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I was talking to a guy at a party in California
about tech platforms
and the problems they're creating in society.
And he said, "Man, if the CEOs just did more drugs
and went to Burning Man,
we wouldn't be in this mess."
I said, "I'm not sure I agree with you."
For one thing, most of the CEOs have already been to Burning Man.
But also, I'm just not sure that watching a bunch of half-naked people
run around and burn things
is really the inspiration they need right now.
But I do agree that things are a mess.
And so, we're going to come back to this guy,
but let's talk about the mess.
Our climate's getting hotter and hotter.
It's getting harder and harder to tell truth from fiction.
And we've got this global migratory crisis.
And just at the moment when we really need new tools
and new ways of coming together as a society,
it feels like social media is kind of tearing at our civic fabric
and setting us against each other.
We've got viral misinformation on WhatsApp,
bullying on Instagram
and Russian hackers on Facebook.
And I think this conversation that we're having right now
about the harms that these platforms are creating
is so important.
But I also worry
that we could be letting a kind of good existential crisis in Silicon Valley
go to waste
if the bar for success is just that it's a little harder
for Macedonian teenagers to publish false news.
The big question, I think, is not just
what do we want platforms to stop doing,
but now that they've effectively taken control of our online public square,
what do we need from them for the greater good?
To me, this is one of the most important questions of our time.
What obligations do tech platforms have to us
in exchange for the power we let them hold over our discourse?
I think this question is so important,
because even if today's platforms go away,
we need to answer this question
in order to be able to ensure that the new platforms that come back
are any better.
So for the last year, I've been working with Dr. Talia Stroud
at the University of Texas, Austin.
We've talked to sociologists and political scientists
and philosophers
to try to answer this question.
And at first we asked,
"If you were Twitter or Facebook and trying to rank content for democracy
rather than for ad clicks or engagement,
what might that look like?"
But then we realized,
this sort of suggests that this is an information problem
or a content problem.
And for us, the platform crisis is a people problem.
It's a problem about the emergent weird things that happen
when large groups of people get together.
And so we turned to another, older idea.
We asked,
"What happens when we think about platforms as spaces?"
We know from social psychology that spaces shape behavior.
You put the same group of people in a room like this,
and they're going to behave really differently
than in a room like this.
When researchers put softer furniture in classrooms,
participation rates rose by 42 percent.
And spaces even have political consequences.
When researchers looked at neighborhoods with parks
versus neighborhoods without,
after adjusting for socioeconomic factors,
they found that neighborhoods with parks had higher levels of social trust
and were better able to advocate for themselves politically.
So spaces shape behavior,
partly by the way they're designed
and partly by the way that they encode certain norms about how to behave.
We all know that there are some behaviors that are OK in a bar
that are not OK in a library,
and maybe vice versa.
And this gives us a little bit of a clue,
because there are online spaces
that encode these same kinds of behavioral norms.
So, for example, behavior on LinkedIn
seems pretty good.
Because it reads as a workplace.
And so people follow workplace norms.
You can even see it in the way they dress in their profile pictures.
So if LinkedIn is a workplace,
what is Twitter like?
Well, it's like a vast, cavernous expanse,
where there are people talking about sports,
arguing about politics, yelling at each other, flirting,
trying to get a job,
all in the same place, with no walls, no divisions,
and the owner gets paid more the louder the noise is.
No wonder it's a mess.
And this raises another thing that become obvious
when we think about platforms in terms of physical space.
Good physical spaces are almost always structured.
They have rules.
Silicon Valley is built on this idea that unstructured space is conducive
for human behavior.
And I actually think there's a reason for this myopia
built into the location of Silicon Valley itself.
So, Michele Gelfand is a sociologist
who studies how norms vary across cultures.
And she watches how cultures like Japan -- which she calls "tight" --
is very conformist, very rule-following,
and cultures like Brazil are very loose.
You can see this even in things like
how closely synchronized the clocks are on a city street.
So as you can see, the United States is one of the looser countries.
And the loosest state in the United States is,
you got it, California.
And Silicon Valley culture came out of the 1970s Californian counterculture.
So, just to recap:
the spaces that the world is living in
came out of the loosest culture in the loosest state
in one of the loosest countries in the world.
No wonder they undervalue structure.
And I think this really matters, because people need structure.
You may have heard this word "anomie."
It literally means "a lack of norms" in French.
It was coined by Émile Durkheim
to describe the vast, overwhelming feeling
that people have in spaces without norms.
Anomie has political consequences.
Because what Gelfand has found is that, when things are too loose,
people crave order and structure.
And that craving for order and structure correlates really strongly
with support for people like these guys.
I don't think it's crazy to ask
if the structurelessness of online life is actually feeding anxiety
that's increasing a responsiveness to authoritarianism.
So how might platforms bring people together
in a way that creates meaning
and helps people understand each other?
And this brings me back to our friend from Burning Man.
Because listening to him, I realized:
it's not just that Burning Man isn't the solution --
it's actually a perfect metaphor for the problem.
You know, it's a great place to visit for a week,
this amazing art city, rising out of nowhere in the dust.
But you wouldn't want to live there.
There's no running water,
there's no trash pickup.
At some point, the hallucinogens run out,
and you're stuck with a bunch of wealthy white guys
in the dust in the desert.
Which, to me, is sometimes how social media feels in 2019.
A great, fun, hallucinatory place to visit has become our home.
And so,
if we look at platforms through the lens of spaces,
we can then ask ourselves:
Who knows how to structure spaces for the public good?
And it turns out, this is a question
people have been thinking about for a long time about cities.
