Drifting. Why we need a Slow Web.
As some of my friends have noticed, over the last few years, I have not been very well. I’ve been drifting. My body and my mind were detached, like floating in the ocean and going wherever the current would take me. It was such a very weird feeling. And I knew exactly what the reason was. The uncomfortable truth is that I fell out of love with the technology world and that I am not excited by the future anymore. At least the future that is being built today.
With the terrible Paris attacks last year, I kept asking this question to myself: If the world we are building is so amazing, why would someone take a gun and kill my friends? I couldn’t find any answer. So I escaped Paris and traveled to the first destination I could find: Bali. I was drifting again.
Bali had that incredible impact on me. Being far away from the craziness of this world, slowing down gave me the opportunity to better understand the source of my recurrent discomfort. In the world of technology, we are taught to build things fast. Sometimes too fast. But Life and people are not like lines of code. We can’t break things just to see how it will work out. Everything we create online can have a huge impact on the real world. And we spend so little time studying the consequences of what we build. Competition for attention has slowly replaced the values of the founding fathers of the lnternet.
I have personally witnessed this change in technology. Because my daily life is now affected by the consequences of this change. I have identified at least three things that make me fear this future.
The first one is (the lack of) ownership.
For many people, entering this new digital world means the end of ownership. At first it was more like a conceptualisation. But now I can see the impact this has on my daily life.
I used to own CDs, books, magazines, art, and so many things that helped me shape my own personality. Now it’s all about subscriptions. I didn’t mind subscribing to some services until I started to see, in Paris or everywhere I would go, that it also meant closing bookstores, record shops and even public libraries. That struggling magazines have to loose some of their identity to the advertisers. And Culture is becoming increasingly commoditized. Every once in a while, some famous artist dies and my entire news feed lights up with old nostalgia videos edited overnight. Now that I have 30 years of online experience, I truly believe that the offline world treated with much more respect subcultures than the digital world. Mega platforms have become the mac donald’s of the minds.
It scares me so much. I feel that when people don’t own anything they don’t have anything to lose.
The second one is algorithmic choice.
My relationship with content and ideas has always been obsessive and intense. Today, it’s really hard to accept the fact that the machine should decide what’s important for me. Because as good as the algorithms are, they are black boxes with very little control over them.
Of course I hear all the arguments on machine filtering. Because we live in a super busy world and because our friends are producing so much information (or noise), an entity should mediate and organise it wisely. But honestly, are we busy because of our lives or because of our tools? I reject the underlying philosophy of this new technical design.
I don’t believe we should optimize and apply machine learning to everything. Content, like life, is about finding pleasure in messy and unpredictable situations. It’s about content serendipity and friends mentorship. It’s about all these little things technology wants to make impossible in the future.
The last one is the impossibility to slow down.
There’s an incredible paradox to see the rise of meditation and mindfulness in Silicon Valley while most products that are built are designed to accelerate time and stress. While the Dunbar number of meaningful interactions with other humans is around 120, our social graphs are breaking records every days about how many people we can talk to.
Most of the tools I have in my phone can’t help me enjoy the present time. Because none of them live in the present. For one simple reason. On the Internet of today, the past or the present are not interesting . The new gold rush is about dominating the near future. A world where our next actions, our next intent, our chats and our searches can be turned into monetisable actions.
It has an incredible impact on who we are. We can’t be in a place without the urge of telling our friends what we do. The idea of impressing others comes before our own satisfaction of the present moment.
At any given time we are stuck in an infinite number of conversations. With humans or robots. And our mobiles are trying constantly to stimulate our senses with notifications.
Like many, I have been caught into the craziness of the last technological decade. I’ve have seen billion-user platforms emerge from the ground up without any deep thinking about how it would impact the world we live in.
I have started to engage that conversation, but in our tech world it’s taboo. We have designed an unsustainable world for the planet and for your brains. Seriously, do we need to sell to the same people every year a slightly updated new phone with marginally better software?
I wish something different could come up. A sort of Slow web that is to technology what slow food is to processed things.
We need to give people access to other choices, other life narratives, other tools, and other ideologies. A sort of “organic sustainable slow technology” that fights this commoditization of everything online and offline.
I feel it’s time to build this and for that I want to stop drifting and get back to building products that make me love the future again.
There’s never been one truth and one path, especially in technology. We just need more people to raise their voice and be part of this.
Thanks for listening.