My hypothesis: these algorithms — driven by the all-consuming need for engagement in order to sell ads — are part of what’s destroying western liberal democracy, and my app will not contribute to that.
Over the last fifty years, we have come to recognize that the fuel of our civilizational expansion has become the main driver of our extinction, and that of many of the species we share the planet with. We are now coming to realize that is as true of our cognitive infrastructure. Something is out of sync, felt everywhere: something amiss in the temporal order, and it is as related to political and technological shifts, shifts in our own cognition and attention, as it is to climatic ones. To think clearly in such times requires an intersectional understanding of time itself, a way of thinking that escapes the cognitive traps, ancient and modern, into which we too easily fall. Because our technologies, the infrastructures we have built to escape our past, have turned instead to cancelling our future.
James writes beautifully about rates of change.
The greatest trick our utility-directed technologies have performed is to constantly pull us out of time: to distract us from the here and now, to treat time as a kind of fossil fuel which can be endlessly extracted in the service of a utopian future which never quite arrives. If information is the new oil, we are already, in the hyper-accelerated way of present things, well into the fracking age, with tremors shuddering through the landscape and the tap water on fire. But this is not enough; it will never be enough. We must be displaced utterly in time, caught up in endless imaginings of the future while endlessly neglecting the lessons and potential actions of the present moment.
Craig’s slow walk away from Instagram:
I want to have a place very far apart from that, where I can post photos on my own terms. Not have an algorithm decide which of my posts is best (have you noticed Instagram making the second photo in series appear first in the carousel?). And I don’t want to be rewarded for being anodyne, which is what these general algorithms seem to optimize for: things that are easily digestible, firmly on the scale of “fine, just fine.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the more boring stuff we shove into our eyeballs, the more boring our taste becomes.
I tried very hard in that book, when it came to social media, to be platform agnostic, to emphasize that social media sites come and go, and to always invest first and foremost in your own media (website, blog, etc.) and mailing list.
I still stand by that advice, but if I re-wrote the book now, I would encourage artists to use much more caution when it comes to using social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
A hand-wringing, finger-pointing litany of hindsight, published with 11 tracking scripts attached.
- Start With Hippie Good Intentions …
- … Then mix in capitalism on steroids.
- The arrival of Wall Streeters didn’t help …
- … And we paid a high price for keeping it free.
- Everything was designed to be really, really addictive.
- At first, it worked — almost too well.
- No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable …
- … Even as social networks became dangerous and toxic.
- … And even as they invaded our privacy.
- Then came 2016.
- Employees are starting to revolt.
- To fix it, we’ll need a new business model …
- … And some tough regulation.
- Maybe nothing will change.
- … Unless, at the very least, some new people are in charge.
Craig talks about reading, writing, books, publishing, and Amazon:
Kindle and non-Kindle book sales account for less than two percent of Amazon’s market cap. The Kindle could disappear tomorrow, and Amazon would not be materially affected. Even from a branding perspective, I don’t think AMAZON = BOOKS anymore, certainly not to younger consumers. AMAZON = PRIME. PRIME = A 3D PRINTER on a one-day time-delay that deposits anything you can imagine on your doorstep.
There’s also this about the double-edged sword of working at scale:
Does affecting one hundred lives turn you on? A thousand? A million? A billion? Why? What does it mean to have a positive impact on a life? How intimate does that connection need to be? Understanding your scale — the scale that moves you — is critical to understanding with whom and how you should work, how you should live.
Perhaps when Bush prophesied lightning-quick knowledge retrieval, he didn’t intend for that knowledge to be footnoted with Outbrain adverts. Licklider’s man-computer symbiosis would have been frustrated had it been crop-dusted with notifications. Ted Nelson imagined many wonderfully weird futures for the personal computer, but I don’t think gamifying meditation apps was one of them.
This 1993 article by Mark Weiser is relevant to our world today.
Take intelligent agents. The idea, as near as I can tell, is that the ideal computer should be like a human being, only more obedient. Anything so insidiously appealing should immediately give pause. Why should a computer be anything like a human being? Are airplanes like birds, typewriters like pens, alphabets like mouths, cars like horses? Are human interactions so free of trouble, misunderstanding, and ambiguity that they represent a desirable computer interface goal? Further, it takes a lot of time and attention to build and maintain a smoothly running team of people, even a pair of people. A computer I need to talk to, give commands to, or have a relationship with (much less be intimate with), is a computer that is too much the center of attention.
I like Mike’s “long zoom” view here where the glass is half full and half empty:
Several years from now, I want to be able to look back on this time the same way people look at other natural disasters. Without that terrible earthquake, we would have never improved our building codes. Without that terrible flood, we would have never built those levees. Without that terrible hurricane, we would have never rebuilt this amazing city. Without that terrible disease, we would have never developed antibodies against it.
It doesn’t require giving any credit to the disaster. The disaster will always be a complete fucking disaster. But it does involve using the disaster as an opportunity to take a hard look at what got us here and rededicate our energy towards things that will get us out.
The dreadful headline makes this sound like another pearl-clutching moral panic, but there’s some good stuff in this somewhat hagiographic profile.
Harris is developing a code of conduct—the Hippocratic oath for software designers—and a playbook of best practices that can guide start-ups and corporations toward products that “treat people with respect.” Having companies rethink the metrics by which they measure success would be a start.
In reality, ad blockers are one of the few tools that we as users have if we want to push back against the perverse design logic that has cannibalized the soul of the Web.
If enough of us used ad blockers, it could help force a systemic shift away from the attention economy altogether—and the ultimate benefit to our lives would not just be “better ads.” It would be better products: better informational environments that are fundamentally designed to be on our side, to respect our increasingly scarce attention, and to help us navigate under the stars of our own goals and values. Isn’t that what technology is for?
Given all this, the question should not be whether ad blocking is ethical, but whether it is a moral obligation.
An excellent rebuttal by Steven Pinker to Nicholas Carr's usual trolling.
Probably old news by now but Last.fm has been acquired by CBS, who I hope are not evil. The good news is that our favourite music site is staying in London. Rock on, FMers.
There's been a steady increase in talk around continuous partial attention (what with Twitter and all) so I here's the mother lode: Linda Stone waxing lyrical and expanding our vocabularies.
The Future of Web Apps gets a write-up on the BBC site.
Kathy Sierra doesn't like Twitter. Join us, Kathy... be a lover, not a hater.