Digital Society

published at medium.com

What about advertising’s role in financing such a project?

20 years ago I was on the Internet worrying about how we might integrate commercial interests into the “information highway” as it became mainstream.

Today we lament the loss of that era’s breathless optimism, and its poster children have become the industrialists they once feared, raising capitalist defenses rather than cooperating.

Anil Dash blames us for not trying hard enough.

He also wishes digital service companies would be less efficient, so we might keep people employed. Douglas Rushkoff, meanwhile, suggests we need to let go of jobs. But perhaps the robots will continue finding reasons to use us.

All of our hand-wringing over the failure of technology to usher in grand social change even as it threatens our current balance is just a digital-age iteration of an ancient struggle. The problems of how to include everyone in society while still progressing technology forward are as old as civilization.

Only two centuries ago, this struggle flared up with disobedience and reactionary legal protection of industrial tools. The Luddite’s faded away, but had sparked social change that eventually brought us more inclusive and egalitarian social structures that acknowledge the value of laborers.

Today, we’re trying to protect digital tools but going too far and confusing content with industry. Ham-fisted government will continue serving the interests of the already-powerful, and the people will flare up and lose interest struggling against it all.

A dramatic rebellion against our Silicon Valley and Hollywood overlords is unlikely, but the efforts will shift norms of privacy and personal data ownership, making the future a bit more resistant to authoritarian control.

If we drop the pretense that our digital age’s challenges are new and studied e.g. Karl Marx’s observations and the (often tragic) lives of his ideas, we might be much more effective.

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