Last week I watched a video of Bruce Sterling speaking at the 2013 Webstock web conference. He was getting his inter-net knickers in a twist about stacks, not the pancake variety, not even edible. Sterling was referring to the ‘vertically, integrated software structures used by millions of users’ which dominate the ‘contemporary social media side of the web’. There are primarily 5 mega corporations to which he refers – Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google. Stirling lays his viewpoint down with a thud as he goes on to say, ‘the Internet had users, Stacks have livestock’ and if you were in any doubt that these guys are bad, he adds – ‘Stacks are monetising you – you are their products’.
Oh my golly gosh! Suddenly I feel used and a little bit angry. When did this happen? When did I become livestock? Apparently, the Internet oracles didn’t predict the arrival of these new super structures, not even Stirling who in 2009 said ‘I don’t believe Google is evil. I’m quite a fan of Sergey and Larry: they are the coolest Stanford dropouts ever’.
Anyway if we are Google’s livestock, we are very well equipped moos, with the latest mobile devises kept fully charged with pocket-sized charger kits so that we will never run out of talk time. The livestock analogy used by Stirling fits with the idea that we are living in some sort of digital feudal system where the users are the peasants farming the land (or possibly the livestock eating the grass) and the big 5 that I mentioned earlier are the Lords of the Manor. The Manor which would have a number of well appointed bathrooms.
What do bathrooms have to do with the digital feudal system? Not a lot, however it is staggering to learn that the World Health Organisation has reported that ‘more than half a billion people in India still “continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity or privacy”‘. However this does not phase Narenda Modi, India’s new Prime Minister who in his first Independence Day speech said;
I dream of a digital India. It was once said that railways connects India. Today I say IT connects India …I fully believe India can compete with the world.
Analogy meets reality. ‘[M]ore Indians have access to mobile phones than to toilets’. Scientific American reports approximately ‘1,000 children below the age of five die every day in India from diarrhoea and malnutrition’. Will the drive to connect India to the Global Network create a safe environment for the children of the new digital India or will will it prevent India from drowning in its own excrement?
At this point you may be asking yourself – ‘Is there an App for that and is it Android or Ios?’ Or you may be thinking, as I am, this is appalling and what can be done to change this? When the World Wide Web was born 24 years ago its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, ‘imagined it would be used as an egalitarian tool that would share information for the greater good’. What has happened? Perhaps, if for a few nanoseconds, we stopped focusing on our techno gadgets and increasing productivity, we could use our collective intelligence for melioration of the global predicament rather than just trying to make a quick buck.
Resources to be added.