My talk today rests on three foundational claims and one critical question.
Foundational Claims: 1. We live in a culture of fear. 2. The attention economy provides fertile ground for the culture of fear. 3. Social media is amping up the attention economy.
Thus, my question is simple: as technologists and designers invested in developing the future, what hath we wrought?
The goal of my talk today is to explore the role of social media in perpetuating the culture of fear. How do those using social media leverage fear? How is fear spread through social media? When and where can technology combat fear? What are the social costs of that fear?
When it comes to talking about social media, it's easy to get trapped in utopian and dystopian rhetorics. My goal is not to go down one of these rabbit holes, but rather, to critically interrogate our participation in the culture of fear. Many of you are technologists, designers, pundits, and users. How are we contributing to or combating the culture of fear? What are our responsibilities with regard to the culture of fear? What kinds of things can and should we do?
Technology can be a very powerful tool, but it behooves us not to think of it as neutral. One of my favorite maxims about the role of technology in society is called Kranzberg's First Law. He argues that "technology is neither good nor bad - nor is it neutral." Given this, it's irresponsible to assume that the tools we're building just wander out into the world with only positive effects. What we design and how we design it matters. And how our systems are used also matters, even if those uses aren’t what we intended.
It seems like a bit much to take on board but it's actually quite an interesting read given the idea of how fear is generated through social networks and how social networks are used in various forms of demonstration. Further the idea of how design incorporates as well as the culture we live in practically allows fear to breed. The talk was given at SXSW 2012 but obviously here is the web readable version. If I find the full video I'll update the post with it. (For those that don't know SXSW is South By South West confrence)