Ethics of the Attention Economy

Found this article, Ethics of the Attention Economy: The Problem of Social Media Addiction, via Cal Newport’s post, A Modest Proposal: Deweaponizing Network Effects. It’s a great read – I mean, you know – if academic papers on business, ethics, the internet and social media are your kind of thing. I can dig it.

“In this section, we argued that addicting users to social media is impermissible because it involves unjustifiably harming them in a way that is demeaning and objectionably exploitative. We argued that addicting users to social media harms them in ways that violate their rights and that these harms are not justified given that whatever benefits social media may provide, they can be realized without addiction. Second, the way in which social media companies have users contribute to making the platforms themselves more addictive, we argued, is particularly perverse because it involves a demeaning insult. Furthermore, addicting users is a morally objectionable form of exploitation that is especially troubling because the pervasiveness and legitimate role the internet plays in our lives create for some users an inescapable vulnerability to such exploitation.”

– Vikram Bhargava and Manuel Velasquez

My Time on the Internet

Just a few days ago I deleted my last remaining social media account – well almost, more on that later* – leaving this blog/website as pretty much the defacto ‘source of me’ on the internet. That got me thinking back to how long I’ve been ‘on the internet’ so I tried to put together a little timeline. It’s been an interesting exercise. It’s by no means 100% accurate. I’ve used a number of sources including this blog itself, The Internet Wayback Machine, emails and my scattered memory. I think it’s pretty close though. I dare say the folks at places like Facebook, Google and Twitter could probably give me some ridiculously accurate stats.

1994ish – Opened my first and only AOL account.

1996 – Registered lyh.com and built a website for a house of people I lived with. Registered and built personal website thebukitzone.com.

2000 – Apple launches MobileMe which would eventually become iCloud/Apple ID. I started an account then and still have it.

2005 – Opened my first Gmail account [Gmail launched 2004]. It was Invite only then. I think I got an invite from a buddy. This was my first Gmail address. Moved my personal website at thebukitzone.com from HTML to WordPress.

2006 – Twitter – Launched this year, I opened an account, was the first ‘social media’ account I ever had.

2007 – Opened first Flickr account [Flickr launched 2004]. FriendFeed launched. I had an account, never really used it. In 2009 it was bought by Facebook.

2007 – Opened first Facebook account. [Facebook launched 2004]

2008 – Opened a Plurk account. Closed the same year. Switched to another Gmail address, my second one.

2009 – Registered kentfackenthall.com which basically replaced thebukitzone.com

2009 – Opened a LinkedIn account. [LinkedIn launched 2003]

2011 – Opened GoodReads, Instagram [Instagram launched 2010] and Tumblr accounts. Google+ launches. I was on right away and stayed pretty much till they shuttered it in 2019. Closed Twitter account.

2012 – Closed my LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts. Opened a Strava account.

2013 – Registered and built website at bikecommutercabal.com. After a few years transferred ownership to another. Ran Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter accounts for Bike Commuter Cabal.

2014 – Left WordPress as my blog platform for Blogger for a hot minute (maybe a month) quickly returned.

2015 – Opened Ello and Ride with GPS accounts. Closed Strava and first Flickr accounts.

2016 – For most of the year, shuttered my website and redirected my domain to my Google+ profile. Opened Medium and Behance accounts.

2017 – Opened second Flickr account. Opened a Mastodon account. Lasted a week.

2018 – Closed Facebook account. Kept Facebook Messenger. Closed Ello, GoodReads, Medium and Behance accounts.

2019 – Closed Facebook Messenger. Registered and built website at correctiveactionbicycleclub.com. Opened Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for the Corrective Action Bicycle Club.

