Modern Media Is a DoS Attack on Your Free Will

Source: Modern Media Is a DoS Attack on Your Free Will, by Brian Gallagher on Nautilus
interviewing James Williams – doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Digital Ethics Lab

Democracy assumes a set of capacities: the capacity for deliberation, understanding different ideas, reasoned discourse. This grounds government authority, the will of the people. … Fake news is part of this, but it’s more about people having a totally different sense of reality, even within the same society or on the same street. It really makes it hard to achieve that common sense of what’s at stake that is necessary for an effective democracy.

Back in an information-scarce environment, the role of a newspaper was to bring you information—your problem was lacking it. … The role of the newspaper now is to filter, and help you pay attention to, the things that matter. … When information becomes abundant, attention becomes scarce.

Today, for technology, like an app, to reach 150 million users, it could be a matter of days. I think what happens is that we never actually get to that place of stability and mastery of technology. We’re always in this learning curve of incompetence. We can use it well enough, but not so well that we can master it before the next thing comes along.

I don’t think personal responsibility is unimportant. I think it’s untenable as a solution to this problem. Even people who write about these issues day to day, even me—and I worked at Google for 10 years—need to remember the sheer volume and scale of resources that are going into getting us to look at one thing over another, click on one thing over another. This industry employs some of the smartest people, thousands of Ph.D. designers, statisticians, engineers. They go to work every day to get us to do this one thing, to undermine our willpower. It’s not realistic to say you need to have more willpower. That’s the very thing being undermined!

If a GPS distracted us in physical space in the ways that other technologies distract us in informational space, no one would keep using that GPS.