. I joined originally with a little nudging. An old friend from college wanted to hang out on Facebook and get reacquainted with our once-tight gaggle of friends. At first, it really was fun. Not only could we reconnect and update one another on our lives 20 years or so after we’d graduated and slowly lost touch, but I could also meet new people.
I could post pictures and stories about my son and his first day of kindergarten; I could share about my mother, who was facing the double whammy of Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinsonism, her move to a condo near us, her eventual move in with us, the funny things she would say when she was lucid, the heartbreak of watching someone you love slip away, bit by bit, the bittersweet sand mandala of losing a parent slowly. Through Facebook, I could also be there for others in similar situations. I got many messages over the years seeking support, guidance and resources for people caring for parents in decline and I was glad to be of help.
I could also vent, I could tell funny stories, I could stay connected with friends, I could be introduced to the people I now consider true friends despite the fact that for many, we will likely not meet in person. I have also been able to raise thousands of dollars for very good causes through Facebook, almost $20,000, which I know is pocket change but it’s still useful.
On this platform that you and some other smart people built, I could share when my beloved dog Romeo was tragically killed – he was not only deeply enmeshed in my heart but loved by so many virtual connections – and I took my friends, at least the ones who stuck around, on the experience of my husband’s sudden onset of leukemia, the nauseating rollercoaster of fear, doubt, desperate hope, numbing out and anxiety, and then his bone marrow transplant, the ups-and-downs of that, and John’s circuitous recovery. People here talked me off a million 3:00 AM ledges. Being on this platform also helped to clarify to me how to set boundaries (no, I don’t want to hear about juice cleanses curing cancer, thnx) and how to be bold enough to ask for what I needed and speak without apology for what I did not want. Oh, wow, and did my friends, real-life and virtual, show up for me and for us. Thanks to this platform and being able to communicate broadly, efficiently and easily, three needs of precious value to caregivers, we received grocery deliveries, care packages, encouraging words, and financial donations to help offset the huge medical costs to two self-employed creatives and do-gooders.
Just so you understand, Mark, I was already a writer before Facebook entered my life but your platform has helped me to find and refine my voice. It’s helped to keep giving me ideas and opportunities for writing. It’s helped me to keep friendships on track. It’s helped me to get the word out about things that matter deeply to me in ways that would utterly gobsmack my internal 20-something year-old self who was leafleting for lost causes in all weather conditions. “You mean, you press ‘post’ and you can reach thousands of people potentially?” I would ask, feet numb from the cold. Yup. Potentially.
This is a roundabout way to say that I am not a hater of what you’ve created, Mark; I am agnostic, at best, but mostly, I’m ambivalent. I’m ambivalent because I see the benefits and possibilities of your platform, but I see the many downsides. I do not like the data mining, of course. I do not like the algorithm, wired for reinforcing bubbles or, weirdly, making conflict more entrenched. I do not like the way it’s worked its thumbs into the soft putty of my brain, making me insecure if something I post will be well-received or not, regardless of how important it is to say. I do not like how it has trained my dopamine-seeking self to perform for likes and shares. I do not like the way it’s pressured me to curate only the most flattering photos and experiences. I do not like how it seems to be training our eyes to look only for the most quickly, easily digestible “content,” not nuanced, complex topics. The utter lack of transparency with the company, lack of accountability and customer service – yes, the platform is free, but we are users with personal stakes in our profiles who are making you piles and piles of money – is egregiously poor form.
These are not small matters, Mark.
. . .
Obviously, though, I need to get to why I am here: That post. That picture.
What I want to say, Mark, is that according to Forbes’s real-time billionaires list, as I write this, you are number five at $130.5 billion, and though you recently lost $1.8 billion (did you forget to take your wallet out of your jeans before you washed them? Get locked into a bad time-share?), it’s fair to say you’re doing pretty well, right? I am not going to say that it’s entirely on the backs of cultural creatives and content creators like myself because at least at one point, there was a bit of reciprocity in that one could have their work seen by much wider audiences. (No longer, though.) And I am not going to say it is also entirely on the backs of those whose data is sold to businesses by your platform for targeted advertising. Grandparents like to see their grandchildren’s finger paintings and cute little poems easily. If I sound like I’m being sarcastic, I’m not.
