The Technology We Love, Has Become Our Undoing.
One could imagine a global computer system where everybody has devices on them all the time and the device was giving them feedback based on what they did and the whole population is subject to a degree of behavior modification.. Such a society would be insane. Could not survive. Could not face its’ problems. But this is only a thought experiment and such a future is technologically infeasible.
– The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Wiener,
Back at the turn of the century,
Our digital culture decided that everything on the internet must be public and free. We believed that, “if even one person can not afford it, then that would create this terrible inequity.” The internet became the sole exception from everything else that existed and that we’ve been told. Yet, in a world where technology had begun to form into this massive powerhouse we know of today, how could tech-entrepreneurs continue developing the future without capital to provide improvement? The concept of a “free” internet simply did not work, it would never survive nor grow.
Back then, we believed there was only saw one solution to this. And that solution was what brought us on the path towards the internet we all know and love (hate?) today…
The Advertising Model
Oh yes, that one little piece of the internet that has turned into one of the strongest love/hate relationships man kind has ever seen.
Now, as Jaron Lanier says, “in the beginning…. it was cute.”
“You can thank (or blame?) Wired magazine’s former online off-shoot HotWired for introducing the world to the enduringly ubiquitous banner ad.” … “The publication devised a plan to set aside portions of its website to sell space to advertisers, similar to how ad space is sold in a print magazine. They called the ad spaces “banner ads,” and charged advertisers an upfront cost to occupy the real estate for a set time period.” (1)
This brought the birth of the largest tech-companies to this day, Google and Facebook. Free service, but with ads. And back then, it wasn’t all that bad. Actually, it really was just simple advertising. But as the technology developed and became more efficient, they quickly became more affordable for the common buyer. Everyone fascinated over owning one for themselves. And soon, everything enhanced.
Algorithms turned into a learning skill. Tech “geeks” figured out ways to optimize different triggers and create pathways that dictated certain ads to only be shown to individuals with certain “qualifications” that proved they may be a potential buyer. EVERYONE, even the consumers, became more experienced. The ways in which individuals used the internet was rapidly developing, and the innocent internet that started out was left in the dust. What began as true advertising, had no longer become advertising.
We entered into the online world we live in today. A little paradigm that Jaron Lanier calls, Behavior Modification.
“I can’t call these things social networks anymore, I call them Behavior Modification Empires.” – Jaron Lanier.
“Behavior Modification Empires”
“With behaviorism, you give the creature, whether it’s a rat or a dog or a person, little treats and sometimes little punishments, as feedback to what they do.” With animals, the reward/punishment is simple. If a dog learns to sit when you say so, you give him a treat. If he pees inside, you may smack his nose or push him out the door. But in humans, specifically humans with a smartphone on social media, the reward/punishment is not physical, but emotional.
What’s fascinating about this human online world, is that unlike a dog, the reward that is given, is also served as the punishment one receives. This often comes in the form of a “like”; a representation that something you put onto the internet appeals to certain people that have viewed it. But, simultaneously, if your post did NOT receive as many likes as you may have expected, or maybe someone else got more likes than you, then you experience the punishment. A feeling of neglect, disapproval, or sense of being “un-liked.” This has been proven to directly lead individuals toward experiencing depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. This is most common in the younger population, mainly Millennials and Gen Z.
It’s also been acknowledged that the negative emotions is experienced far greater, and quicker, than the reward emotions. Meaning that, companies, without intention, have been creating more harm than good for their customers and viewers.
So how do we resolve this?
As stated in his TED Talk, Lanier claims the only way to resolve this incredibly-profound mistake is to “turn back time” and create the internet differently. Rather than everything be offered for free, there needs to be some sort of payment integration in which individuals pay for the content and value their receiving. He suggests a possible subscription service, or a pay-as-you-go scenario.
But what would that do exactly? Well, lets look at what increased revenue provides to companies in the tech-industry… If you’re tired of fraudulent individuals pitching you with ads, claiming they can resolve all of your troubles with their service or product, then wouldn’t paying a small fee for a “premium” internet be worth your time? An internet with qualified individuals offering the same service, but with factual information, data, and value standing behind their statements?
Would you prefer to question every bit of information you read online as factual or not? Or would it be worth paying for true, legitimate information that you can trust full-heartedly?
And if you’re sitting there thinking, “not everyone would buy into this,” let me, and Jaron, remind you of something that replaced the previous television model we all used to appeal to… Netflix. This brought a fast, high-quality movie streaming experience to our entire virtual society. And with the very affordable price equal to two Starbucks coffees, everyone flocked towards joining their monthly subscription plan. What does Netflix gain from this? The money and resources to create a BETTER streaming service, allowing continuous improvement and enhancement to their services to reach the highest possible quality.
The same would go for companies in the tech-industry. More money, equals higher quality. Higher quality, equals the end to obnoxious advertisements and false information.
One last reminder to top this off… there’s a little saying that I’m sure all of you are familiar with. It’s very common at BestBuy and other electronic stores…
“Do you want cheap? Or quality. Because quality is never cheap. And cheap is never quality.
Full Jaron Lanier TED Talk:
2. Jaron Lanier 2018: How We Need To Remake The Internet