2020 – *Created a new Facebook account for work only. Not public, no friends, no posting. Strictly to manage client accounts/pages/advertising. Closed second Flickr account and personal Instagram account. Switched from Gmail as main email provider/app to my own domain mail and Apple Mail. Brought correctiveactionbicycleclub.com under umbrella of this domain, then eventually offline. Closed CABC Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Random takeaways

  • 24+ years on the internets
  • 15+ different social media platforms
  • 15 years hacking and whacking on WordPress
  • ~600 blog posts (I’ve deleted some for various reasons)
  • Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were platforms where I had multiple accounts at the same time, i.e. personal and a club

What a long, strange trip it’s been. I think I’m done with social media now. I say ‘think’ because the reality is that I still have the Facebook account for work and I could see a possible argument for having others if my job came to require it. I’m doing my best to avoid that however. I can see very well that I’m going in the opposite direction with this compared to most of humanity. I have to admit that I’m kind of looking forward to ‘going retro’ here and just getting back to writing blog posts again. I’ve been reading through old ones and they make me chuckle. In a lot of cases, past me was an idiot.

Good v. Evil

Went for a bike ride. Posted a few words on Instagram about it:

Went for a bike ride with @spoke_n_words today. I can’t tell you everything we talked about – Instagram limits us to 2200 characters. I just used up 115. We talked about how that is part of the struggle today. That there’s so much to be said, and little place to say it anymore. And people have little time or patience to listen. We talked about my constant struggle to be on this platform and in this space when it seems to be hypocritical. If one is trying to spread positive mojo but resorts to using an inherently flawed or nefarious tool, ethically, is that a win? If you shouldn’t shop on Amazon because of their corporate practices – should you be reading and posting on Instagram in light of theirs – and by ‘theirs’ we all know I mean ‘Facebook’s’? Is it ok to use a bad platform for good? Is that even ethically possible? If you’re using the platform, are you not tacitly endorsing the business model? In light of what’s going down these days, does it make any sense to use tools ultimately designed to addict us with no concern for the outcome, by entities that only care about ad revenue? Can you institute change from within? Can you use the tools of your oppressors to facilitate revolution? I don’t know. I know I struggle with using this no matter how much warm fuzzy bike content I can pump out. There is a MUCH larger conversation that we need to have today, and it can’t – and shouldn’t – be had here. If you do one thing today, think about that – don’t blindly use these tools. Think. We also rode bikes, got dirty, drank coffee, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fought off pheasant and in general had the best time we possibly could conceive of having within those moments. And I took this one picture that really won’t convey that at all, but if you’re like me, one of the reasons I AM still on this platform is because very often, I’ll crack open this app and see something someone else has posted that will instantly remind me that I need to put the phone down and be somewhere else. That’s the revolution.

Know the Workings of Your Own Mind

In a recent New Yorker article Yuval Harari commented on the prospect of the possible nefarious uses of AI by governments, corporations or others to intrude on personal freedoms.

“Harari argues that, though there’s no sure prophylactic against such future intrusions, people who are alert to the workings of their minds will be better able to protect themselves. Harari recently told a Ukrainian reporter, “Freedom depends to a large extent on how much you know yourself, and you need to know yourself better than, say, the government or the corporations that try to manipulate you.” In this context, to think clearly—to snorkel in the pool, back and forth—is a form of social action.”

Makes sense to me. Not hard to do, just sit down (perhaps on a cushion) and shut up.

Facebook Lets You See All the Data Collected on You

Facebook has launched a new tool to let you see all the data that’s been collected on you both on – and interestingly enoughoff the platform.

Facebook knows what you’re doing on other sites and in real life. This tool lets you see what it knows about you.

I haven’t had a personal Facebook account in over a year but I have an empty one that I use to manage Facebook Pages for my company and clients. The data I found there was interesting. I can only imagine what would be there for a regular/heavy user.

My stats showed many of the websites I’d visited via the browser I use at work – roughly 151 data sources, dating all the way back to June of 2019. At that point it simply said I’d reached ‘the end of my available activity’.

One of the interesting things I saw using the tool, you can further drill down and see what advertisers targeted ads at you and if you were specifically on their contact lists.