I’m here, though, because of that January 9 picture and caption. My husband tells me it would take more than 360 years of spending $1,000,000 a day to spend $130.5 billion and the smarties at Berkeley tell me that if someone counted from one to “just” one billion (so considerably less than your 130.5 B), giving the person about three seconds to say each number aloud, it would take that person more than 95 years to arrive at a billion. So it is all to say, again, you’re doing well for yourself. You are possession of many dollars.
With your home compound on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, one of the most expensive properties in the world, guessed to set you back more than $270 million with its two mansions covering a total floor area of 57,000-square-feet, more than a dozen other buildings, a now-notorious 5,000-square-foot bunker on 1,400 acres acquired through buying up kuleana claims - ancestral transfers without formal paperwork to the inheritors of parcels of land you wanted - you haven’t exactly endeared yourself to your neighbors, Mark. Nor have you endeared yourself with the construction noise and pollution, the six-foot-tall walls around the property, which block off the ocean views locals once enjoyed, the draconian NDAs required of anyone who wishes to pass security clearance, like the many crew members working on building your compound, or the complete lack of public review of your massive building project in paradise.
For someone got rich by selling our data to corporations, Mark, you sure do like to protect your own privacy and your family’s privacy. I’m just saying I’ve noticed.
This is a lot, right? Don’t pretend it’s not.
. . .
Back to the cattle-ranching, though, my official reason for reaching out. You, the fifth wealthiest person in the U.S. and 16th in the world, would rather spend your money and your time on something as ego-stroking, cruel and unsustainable as playing make-believe as a cattle-rancher on dishonorably-obtained land than, I don’t know, something beneficial? I’ll just spitball a little here, but water purification projects, malaria prevention and treatment, reducing malnourishment and under-nourishment for the chronically hungry, funding smart, genuine efforts to reduce and eventually reduce climate change (as opposed to the hobbyist farming at your compound), all seem like better choices. Beef, even small scale and grass-fed, is one of the most deleterious and wasteful products a consumer could eat in terms of sheer harm to our planet and her resources.
You’re smart, though? You know this. Or is our planet’s need for responsible stewardship and thoughtful actions just as annoying to you as your neighbors wanting some accountability and consideration on Kauai? Are we just killjoys ruining your bro-fest? Are you an exception to everything, Mark?
(And, dude, I am not even going to talk about the ethics of what you are doing to the steers because I already know your attitude about dressing up and killing to let off a little steam or belittling the animals you’ve killed in perpetuity to remind the world that you’re a manly man with a cheeky little sense of humor; I also know that considering the lives of animals would be sentimental claptrap to the fans who would do anything to fantasize cosplaying as cattle-rancher with you.)
Despite this, I am sure you do good in the world, Mark. I am also sure people will tell me about it on your platform. I am also quite positive they will say that I don’t do a fraction as much good as you. They’ll say this is all sour grapes. Some of this is correct. (Not that sour grapes thing, though.) Given your enormous resources, though, to play up to your fellow rich tech bros about your dedicated room for dry aging meat and to joke about punching the carcasses like Rocky with a laugh-cry emoji, well, you showed your cards, Mark. This ranch is just another toy for you as greenhouse gas emissions doom the rest of us, especially our children and future generations. Boys with their toys, I swear, you’ll be the death of all of us.
Mark, your children may enjoy planting the macadamia trees, but what about the other children, the many, many billions more, who are going to grow up in a world with reduced biodiversity, in a world without normal seasons, in a world with the wildfires you were safe from, even when they came to Hawaii, in a world where heat domes, droughts, hurricanes, water depletion and extreme weather are now the norm? In a world of deforestation due to cattle ranching? One day, if you look out the window of one of your compound's many tree houses as your daughters sit under the shade of the macadamia trees, listening to the ocean waves your walls have prevented your neighbors from seeing, as the cattle graze and low, will your fantasy of a high-tech but bucolic brotopia be realized?
When would it be enough? How soon will you get bored while the rest of us live in a reality more and more dominated by climate change and soon to become more painfully, personally familiar with terms like “climate refugees” and “climate wars”?
Actually, now that I think about it, the state-of-the-art bunker with its blast resistant door and escape hatch is probably your smartest personal investment as the effects of climate change come home to roost. Will you be able to access the dry ager from the tunnels between the mansions to your bunker, though? Most important, will you have the connection to post updates on your meals as the world burns?
TL;DR: Can’t you do something much, much better with your billions?
There is still time to change your legacy. You’re not even 40 yet.
All the best,
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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