Discussing Digital Pollution

The core idea is that we must be able to converse about how the digital economy is affecting our privacy.

A problem without a name cannot command attention, understanding, or resources—three essential ingredients of change.

While Social Media has probably led this charge, I can’t help but wonder how much more it will increase with a future AR layer and other connective technologies.

After the widespread adoption of social media and smartphones, the internet evolved from a tool that helped us do certain things to the primary surface for our very existence. And the more we depend on technology, the more it changes us.

The toothless FTC and incapable governments are mostly to blame for our present problems. Economic incentives or regulation could solve many of the privacy concerns.

Commercial forces are taking basic questions out of our hands. It is treated as inevitable that there must be billons of posts, billions of pictures, billions of videos. The focus is on business: more users, more engagement, and greater activity.”

…the common refrain of “We are just a platform for our users” is a decision by default. There can be no illusions here: corporate executives are making critical societal choices. Every major internet company has some form of “community standards” about acceptable practices and content; these standards are expressions of their own values. The problem is that, given their pervasive role, these companies’ values come to govern all of our lives without our input or consent.

Unfortunately, harassment and misinformation are much more difficult problems to solve.

…digital pollution is more complicated than industrial pollution. Industrial pollution is the by-product of a value-producing process, not the product itself. On the internet, value and harm are often one and the same. It is the convenience of instantaneous communication that forces us to constantly check our phones out of worry that we might miss a message or notification. It is the way the internet allows more expression that amplifies hate speech, harassment, and misinformation than at any point in human history. And it is the helpful personalization of services that demands the constant collecting and digesting of personal information.

Perhaps the online world will be less instantaneous, convenient, and entertaining. There could be fewer cheap services. We might begin to add friction to some transactions rather than relentlessly subtracting it. But these constraints would not destroy innovation. They would channel it, driving creativity in more socially desirable directions.

The World Is Choking on Digital Pollution

Brandon Titus @bjtitus