May 222017

“I stand before you as a failure,” was how I opened my presentation at the Talking Justice conference last weekend. “If I were giving this talk ten or fifteen years ago, I’d have described how the web and social media were going to usher in a new era of democracy and accountability.”

“Like most of the cyber utopians, I was very, very wrong.”

Basically we were wrong because we didn’t see how the internet would concentrate rather than diffuse power or the extent of how new gatekeepers and monopolies would be replaced the old ones.

My friends and I were not alone, in a somewhat rambling interview with the New York Times Twitter co-founder Evan Williams describes how “the internet is broken” and how he thought the messaging service could make the world better.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.”

Instead Twitter has become home to trolls, harassment and misinformation, something that saddens Williams and most of us who thought the web would bring about a more open and fair society.

Hope isn’t completely gone though, we are still in the early days of social media and the internet so the current trends may only be a transition effect as audiences, markets, regulators and the community get to grips with the new medium.

There’s also Amara’s law which states we overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

So it’s best to be a pessimistic optimist where one accepts in the short run things are dire but over time things will turn out well.

We can only hope.

  3 Responses to “Keeping the cyber utopian dream alive”

  1. I think we need a Cyber Realist approach,
    1. Human beings are broken. They cannot be fixed by either technology or ideology.
    2. Human beings are creative. They will use technologies in ways that we cannot predict.
    3. Human beings are apes. They are collaborative, competitive, and tribal.
    4. Human beings transform and are transformed by their technologies.
    5. Every tool can be a weapon. Every weapon can be a tool.
    6. You might not be interested in technology but technology is Interested in you.
    7. Conversely, you might not be interested in politics but politics is interested in you.
    8. We hope not because we believe that we can fix human beings but rather because human beings excel at making new mistakes – or what some call “change”.

  2. I’d like to see Matt write a book about those observations 🙂

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