I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley interviewing some of the leading dissidents there, people who designed key aspects of the world in which we now live. And some aspects of the individual attention component in this are now becoming well understood. It’s important to say, though, that the way big tech wants us to frame this debate is, are you pro-tech or anti-tech? And that framing induces fatalism because we’re not going to give up our technology.
The real question is, what kind of tech do we want and whose interests should it serve?
Hari provides two alternative models. One would be subscription based, like Netflix. The other is as a public utility:
I remember saying to Aza and many of the other people who argue this to me, “Okay. But let’s imagine we do that, what happens the next day when I open Facebook, does it just say, ‘Sorry guys, we’ve gone fishing”? And they said, “Of course not.” What would happen is they would move to a different business model. And we all have experience of two possible alternative business models. One is subscription and everyone knows how platforms like Netflix and HBO work.
Another model that everyone can understand is something like the sewer system. Before we had sewers, we had shit in the streets, we had cholera. So we all paid to build the sewers and we all own the sewers together. I own the sewers in London and Las Vegas, you own the sewers in the city where you live. So just as we all own the sewage pipes together, we might want to own the information pipes together, because we are getting the attentional equivalent of cholera and the political equivalent of cholera.
This reminds me of Eli Pariser’s argument that