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  • feedwordpress 00:01:29 on 2019/09/15 Permalink
    Tags: Ethics   

    The Rise of Digital Feudalism; Chances are, You’re a Serf. 

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    Gaping Void
    Gaping Void

    This was originally posted on Hugh McCloud’s Gaping Void newsletter.

    Technology has fulfilled many promises from connecting the world, enabling transparency to increase the speed of otherwise slow processes. While we can and should celebrate the benefits of the tech industry, we also need to recognize that the promise of “power to the people” was a false promise. Just a few decades after the birth of the internet, we can see that power is centralized to the very few, harkening back on prior eras – the era of feudalism.

    What’s feudalism? Dusting off our history books, it was a class-based system that was led by kings who granted land and resources to lords, who in turn ran the castles, who then managed the lowly-working serfs. In today’s modern tech era, we’re seeing a similar model emerge called digital feudalism. In this model, the investors (kings) grant resources to the tech entrepreneurs (lords), who then build software for the masses to use. If you can’t relate to either of these roles, then chances are you’re a modern-day digital serf.

    A modern-day serf is doing the work for others: creating content, creating data, driving others around, managing physical properties for rent so others can profit on marketplaces, and working for others as a contractor without full benefits. This working-class willingly signed over their rights in the lengthy and ever-changing terms of service they quickly glanced over before hitting “agree.” The entrepreneurs use this free labor to generate eyeballs, sell the data and monetize the wealth for themselves and the investor class.

    One interesting role which has had a unique rise is the artist class. In prior eras, they had to overcome challenges for their work to be seen. In today’s digital world, they can quickly be discovered on social websites enabling their creativity to shine, like our mutual friend here, Hugh. Additionally, as we see many roles becoming automated and digitized, the need for human roles increases artists, poets, thinkers, musicians, and philosophers.

    To modernize the last word of Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin’s famed quote; “In antiquity, slaves were, in all honesty, called slaves. In the middle ages, they took the name of serfs. Nowadays they are called users.”

  • feedwordpress 18:36:56 on 2018/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , Ethics   

    Is Technology making us Calm — or causing us Anxiety? 

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    Is the technology in your life making you Calm? Or increasing your Anxiety?

    When you look around at all the beeping and blinking apps and devices, most of the technology in our lives is trying to get and hold our attention. Even media websites and social networks are trying to get your eyeballs for ad-based monetization, even at the detriment of emotionally hooking us as we fight over politics or coo over kitty videos.

    To best illustrate the dichotomy, here’s a slide from a research project on “Modern Wellness” I’m working on with colleague Jessica Groopman for a client who’s building out new technology and wants to be on the right side of history. It’s based off key points that Amber Case presented at a keynote she delivered at Anxiety Tech in SF, and she blessed I could share it here.

    Much of the concern of Anxiety tech is that the tech companies are often operating on an “attention economy” model. Free software or content, in exchange for advertisers who pay to reach you. As a result your data is sold for attention. When people are the product — they are treated like commodities.

    I surveyed a number of tech folks, and found that they have the highest trust with Apple and Google. They trust Apple as they pay a hefty price to use their hardware and software, and there’s been no history of Apple betraying users data. I’ve heard similar responses to Google, despite much of their business model being attention economy (search ads are 70% of the revenue).

    In order to rethink this business model, one idea would be to offer premium based social networks and media networks — but savvy thinkers realize this would create an elite internet separate from the less fortunate, further perpetuating societal issues.

    Solutions. What are the business-level solutions (beyond limiting notifcations from devices and apps?), I see three scenarios:

    • Some had suggested government provided social networks. Unsure this makes sense, as some government media doesn’t end up being on the side of the people.
    • A mixture of business models that enable companies like Facebook to also generate revenues from other product offerings like devices, ecommerce sales, and beyond.
    • Coop owned technology companies where the users own the equity (see Juno in NY) perhaps blockchain based companies that offer to their users, as a form of reward and loyalty.

    Love to hear your thoughts of other solutions, this will shape society as we know it.

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