It’s Time for Digital Products to Start Empowering Us

We’re accepting utility in exchange for disempowerment. It’s not a fair trade.

Jesse Weaver
Feb 25, 2019 · 7 min read
Credit: grivina/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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In the early years of the web… there was still a degree of separation. We just weren’t on our computers that much. Then the smartphone came along.

We brush this off because we’ve confused a sense of utility with a feeling of empowerment. We assure ourselves that we own our lives when we land a great deal on a place to stay, catch the latest update from a friend, discover a great article, or have our groceries delivered. These are just a few of the small moments of pure utility that we’ve learned to confuse with power over our own lives.


  1. Data collection, manipulation, and transparency. We need to center the user — not the business — as the owner of their data.
  2. The drive for continual engagement. Intentionally hijacking human psychology in order to hook people is a predatory business practice. We need ethical standards for how we manipulate people’s behavior.
  3. Revenue models. Business models that depend on a given level of user engagement are unsustainable.
  4. How content creators are compensated. A platform alone should not profit from the creations of its users.
  5. Algorithms and artificial intelligence. We need ethical standards for how we manipulate what a person sees.
  6. The role of our products in the lives of our users. Our products are not the center of a person’s life; they are only a small part of it.

We’ve never wanted to be shackled to technology. It’s not the future we promised ourselves.

As long as we continue to design solutions that demand all of our attention, it will be nearly impossible to break out of the “disempowering product” paradigm. Too often, our screen obsession keeps us from even considering the many other creative and powerful ways we could be using the web’s capabilities.


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Jesse Weaver

Written by

Director of Entrepreneurial Design @cmci_studio | Cofounder @boostdepartment and @binderful

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +685K people. Follow to join our community.

Jesse Weaver

Written by

Director of Entrepreneurial Design @cmci_studio | Cofounder @boostdepartment and @binderful

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +685K people. Follow to join our community.

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