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We need to come to terms with the fact that the information age is basically a giant uncontrolled experiment.

Published onJun 23, 2021
Oops

21+ years ago:

Two days ago:

I’ll be reading the paper more deeply later, as it touches on many of the themes I like writing about. The summary brings up an important point, though, about what’s been guiding the reorganization of humanity’s information ecosystem: ads.

Four years ago, I wrote a corrective to Facebook’s favorite defense of their actions, that anything they’re doing is “just following the data” about what users want:

When scientists “follow the data,” they put a ton of effort into controlling for the impact their presence has on the data they collect. Facebook doesn’t. It is essentially a giant, global, uncontrolled experiment run by people who seem uninterested in even understanding what they’re really doing.

What Facebook (and everyone else) are actually doing, of course, is designing their product’s information flows to make as much money on advertising as possible, with a little bit of Mark Zuckerberg’s personal philosophy thrown in. As Bergstrom points out at length, the result of this uncontrolled experiment has been disastrous, and I heartily agree that we need new, interdisciplinary ways to study, understand, and regulate (both individually and legalistically) digital information flows to prioritize effective collective decision-making, not ad-driven profit.

As a bit of an amateur media critic, I’ve enjoyed comparing the reorganization of society resulting from the information revolution to the opportunistic and coercive rise of early states following the agricultural revolution. I’m intrigued that Bergstrom also sees parallels to human evolution and societal structure, and I look forward to digging into Bergstrom’s more expert analysis and recommendations.

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