Cities were the original platforms.
Two-sided marketplace?
Place to keep up with old friends and distant relatives?
Vector for viral sharing?
In fact, cities have encountered
a lot of the same social and political challenges
that platforms are now encountering.
They've dealt with massive growth that overwhelmed existing communities
and the rise of new business models.
They've even had new, frictionless technologies
that promised to connect everyone together
and that instead deepened existing social and race divides.
But because of this history of decay and renewal
and segregation and integration,
cities are the source of some of our best ideas
about how to build functional, thriving communities.
Faced with a top-down, car-driven vision of city life,
pioneers like Jane Jacobs said,
let's instead put human relationships at the center of urban design.
Jacobs and her fellow travelers like Holly Whyte, her editor,
were these really great observers of what actually happened on the street.
They watched: Where did people stop and talk?
When did neighbors become friends?
And they learned a lot.
For example, they noticed that successful public places
generally have three different ways that they structure behavior.
There's the built environment,
you know, that we're going to put a fountain here or a playground there.
But then, there's programming,
like, let's put a band at seven and get the kids out.
And there's this idea of mayors,
people who kind of take this informal ownership of a space
to keep it welcoming and clean.
All three of these things actually have analogues online.
But platforms mostly focus on code,
on what's physically possible in the space.
And they focus much less on these other two softer, social areas.
What are people doing there?
Who's taking responsibility for it?
So like Jane Jacobs did for cities,
Talia and I think we need a new design movement
for online space,
one that considers
not just "How do we build products that work for users or consumers?"
"How do we make something user-friendly?"
but "How do we make products that are public-friendly?"
Because we need products that don't serve individuals
at the expense of the social fabric on which we all depend.
And we need it urgently,
because political scientists tell us
that healthy democracies need healthy public spaces.
So, the public-friendly digital design movement that Talia and I imagine
asks this question:
What would this interaction be like if it was happening in physical space?
And it asks the reverse question:
What can we learn from good physical spaces
about how to structure behavior in the online world?
For example, I grew up in a small town in Maine,
and I went to a lot of those town hall meetings that you hear about.
And unlike the storybook version, they weren't always nice.
Like, people had big conflicts, big feelings ...
It was hard sometimes.
But because of the way that that space was structured,
we managed to land it OK.
Well, here's one important piece.
The downcast glance, the dirty look,
the raised eyebrow, the cough ...
When people went on too long or lost the crowd,
they didn't get banned or blocked or hauled out by the police,
they just got this soft, negative social feedback.
And that was actually very powerful.
I think Facebook and Twitter could build this,
something like this.
I think there are some other things that online spaces can learn
from offline spaces.
Holly Whyte observed that in healthy public spaces,
there are often many different places that afford different ways of relating.
So the picnic table where you have lunch with your family
may not be suited for the romantic walk with a partner
or the talk with some business colleagues.
And it's worth noting that in real space,
in none of these places are there big, visible public signs of engagement.
So digital designers could think about
what kind of conversations do we actually want to invite,
and how do we build specifically for those kinds of conversations.
Remember the park that we talked about that built social trust?
That didn't happen because people were having these big political arguments.
Most strangers don't actually even talk to each other
the first three or four or five times they see each other.
But when people, even very different people,
see each other a lot,
they develop familiarity,
and that creates the bedrock for relationships.
And I think, actually, you know,
maybe that early idea of cyberspace as kind of this bodiless meeting place
of pure minds and pure ideas
sent us off in the wrong direction.
Maybe what we need instead is to find a way to be in proximity,
mostly talking amongst ourselves,
but all sharing the same warm sun.
And finally:
healthy public spaces create a sense of ownership and equity.
And this is where the city metaphor becomes challenging.
Because, if Twitter is a city,
it's a city that's owned by just a few people
and optimized for financial return.
I think we really need digital environments
that we all actually have some real ownership of,
environments that respect the diversity of human existence
and that give us some say and some input into the process.
And I think we need this urgently.
Because Facebook right now --
I sort of think of, like, 1970s New York.
The public spaces are decaying, there's trash in the streets,
people are kind of, like, mentally and emotionally
warming themselves over burning garbage.
And --
And the natural response to this is to hole up in your apartment
or consider fleeing for the suburbs.
It doesn't surprise me
that people are giving up on the idea of online public spaces
the way that they've given up on cities over their history.
And sometimes -- I'll be honest --
it feels to me like this whole project of, like, wiring up a civilization
and getting billions of people to come into contact with each other
is just impossible.
But modern cities tell us that it is possible
for millions of people who are really different,
sometimes living right on top of each other,
not just to not kill each other,
but to actually build things together,
find new experiences,
create beautiful, important infrastructure.
And we cannot give up on that promise.
If we want to solve the big, important problems in front of us,
we need better online public spaces.
We need digital urban planners,
new Jane Jacobses,
who are going to build the parks and park benches of the online world.
And we need digital, public-friendly architects,
who are going to build what Eric Klinenberg calls
"palaces for the people" -- libraries and museums and town halls.
And we need a transnational movement,
where these spaces can learn from each other,
just like cities have,
about everything from urban farming to public art to rapid transit.
Humanity moves forward
when we find new ways to rely on and understand and trust each other.
And we need this now more than ever.
If online digital spaces are going to be our new home,
let's make them a comfortable, beautiful place to live,
a place we all feel not just included
but actually some ownership of.
A place we get to know each other.
A place you'd actually want not just to visit
but to bring your kids.
Thank you.
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【TED】Eli Pariser: What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? (What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? | Eli Pariser)

55 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on December 5, 2019
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