What caught my attention with respect to our conversation here was the conclusion, implicit in his argument, that many of the features that have built the Internet into a weapon of mass distraction are not intrinsic to the medium, but are instead a side-effect of its cooption as a tool for capital growth.
That’s a heavy sentence. Let me attempt to unload it…
Rushkoff notes that after the biotech crash of the 1980’s, investors needed a new sector that could continue to fuel capital growth.
The Internet filled this role. Among other things, it exposed net users’ attention and personal data as an under-exploited resource that could be extracted and sold, and therefore support growth much in the way colonizing a country and extracting minerals from the ground once did.
As in any extractive industry, the more resources you can mine, the better. This led the way to attention engineering and the general/inevitable push to make applications and sites as addictive as possible.
This capital-driven push toward maximum addictiveness led to the shiny tangle of apps and infotainment sites that have become the bane of potential deep workers worldwide.
This is an important distinction.
When I take a stand against social media, in other words, I’m not taking a stand against the contents of your feed, but am instead taking a stand against these large companies’ insistence that the intrinsic value of my attention should flow into their coffers instead of being directed by me toward deep work on things I find important.
Rushkoff’s observations, however, do more than fuel righteousness. They also provide hope.
The Internet can and should be a source of peer-to-peer connection, serendipity, interestingness, and even revenue generation. But we shouldn’t necessarily expect the venture-backed corporations sprinting to generate 100x returns to be the best source of these rewards.
Publicly-traded or venture-backed producers of social media content and designers of how we interact with it have every interest in producing more and more for us to click on and look at and then move onto the next thing. More consideration=less ad money. This is one reason why more people swim in The Stream rather than cultivating a Garden. It's more mental effort, but the money's in making The Stream be really easy to swim (or float) in. See The Garden and The Stream
For more about how human desires and pressures shape the electronic environment we've built, see Technology Doesn't Want