Sometimes I Wish I Didn’t Care

Take this statement from Ian Bogost writing in The Atlantic:

“It’s as if Google, the company that promised to organize and make accessible the world’s information, has done the opposite.”

Or this from a talk by Audrey Watters:

You hear these sorts of predictions all the time — that everyone is going to own or use X, Y, or Z technology in the next few years — but according to a recent study, only about 10% of Fitbit owners (and that’s of the less than 12% of US consumers own fitness trackers) are still wearing the device after a year.
Beware the marketing hype.

or this:

…the monetization of search may not be helping us in the ways we think it can and should. Yes, we seem to be getting a lot of information for free. But is it the information we need, offered in the way that is most beneficial?
The market needs consumers, not people in crisis or difficulty or lacking literacy. My itchy eye was not interested in shopping but Google and its business model assumes that shopping is our primary (if not only) objective.
That is a fundamental problem. Especially when we need help and not markets.

Then consider what you’ve been hearing or reading about the Senate’s Health Care bill and process these thoughts by Atul Gawande:

The Senate bill would also ultimately make people who buy insurance on the A.C.A. exchanges — people without coverage from an employer or from Medicaid — pay far more money for far worse coverage, especially if they are age fifty or older… The bill, in other words, promises terrible coverage at unaffordable prices. Millions of people would have to give up insurance, leaving them without protection and the entire individual-insurance market at risk of collapse.

What’s salient in these quotes is the market which involves growing profit for a few at the expense of many.

Take this example. Look at what’s happened to advertising dollars in the last 5 years:

Why it matters: The absence of regulation to curb the dominance of some of these tech giants has forever changed how people consume news AND ads, and the strong keep getting stronger.

And where do we, as users, consumers, humans who have plans, dreams, ambitions and also needs, fit into this scenario?

I guess we have choices.

Let’s go back to that original statement about Google. The company promised to deliver one thing, which we have to a large degree welcomed and appreciated, but may also be doing the opposite (which we have perhaps not fully realized or observed). We get information and we must also take along with it Google’s rules, priorities and pathways. We use a fitbit which measures all manner of physical activity and conditions, and we also produce data for many more entities than just ourselves and control of that data is seldom fully our own. Health care is a complex set of systems generally designed to improve the well-being of a society’s citizens, not threaten it. Yet the proposed US Senate legislation seems to make that an inevitable part of the bargain.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t care. Life should not be a bargain. Having access to information that is helpful and accurate should not require a masters degree in data science. A handful of corporations should not become our primary filters through which we determine what is worth knowing, understanding, preserving.

Sometimes we need to step back and see where we are. When I do that these days I am more than a little horrified. Sometimes it becomes very different to see how patterns can be changed. Humans created them. Humans can reverse them. At the very end of Black Box Society, Frank Pasquale reminds of our agency as citizens:

Neither New York quants nor California engineers can deliver a sound economy or a secure society. Those are the tasks of a citizenry which can perform its job only as well as it understands the stakes.

That’s what I’m here for: helping us all understand the stakes. We need to pull back the curtains on our every day habits. We need to question our unexamined trust in entities for whom we are the harvest, not the partner. We need to reject elected representatives willing to subvert democratic processes to achieve an awful gain for a few at the dreadful expense of the many.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t care but I am also glad that I do.