Farhad’s Week in Tech: Less Time on Facebook, More Noise From Amazon

Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo, The Times’s technology columnist, reviews the week’s news, offering analysis (and maybe a joke or two) about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.

Good morning, readers! Here are a couple of big stories from tech land this week.

Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway walk into a hospital. That’s either the setup to a bad joke or the start of a revolution in American health care — but for now, nobody knows the punch line.

The three companies announced on Tuesday that they were forming an independent health care company for their employees in the United States. That was just about all they announced.

The companies offered few details on how they plan to overhaul their workers’ health care, or even if they planned to overhaul it — for all we know, they might just start some kind of office wellness program, hand out free pedometers and kitchen magnets reminding you to drink more water and call it a day.

But this is Amazon! Amazon thinks big! And so despite the dearth of details, the announcement made a splash in the business world, prompting optimism that someone may finally be on the verge of reforming the expensive and complex health care industry.

You should read this piece by my colleagues at The Upshot for an explanation of why American health care will prove difficult even for Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett to fix. And they’re not necessarily the first to try.

For me, the hype surrounding the announcement was further evidence of Amazon’s recent ability to get big public-relations wins for offering only the vaguest of promises — see its recent HQ2 media coup. It’s an impressive achievement, in terms of marketing. Where the company’s reputation once seemed headed toward something like Walmart’s — that is, widely seen as a kind of monster spawn of American capitalism — now Amazon is fast becoming something else in the public eye: The fix-anything, can-do business hero who rolls up his sleeves to take on America’s biggest challenges.

In that vein: Tune in for Bezos’s star turn in Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial on Sunday.

Amazon’s rep rehab happened in a year in which tech companies have been hammered in the media, none more so than Facebook. Now Facebook is turning a new leaf, according to Mark Zuckerberg.

In an earnings report on Wednesday, Facebook’s chief repeated what he has been saying for several months now: Facebook is going to address its effects on society by encouraging people to use Facebook less often.

And guess what? It’s working! Right there in the lead paragraph of its earnings news release, Zuck proudly noted that “we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day.”

I don’t need to tell you that it is very strange for a C.E.O. to brag about people using his products less often. Investors didn’t know what to make of the news; Facebook’s stock fell in the aftermath of its report. But by Thursday, shares were back up, suggesting Facebook’s argument to investors had stuck.

Zuck argues that if people spend less time on the site but feel like the time they do spend there is more valuable, Facebook’s advertising business will prosper too. So far that is bearing out — Facebook’s bottom line is still increasing at a double-digit rate.

But I’m fascinated by what happens next. Facebook, so far, has thrived on its promise of never-ending usage growth. Its shift to a new metric for success will be of enormous significance for the company and how its products fit into our lives. I doubt the transition will occur without eventual pushback from investors.