Caught up with the most recent Freakonomics podcast episode yesterday and found the whole thing fascinating. The episode starts out with a pretty basic question that many of us who have a deep interest in internet technology and culture have been talking about for awhile now.
It’s a remarkable ecosystem that allows each of us to exercise control over our lives. But how much control do we truly have? How many of our decisions are really being made by Google and Facebook and Apple? And, perhaps most importantly: is the Internet’s true potential being squandered?
The episode goes through some history of how the internet came to be, the driving factors that shape the technology, some of the things that weren’t considered that probably should have been, (like if you make it so any computer can communicate with any other, what happens when one, or more, of them attack your computer?), and how what we actually see people doing on the internet doesn’t match up with the original vision.
One of my favorite quotes, among many though is this from Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at UNC:
There’s all these really smart engineers. They’re the brightest computer scientists, and all they’re thinking about is: “How do I keep someone on Facebook for 10 more minutes? What’s the exact combination of things that will keep them staying on the site for as long as possible so we can show them as much advertisement as possible?”
As much as the internet has provided us with some amazing resources, it does seem silly that there are companies like Google and Facebook who dominate the environment who’s main goal is figuring out how to sell more advertising.
But, in this episode there is much more than that to think about, including whether the Facebook algorithm is really good at surfacing the things that are important to us, and whether mobile apps have created something that is the antithesis to what the underlying technology of the internet was designed to do.
There’s quite a lot to think about in there, so I do recommend either giving it a listen, or reading the transcript.