The Developer’s Dilemma
Capitalism is alive and well, thriving on the monopolization of our attention. Nearly every website I visit has some type of agenda to use my habits to make them money, through marketing and advertising, through data collection, through the simple attention grabbing nature of their software product. In today’s age the value of a brand or a product is increasingly about how much people interact with it. As internet sites and services become cheaper and cheaper to create and host, it becomes cheaper and easier to provide technological services to people. To compete, companies have to offer their services for “free” and make their money through data and ads. Everything is data and ads.
So like Bill Sourour says in his article about that one time he coded a website where it led every user to a specific pharma’s medicine regardless of their selections in a questionnaire, it is up to the programmers to ensure what they are creating is ethical. This is a very tough gray area, and it’s something I think about all the time. Because in reality, every decision a developer makes, every option they add or don’t add, every time they choose a text box or a radio button, all of these choices are defining the realities of users. Literally defining people’s realities. While Bill suggests thinking twice before you decide to do a project, I suggest rather that you believe in the world in a certain way where you would never make something that limits or confines users unnecessarily. Do everything you can to offer the most number of choices. Sure you can present a few choices at a time for maximum UX experience, but ultimately it is through the removal of imposed choices on users that we create a more free internet.
Some specific examples immediately come to mind regarding this issue. First and foremost is everytime someone fills out a form. You’re given a set of options, and sometimes these options are radio boxes — choose this or that. Haven taken a class on language and sexuality, I see identity politics as the forefront of these issues. For ideas like race, gender, sexuality, and any type of identity declarations, boxing someone in to specific choices is alienating and oppressive to large groups of people who don’t define themselves in one specific way or any specific way at all. And even the inclusion of an “other, please write in your preferred _____” is highly offensive. There is no need to label someone as other or as outside of a “standard.” Instead we can work towards the supportive inclusion of all people by using surveys where all responses are typed in, where no one has to feel like they are overlooked or an afterthought.
Other discussions about this line of thinking relate to the open sourcing of information. It is only through open sourcing code and data that we can begin to solve global crises.
As I move forward in my career I want to help better connect the creators, distributors and those in need. To optimize our distribution systems and through optimization ensure that all those in need have access to the basic resources they need to survive.
To avoid any potential for unethical coding, simply listen to what your soul tells you. Do what’s right. If something feels off, it’s because it is. You don’t need a degree in ethics to know what’s harming or oppressive to someone. Just put yourself in the perspective of a wide range of all different people with all different ways of identifying themselves, and imagine how they might feel using what you create. Would they feel cared, supported, trusted? Would they benefit from this in a selfless way? I believe you know what’s best, and we’re fortunate to live in a world where we can now put what’s best for all people in front of what’s best for a profit margin.
Together we’ll make this world the bright future we believe in.