The internet is predicated on the notion of it being free. But what if this predilection was found to be the root cause of most of our media and societal ails; filter bubbles, 'fake news', misinformation and the spread of conspiracy theories, privacy breaches et al.
Our technological and in some ways societal future depends on what happens next.
Jaron Lanier, a scientist, musician and writer is known for his work in virtual reality and his advocacy of humanism and sustainable economics in a digital context, and contends that when free digital systems and great tech entrepreneurs exploded there was a 'globally tragic, astoundingly ridiculous mistake, rather than a wave of evil where behaviour modification empires (we know them as social networks) sprouted and effectively 'broke' the internet'. He believes 'we simply just need to remake the decision'.
Lanier suggests, that born of this period (in the late 1990s) was a 'mythical power which produced two different passions; for making everything free and for the almost supernatural power of the tech entrepreneur. (But) How do you celebrate entrepreneurship when everything's free?' These two things are at odds with each other and this decision for predominantly 'free' has resulted in systems which modifies users' behaviour in the process of allowing them to seek information and communicate with others via the internet.
The only solution back then was the advertising model and just like users, the likes of Google and Facebook are hooked; unable to diversify from the proposition of cost centres to profit centres.
His most notable thought; "I don't think our species can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which if two people wish to communicate the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them.”
Would/will users ever be able to be weaned from the 'free' model. Would we make a different decision if we knew back then? Would we being willing to remake the decision now?
A comprehensive and contextualised account can be read via New York Mag
Worth watching the TEDTalk in full.
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