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The World Is Choking on Digital Pollution

By Washington Monthly

Society figured out how to manage the waste produced by the Industrial Revolution. We must do the same thing with the Internet todayRead full story

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  • If you read only one thing today, read this.

    Judy Estrin is one of the foremost technologists in Silicon Valley, the second woman founder to take a tech company public. Sam Gill is the executor director of the Knight Foundation.

    The essay illuminates the similarities between the pollution created by

    If you read only one thing today, read this.

    Judy Estrin is one of the foremost technologists in Silicon Valley, the second woman founder to take a tech company public. Sam Gill is the executor director of the Knight Foundation.

    The essay illuminates the similarities between the pollution created by today’s technology platforms and the human waste that caused cholera outbreaks in cities until the late 19th century and the fossil fuel pollution that plagues is today. Problems like these call for systemic solutions.

    These are brilliant people making an insightful case for reform of the tech industry.

  • We live in a world where half the people still believe that the only things that can hurt are physical attacks. Until we fully accept as FACT that bullying, addiction, chronic stress, and loneliness are real issues that cause significant pain, we will never take digital pollution seriously.

  • So incredibly accurate. There seems to be no end in sight on the level of digital pollution. What will cause the change?

  • Fantastic article. A reminder of how important it is to keep studying history as we get ever better at science.

  • It’s interesting to understand that the pollution we are talking here is hard to measure, but that’s what it makes this essay interesting. If we can, like we did during the industrial revolution, how should this new type of pollution should be handled?

  • If you read nothing else this week, read this.

  • Yep. “...the influence of these digital services goes all the way down, penetrating our mind and body, our core chemical and biological selves. Evidence is mounting that the 150 times a day we check our phones could be profoundly influencing our behaviors and trading on our psychological reward systems

    Yep. “...the influence of these digital services goes all the way down, penetrating our mind and body, our core chemical and biological selves. Evidence is mounting that the 150 times a day we check our phones could be profoundly influencing our behaviors and trading on our psychological reward systems in ways more pervasive than any past medium. James Williams, a ten-year Google employee who worked on advertising and then left to pursue a career in academia, has been sounding the alarm for years. “When, exactly, does a ‘nudge’ become a ‘push’?””

  • Excellent essay describing how, much like the industrial revolution produced horrific pollution in its first few decades, the digital revolution is producing its own kind of social pollution. The fear, discontent, and decay of intracultural trust caused by unregulated and irresponsibly implemented social

    Excellent essay describing how, much like the industrial revolution produced horrific pollution in its first few decades, the digital revolution is producing its own kind of social pollution. The fear, discontent, and decay of intracultural trust caused by unregulated and irresponsibly implemented social media are much more insidious than the disease and ecological damage caused by excessive or poorly-managed industrialization, but are no less dangerous. Just as people of the 19th century had to rapidly adapt to a world changing in ways they couldn't have imagined, so must we adapt our society to the technology of the 21st.

    Of course, the level of global permeation achieved by the industrial revolution over the course of 150 years (remember, even since it went global, some countries remain unindustrialized) has been achieved by the digital in less than 30. Nothing can happen that fast on that large a scale without unintended consequences.

    "The drive for profits and market dominance is instilled in artificial intelligence systems that aren’t wired to ask why. But we aren’t machines; we can ask why. We must confront how these technologies work, and evaluate the consequences and costs for us and other parts of our society. We can question whether the companies’ “solutions”—like increased staffing and technology for content moderation—are good enough, or if they are the digital equivalent of “clean coal.” As the services become less and less separable from the rest of our lives, their effects become ever more pressing social problems. Once London’s industrial effluvia began making tens of thousands fall ill, it became a problem that society shared in common and in which all had a stake. How much digital pollution will we endure before we take action?"

  • I have always believed that if you focus your attention away from people & relationships you tend to lose sight on reality. Authentic relationships are needed for a society to theive. Online 'relationships' are a hoax, you can 'unfriend' someone at the click of a button now.

    Commerce will always strive

    I have always believed that if you focus your attention away from people & relationships you tend to lose sight on reality. Authentic relationships are needed for a society to theive. Online 'relationships' are a hoax, you can 'unfriend' someone at the click of a button now.

    Commerce will always strive for the last cent it can gain, but nevertheless, it is up to the individual to stop the madness & step away from your devices to breathe in some outside air & see the beauty this world still offers in nature & a biological spectrum...

  • The conversation about digital pollution that @jlabllc and @thesamgill have so intelligently laid out. Given how many challenges from the industrial revolution we have to work through, we need to have the systems to harness the digital for good, and can not afford to let the pollutions spread....

  • A comprehensive and thoughtful thesis! Providing one critical angle concerned Tech Netruality, specially when it's used by the giant to diminish their social responsibility, which is still vague and controverdial among the multitude.

  • Reading this makes me anxious, but reminds me that there is a path and a solution. Great article.

  • I really enjoyed the essay, but it must be pointed out that the sewage system that was created was not a solution, it was a stop gap. If you think that the sewage and water systems were solved back then, you are in for a big surprise in about a decade. The sewage and water systems are not solved, the

    I really enjoyed the essay, but it must be pointed out that the sewage system that was created was not a solution, it was a stop gap. If you think that the sewage and water systems were solved back then, you are in for a big surprise in about a decade. The sewage and water systems are not solved, the problem was at best kicked down the road.

  • One of the most extensive article I have read on the societal issues brought by the rise of the digital world. Impressive analogy with the tangible industrial pollution.

    My fears are that to undertake the necessary collective calls for change, we might have to disconnect people from their smartphones

    One of the most extensive article I have read on the societal issues brought by the rise of the digital world. Impressive analogy with the tangible industrial pollution.

    My fears are that to undertake the necessary collective calls for change, we might have to disconnect people from their smartphones. Considering bigtech’s addictive practices, I am afraid it is going to be more and more complicated..

  • A clean net is a fisherman’s friend.

  • Something we must consider is that the reason enough people got behind the change in London is that the stench demanded their attention! That is the fundamental difference between that pollution crisis and this one; the internet is such a huge place that we can simply ignore some of the negative aspects

    Something we must consider is that the reason enough people got behind the change in London is that the stench demanded their attention! That is the fundamental difference between that pollution crisis and this one; the internet is such a huge place that we can simply ignore some of the negative aspects. If you don’t like a post, you just don’t follow that person. If you’re against the advertisements, you just refuse to buy the products they display. For major change to happen, something needs to occur that is impossible to ignore. Something so awful that every internet user is forced to acknowledge the issue of digital pollution.

  • amen good job

  • This article makes some great points.

  • Not what you think...

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