Ethical Technology

This is the work I have desired to create while being indebted to so many authors, researchers, scientists, philosophers, activists, and creatives before me. The journey of a writer is the most boisterously familial silent retreat.

This is a treatise of sorts. Its purpose is exploration. And commitment. I have no template or rulebook, so it will be messy. But through refining and shaping, maybe some insight, truth, seed flows out.


Some have a personal technology ethic with lifestyle principles like digital minimalism, regulating content intake, or social media fasts. These are essential. We should each take responsibility as stewards of our own attention, cognition, and emotion. This is not that.

The privilege of having the ability to create personal rules around technology is one absent 99% of civilization. While these disciplines regulate a person’s relationship to technology, a technology ethic establishes how technology should relate to the user. It frees the impoverished, unschooled, and malnourished of society and simplifies the battle of conscientious device-users before the device reaches their hands.

The absolute necessity of this design ethic must be understood in light of the full force of AI and persuasive design’s ability within an attention economy. In scarcity-based economics, it’s not profitable for designers to create systems that respect human dignity and control.

This question is not merely for designers and ethicists and businesspeople to grapple with. This question should inform our every decision as consumers. This question should pervade the way we discuss culture and the technological changes that shape it so dramatically.

We have to understand design ethics to recognize and eschew inhumane platforms and technologies that either rule our lives our ruin other’s. Here’s our guiding context and question:

“We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technology…”

Edward O. Wilson

So how do we regulate and design technology to promote human thriving?


Chapters
1 on defaults and technicalities
2_Attention
3_Cognition
4_Emotion
5//Outward Presence
6//Higher Thinking
7//Communal Thriving
_//case studies

facebook: frances haugen and the files

I feel the need to bring more thoughts to bear about this topic. It is a vital, watershed moment for the direction of social media platforms in our digital age. This event may very well bring the force of our legislative and judicial branches down upon the companies responsible for so much harm to our culture and nation.

If you’re unaware, one week ago, the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles based on internal research that came out of a leak at Facebook. They called it, the Facebook Files.

Within reports created by Facebook’s own teams and circulated among Facebook’s own leadership, negative effects on political divisiveness, teenage body image, the proliferation of fake news, and cultural unrest were uncovered.

The top 1% of Facebook employees (the 1% that steers the ship and the lives of 3 billion users) have long been aware of the harm their products cause. Not only have they been aware, they have been complicit in the attention mining and outrage-fueling of the culture war that has led to the most divided place the US has been since the Civil War.

“Accounts created by children, hidden from their parents, were termed as unique value propositions for profit for shareholders.”

“The damage to self-interest and self-worth inciting self-hate inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation.”

“Facebook maximizes profit and ignores pain.”

Five days later, former Facebook Product Manager, Frances Haugen, presented convicting evidence and her own testimony to Congress. Her 3 hour testimony on the effects studied and solutions ignored impacted the lawmakers so greatly they hailed Haugen as a “21st-century America hero” in what will likely be remembered as a massive cultural moment for Big Tech reform.

Unfortunately, reform hasn’t yet begun.

In their “Big Tobacco moment“, Facebook has minimized, denied, and gone sailing to avoid answering for the accounts given. No changes to the way Facebook monetizes their site, deals with user data, or measures their performance have been announced. In fact, the opposite has been declared.

For context, “Time-on-site” (TOS) is Instagram and Facebook’s metric equated to dollars. Their profit model is attention (this is where the phrase “attention economy originates). The best way to maximize TOS is by customizing content for users that appeals to our basest and most dangerous desires. Sexualized, sensationalized, shock-appealing, schismatic content.

The content you are watching, reading, and hearing has been carefully selected to keep you outraged, depressed, and confused enough to drive you back to the mind-numbing activity of infinitely scrolling through your feeds on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and now TikTok.

As long as Facebook is allowed, they will not change their model. As long as users still use their platform, they still profit and fuel outrage, suicide rates, and stock prices.

The importance of Frances Haugen’s presentation and documents cannot be understated, but there is a second word that is needed. Change requires a destination- a vision of change.

We have to start thinking more deeply about how we are to design products, interact with platforms, and treat each other if we are ever to escape the effects Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest have had on our world….

book reviews

The worst kind of book review is not the one that says, “this book will change your life” for that review is simply stated and courteous.

The worst kind of book review is the one that says, “the worst kind of book review is the one that says “this book will change your life“… but for this book, it’s true”, preceding to write its own worst book review.

Too meta?

climb

When you sit down for work everyday, you can’t accomplish your annual goals.

No matter how much you desire to finish the project you’ve set out to do or achieve the lifestyle you’ve wanted to create, you can’t finish within a day.

Annual goals are made up of weekly objectives are made up of daily tasks.

While it’s solid advice to focus solely on the tasks of the day, we also need to be able to see the carrot from closer than 365 days. The carrot becomes closer and more tangible when we set the intention to review our goals at the beginning of our workday and update them at the end.

So, as with everything, there is a yin and a yang- balance.

Creatures of habit are prone to be short-minded.

The long-term is made tangible when we are reminded of what it will take to get there. Everyday our task list can be a game- how much further along towards the mountaintop will we climb…


What did you notice today? ///

it’s not your story

You might assume your food comes from the sky before it arrives at Walmart because it’s in-store every morning.

You might assume the right to speech online because we’ve all been given a mega(i)Phone.

We believe ourselves the center of some grand story because we’ve never read another’s. This is a spiritual pitfall in a digital age.


With agrarian society’s end, we lost touch with food’s source.

Processed food, GMO’s, additives and substitutes. These rob nature of her privilege of provision. Favor Delivery, DoorDash, and online shopping further divorce us from the origins of our daily sustenance.

Regardless of creator’s intent or context, we’re adamant “freedom of speech” is a built-in feature to our identity and we ignore its misuse and abuse in online spaces (…and in offline spaces: the sale of “F— Biden” flags in parts of the south should cause deep sadness for all at the state of our political polarization and gross mistreatment of the privilege to speak our minds).

Only in May of 2021 did Twitter add a prompt to users to reconsider “potentially harmful or offensive language” in tweets or comments (I won’t even criticize the fact that this prompt only appears for explicit language and not more subtly crafted disinformation or slander, and ask, why did this take so long? 15 years of hate-speech and cruelty too late).

Twitter’s lead, “what’s happening“, fails to advise you of your tweet’s public immortality. It reinforces a solitary and selfish story-telling paradigm.

This (among a devolution of too many of our cognitive abilities thanks to social media) is a reason for the slow dying of books and reading in America. We no longer believe someone else’s story to be relevant to us. Now, it’s paramount that my story/post/tweet is heard by my followers (a term historically attributed to followers of religious figures who truly are central to a people’s story).

An intriguing trend in our cultural moment is the ‘everyman’ as a frequent protagonist. Filmmakers in the mainstream desire to create a hero the viewer can relate to or see in themselves.

This is not the purpose of a story.

A story (especially, an origin) tells another human’s struggles. No clichés.
It doesn’t put you in their shoes- it reminds you their feet are a different size. No hand-holding. It gives you the raw, unfiltered version.

We need to be constantly reminded that our story is not whole.

Plant a garden. Engage history to learn the origin of free speech. Read someone else’s story (not on Instagram Stories… because it has to be said).


What did you notice today? ///