How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War), by Joe Edelman

Source: How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War), by Joe Edelman

meaningful interactions and time well spent are a matter of values. For the user, certain kinds of acts are meaningful, and certain ways of relating. If the software doesn’t support them, there will be a loss of meaning.

These two ingredients — experimentation and reflection — are required to sort out our values. Even the small decisions (for example, deciding how to balance honesty and tact in a conversation) require trying out different values in real situations, and reflecting on what matters most.

Even though this process is often unconscious, intuitive, and nonverbal, it is vital. And badly designed social systems make it impossible, and thus make it hard to feel good about what we do. The following circumstances interfere with experimentation and reflection:

  • High stakes … People need space to make mistakes
  • Low agency
  • Disconnection … When the consequences of our actions are hidden, we can’t sort out what’s important.
  • Distraction and overwork
  • Lack of faith in reflection … An even more extreme version makes it seem like people don’t have values at all, only habits, tastes, and goals.

even when a user knows how they’d ideally approach a situation, the social environment can undermine their plan. Every social system makes some values easier to practice, and other values harder.

Most social platforms are designed in a way that encourages us to act against our values: less humbly, less honestly, less thoughtfully, and so on. Using these platforms while sticking to our values would mean constantly fighting their design.

Wisdom, n. Information about another person’s hard-earned, personal values — what, through experimentation and reflection, they’ve come to believe is important for living.

on internet platforms, wisdom gets drowned out by other forms of discourse

Information that looks like wisdom can make it harder to locate actual, hard-earned wisdom.