Technology is increasingly cluttering our lives. This is the business model of the greatest tech leaders –offer clutter (another name for ‘engagement’) in exchange for freemiums. Clutter used to be easy to see and live with when it was outside our homes. Now, it is invading our personal spaces in family rooms and bedrooms, in our workplaces and work screens, and even as we walk around with cell phones in our pockets.
Physical Clutter: My visit to India during the past two weeks was a reminder that nothing beats India when it comes to physical clutter. Loudspeakers invade the airwaves, 2-3-4 wheeled vehicles choke the roads, harried people crowd the markets, and tight living spaces spill over with boxes, clothes, books and machines. India today has 2 cars per 100 people, versus 9 in China and 75 in the US. What happens when there are 10 cars per 100 Indians!
When one travels to India, there is an initial sense of being overwhelmed with crowds and noise. But after a few nights one learns to live amidst it. After all, there is always the solitude of one’s room and comfort of warm people and an enlivening culture.
Technology Clutter: This solitude, however, is rapidly eroding. Thanks to the technologies championed by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, BuzzFeed, and the other ‘great’ companies, our minds–the last bastion of solitude–are under attack. Advertising tech is the lead villain. As the old guard of creative and classy marketing firms gives way to a parade of tech leaders who invent ever more unscrupulous advertising platforms, we see a rising tide of distracting and disturbing ads on news sites, mobile phones, video platforms and social networks. Financial success of Google and Facebook has made the pursuit of advertising dollars respectful, no matter how it sunders the humanity’s living space.
What appalls me is that these uber-rich tech leaders disown any responsibility for the content they select and throw at us. They act arrogantly and defy standards that are practiced by other businesses. For example, finance and industrial companies are held to strict codes of safety and privacy. Why don’t the same principles apply to the tech giants? We are now learning that online content is not only invasive, but also untruthful and destructive.
But don’t ask Google and Facebook. They stretch credulity when they claim that, despite their artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, they are unable to weed out terrorist and other hateful and destabilizing content (such as Russian propaganda to subvert the US elections). Now, they are making a show of concern in face of moral backlash and outrage over Russian meddling and terrorist videos. Google has been fined in EU, India and other territories for misusing market domination. Maybe this is time for regulating these ultra-powerful corporations. They are media companies and should be regulated as such.
Infinite barrage of advertising is un-cool and disgraceful. One of the elements that made Google the favorite search engine was its elegance and uncluttered interface. What made Facebook successful was its ability to connect people to people rather than to commercial content. What made Amazon successful was its ability to give us the freedom to shop from the convenience of home. But it is an irony that these companies are altering those very corporate values that made them great. Google throws ever more clutter at us. Facebook prioritizes paid content over community’s content. Amazon wants to subvert our freedoms by placing listening devices in every home. Apple and Google mobile platforms encourage the collection and trade of personal information that lead to ever more invasion of privacy.
Our tech leaders want us to believe that they can handle the responsibility that comes from serving networks of billions of people. But they are violating our trust by unmitigated pursuit of profits over people. And they also show arrogance and contempt for the common law. Remember when Apple refused to unlock the mobile phone of a mass killer, but at the same time permitted Uber to collect users’ location 24×7 even when the app was not in use? Google lets mobile app makers to get access to every bit of user information they want, regardless of whether they really need all that data or not.
The tech giants have abandoned codes of conduct that emphasized morality and human dignity. The statement “we do no evil…” needs a now conjoin, “….as long as they do not jeopardize our profits from distribution of annoying, cluttering, destructive and dehumanizing ads to our trusting customers.”