Create Responsibly

The entire IT/tech industry has been succesful for decades and its golden age might be happening right now. No doubt it’ll keep growing like that for an unknown period of time and increase its impact on humanity. One thing is certain: IT and tech are the solution to many problems the humanity has been dealing with for centuries. They also offer possibilities people wouldn’t even dream of just a couple of decades ago. However, they also have to find solutions to problems they cause themselves, as progress brings a set of difficult issues of every sort to the table.

All kinds of crimes one could ever imagine are all there and you can see and experience them every day. There are new crimes that are commited online only, like massive data leaks or e-mail scams, to mention just two.

There are new addictions. Take games, social media, porn and being online in general. These are the diseases that appeared on a massive scale just a couple of years ago.

Some seriously messed up guys are using the web for their own purposes. They make high-quality movies showing horrible things and spread them across the web. The web is full of creeps.

All this appeared in our lives together with the Internet and mobile technologies.

I’m not going to complain on how bad the Internet is, not a bit. Making it possible for massive groups of people to be constanly online is one of the most important inventions ever made. It is a wide-spread tool to communicate in a variety of ways, and a vast library containing pretty much everything we know. 3.5 billion people can access it. If that’s not one of the biggest achievements ever made, tell me what is.

For many of us Internet access is as obvious as it is natural. It’s good, because it means that a big part of the entire planet lives in decent conditions. But twenty years ago there was hardly any Internet or, at least, it was nothing like today.

It’s an important part of our lives. If there’s no connection, most of our devices become useless rubbish. And oh: we all carry “personal devices” in our pockets day in, day out. Twenty five years ago those technologies were called sci-fi.

So, the Internet is a huge thing. It runs everything and there’s a vast number of people who contribute to it in gazillion ways on a daily basis. This made me think about the entire IT/tech industry many times.

This thought became even stronger when I listened to Gary Vaynerchuk at the TNW Conference in Amsterdam this year. He mentioned something I had already noticed: that there’s a whole lot of people in the industry who want to start a web business, pump it, then sell it and become rich. That’s their goal: grab some money and be outta here. I heard people talking like this so many times that it made me wonder.

While there’s nothing wrong with being successful and rich, there’s a lot of things wrong with the “pump, sell and let it burn” attitude. If you’re building something just to grow it and get rid of it, you might not be doing anything valuable and sustainable.

There is a myriad of things that last for a short time and don’t bring much meaning to our lives. They are supposed to be that way and that’s fine. But many things are supposed to be good and reliable, to last and become better.

If making a quick buck is the main drive you have, you’re probably going to fail. If you succeed anyway, your work won’t contribute to what the today online environment really is. It might even survive and stay profitable, but in today’s world low quality stuff is a problem, as it won’t serve it’s purpose. It’ll break other stuff and, eventually, cause trouble to many people and waste their time.

Being a part of the industry that has such a powerful impact on today’s world and the future of everybody makes us responsible for what we do. For all the stuff we offer, deliver and spread across the web, all those websites, apps, devices, tools and toys.

The thing I do out of passion, for fun and for living, is making websites: front-end web development. It’s a perfect part of the industry to show what impact our work has on people’s lives.

My team delivered thousands of websites during the last couple of years. It’s a tiny drop in the ocean, nothing compared to thousands of websites launched every minute. But the result of our work has huge impact, even if we don’t see or experience it directly.

Some people use our services because they need something developed for their clients. Others hire us to build something of their own. The quality of our work often influences the overall performance of a given undertaking, determining if it flies or flops. It has an impact on how our customers do in life, if they achieve their goals, succeed in business, earn a living. It affects their lives, families and future. Most of the stuff we deliver isn’t for joke or for fun. These are things that are important to someone and might be the difference between the success and the failure.

Mistakes happen, as do serious fails — usually because someone did something not the way it should’ve been done. But that happens and it’s all fine if you did everything you could to fix it and make up for it. Failure is a natural part of any undertaking. But stay aware that while it’s you who failed, you’re not the only one who suffers the consequences.

Another great example might be Pokémon GO. It’s fun and people love it, but there’s always a question if the creators could foresee potentially dangerous misuses. I’m pretty sure there were already car accidents caused by the pedestrians and the drivers. [Hint: hunting for Pokémons by car works great] The app uses GPS and it watches players’ movement speed: the distance needed for hatching eggs is counted in only below 25 km/h. The Pokémon players are supposed to walk while playing, but they also ride trams, buses or metro. The app could just pause if they moved faster than 50 km/h. It would limit freedom, but might also limit the number of accidents.

Two guys have been rescued after falling off a cliff in San Diego while on a Pokémon hunt. Now imagine a player trespassing a private property in order to catch a Pokémon. In Texas.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum requested the authors to exclude its territory from the game map. The same thing applies to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland. It’s an important memorial and people shouldn’t play there. Again: the game is being misused in a way and the authors can’t be blamed for anything of that. But they might have foreseen that while choosing Ingress maps as a base for the gameplay. They introduced a form to let them know about dangerous or improper areas, but did it after controversies already had taken place. Niantic could’ve gathered a list of well-known sensitive places around the world and removed them from the game at the very beginning. A tool for institutions to report such places would be also a good idea, so the authors could verify requests and block important spots.

Everybody who has access to the web is a user, a customer and a contributor and should feel some responsibility (for his/her own words on the web, to start with, but that’s a whole different story). The creators, those who make the web work: design it, code it, host it, fill it with content and provide devices, should be aware that their responsibility is way bigger.

I saw a couple of people who raised this issue at the TNW Conf. Emma Holten pointed out some important social dangers, including cyberbullying and regular blackmail, and I couldn’t agree more with her. We deliver tools that make it possible. We can’t take the blame for people misusing them, but we sure should think of the consequences when designing and building them.

I was happy to hear that there are people who wonder about the darker side of being online and who know we have to be careful with many things concerning the tech. At the end of the day it’s the tools, technologies and solutions we invent that allow all the bad things pour out of our devices. The technology is the fan which the shit hits.

At the TNW Conf there were other people who pointed out the problem. Peter Sunde indicated the same thing: that there are things that should come first and are more important than anything else.

If you haven’t heard their speeches at the TNW Conf — do it, they are available here.

What we do has noticeable influence on our environment and our reality. When creating things for the web, it’s worth having this thought in the back of your head and keeping it active. What you do really matters, because it leaves a trace on other people and their lives. Remember that there are priorites to be set right, whatever you do for the web.