Tech Culture Fatigue

Having a bit of a knack with technology as a kid had me wanting to work in the field when I got older, and the future was looking so bright - we were meant to propel the world forward, solve big ticket problems and make things more accessible for everyone. However, being at that point now, I am left somewhat jaded (a bit of an understatement).

Originally when what was dubbed "Web 1.0" came around, the world wide web was a bleeding edge concept. Only those lucky enough to have access to a computer with the right networking setup could use it. Pages were incredibly simple, consisting of mostly text and hyperlinks - ways to click around to get to other pages, whether they be your own or someone else's. There was no Google, and everyone was happy about just being able to get information out there to other people more or less instantaneously - there was no need to wait for a postie to deliver letters anymore, or to deal with fax machines. Your email address was the new address. Over time, as prices for commodity computing hardware decreased, more and more people were able to enjoy this.

Those were some pretty good times for me - naturally due to my age, I only got in on it at the end of the era. I can still fondly remember how the computer would need to scream before you could use the web (foreshadowing), or how instant messaging took off and became an instant hit. A decade and a half later, I can still hear the sound MSN Messenger would play when my brothers received new messages.

Then started "Web 2.0". JavaScript and Adobe Flash started gaining momentum, and websites now had interactive content. Then, the ads started to come. Much like classifieds in a newspaper, at first we thought "sure, why not - after all, they need an income to keep their site running and earn a living" But then the big corporations started to notice, and they got onto publishing content and building successful internet-facing businesses as well. Over time there were more and more flashy ads and less and less of the content you were actually consuming - "hey, wait a minute! what's going on here?"

This led us to where we are roughly now today, but we have a lot more issues on top of that. Data collection for targeting ads to specific people, addictive feedback loops from dark design patterns intended to keep people using something and chemically craving it so that ad revenue can be maximised, and collateral damage from these systems, for example, letting misinformation and disinformation run amok so that, once again, that juicy revenue can keep on flowing in.

Now we're onto "Web 3.0" - the idea that everything online has to be decentralised and kept on something called a "blockchain" (which is just a term to obfuscate the fact that it's just a very convoluted linked list), and it's all about making money with tech in any way. Images are now "non fungible tokens", exactly the same but now you get a receipt for owning something that can be copied infinite times at no cost. All this sort of stuff does is just chew electricity and wear out computer parts when it could be done another way, or in the case of non fungible tokens, just not be done in the first place. It's all just a big grift. In this stage of the game, even dishwashers have become iPhones. DRM (a.k.a. proprietary hardware lockouts) is in vogue now, reducing re-usability and repair-ability for things that would normally last consumers a very long time.

Stuff like this makes me think about Chamath Palihapitiya's 2019 Annual Letter for Social Capital, specifically the section on talent hoarding. Why are grads out here wasting their time and talent working on ad targeting for Big Tech, when their skills could be used to solve climate change, improve healthcare or make agriculture more efficient?

We need to do better than this - while right now I am lucky enough to be in a role where I work on a variety of public transport solutions, these sorts of things sometimes make me feel embarrassed to be a technologist, especially when people ask me about them. We should be excited to share our developments with others, not anxious.

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