It’s been three years since I wrote anything here. A number of smart friends have started migrating away from the prevalent social media (Facebook) either back to blogging or to other online social outlets which somehow seem less evil and intrusive. Others are simply disappearing from the online world altogether. In a profound way, the rise of smart algorithmically driven exploitations of sociality is actively making the world smaller. I wonder if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Social media, be it blogging or corporate platforms like Facebook and Twitter, was a technology ostensibly created to harness the power of collective humanity, either to facilitate the flow ideas or provide entertainment,– inevitably simply working promote consumption of one sort or another. What has sent it off the rails? As an early adopter of blogging, I always suspected that money was the culprit. When people started placing small advertisements on their web sites and blogs, trying to drive and manipulate traffic to line their pockets, the corporatization of blogging began. Social media was then born in earnest, wedding artificial intelligence to the search for novelty and profit. At the worst, it became politically manipulative, leading to questions regarding the nature of truth itself and the ability of human beings to resist their worst impulses. Watching the melt-down of the US government in real time it becomes difficult to avoid an apocalyptic tone as I write this; I am reminded that what made me stop trying to write in longer form was the inexorable march towards the Trump presidency. I abandoned trying to make sense of anything. It’s been three years of this now, of being ruled by the twittered rants of a childish fool.
But in the back of my mind, the question of technology is never far away. I grew up believing that technology could save us, and I’m hardly a luddite who wants to abandon indoor plumbing for the good life in the woods. The basic question that I keep circling, and have been circling now for at least the last three years (when I’m not terrified about the end of the world) is simply this:
How do you tell which technologies are good and which are evil?
Technologies are never neutral, and it’s hard to understand how skeptics can cling to the notion that there is some hidden force behind the wheel driving us off a cliff by simply using “neutral” technologies that might otherwise be used for good. No, if you have a car with a steering wheel that only operates within a narrow range it seems eventually there will be a turn that it can’t manage and the whole thing will go off the cliff. If we die, it won’t matter if it’s the car or the drivers fault. It will matter if we choose to continue riding in it, past the point of no return.