I embraced social media early and indiscriminately. With ardent curiosity beginning with Twitter in 2007, I collected profile pages like trophies, staking my user name and avatar into every new social territory I could find.
I did this like it was my job. In a way it was: I figured I should know how other design teams were inventing novel ways to gather communities online. Only now do I see these platforms weren’t just building communities, they were establishing products on the backs of communities at the expense of privacy.
Now, in 2019, things have changed. Design ethics conversations are frequent. We have elevated the “product designer” job title as if everything we design is now a product. I’m complicit in that productization of the internet (aren’t we all?). Russian meddling and the rise of deepfakes have opened our eyes to how indiscriminate sharing can hurt society at large — in particular the vulnerable. There have been so many brilliant exposés on these topics that I’m embarrassed it took me this long to wake up.
The dark outside
Yancey Strickler, cofounder of Kickstarter, wrote recently about the “Dark Forest Theory of the Internet” — how, as we have become more digitally savvy, we also more acutely fear the dangers of living online, and we mitigate this fear with self-censorship, like prey hiding from nocturnal predators in the dead of night. His is an insightful piece painting a somber picture of the web beyond what I could have conceived, yet I recognize in it what I had been feeling earlier this year: a prolonged anxiety of waiting to be eaten alive. I have found that what I’d internalized as a personal crisis of confidence could be felt the internet over.
Strickler confesses his own personal unease online and describes his self-imposed exit from social networks. In his words:
The internet of today is a battleground. The idealism of the ’90s web is gone. The web 2.0 utopia — where we all lived in rounded filter bubbles of happiness — ended with the 2016 Presidential election when we learned that the tools we thought were only…