I don't want a curated Internet. Do you?
15 May 2010
You’ve probably read this one before, but I need my dramatic entrance for this blog post.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs
Jobs is, of course, right about design, but his vision of design is as old as the age he was born in. It’s an age of big man, with big design heads and a lot of mad men flair in which a small bunch of people are responsible for the creative output. The rest of the company is basically the execution part. It’s the philosophy of a time in which Detroit was a prosperous city and wasn’t not planing to usher 30% of its houses. Basically, it’s the philosophy of a time before the Internet came along and showed us the potential of goodness we can achieve by opening up certain structures. It’s the philosophy of an era that came before we actually started collaborating and created unimaginable achievements like the Wikipedia or Linux.
This era, as successful as Apple might be right now, is over and it’s probably not coming back. At least not in the foreseeable future. Leadership today is not top-down, it’s more about creating the right environment in which we can start creating products that are influenced by the people that are going to use it. But let me quote Mariana Amatullo, who is Vice President and Founding Director, Designmatters at Art Center College of Design.
I think the era of the star designer is over, frankly. It’s not very interesting to me. I’m much more excited with those individuals who have the ability to do original thinking but really exercise it with a lot of humility. That’s what human-centered design is to me—aspiring to empathy and aspiring to a sense of humility about your ideas, your thoughts, your practice.
When solutions are sustained, a few things need to happen. More and more we’re seeing the value of participatory design process and of finding solutions in a collaborative manner. But when you’re talking large-scale you also need solutions that are supported with policy and funding.
But how do we create sustainable, collaborative solutions? There is a key to those: open and just access for everyone. There is no place for egos in such environments, that’s why the Wikipedia (at least in Germany) suffering so much from the ego tripping of the administrators. They are trying to inflict the rule of few on a something that was created by many.
The same thing is happening when companies are trying to damage the Internet. Obviously, it’s not just Apple. Facebook is the new number one kid of the block and it’s also an ego thing. Mark Zuckerberg and his gang are trying to inflict their perception of privacy on to the rest of us and it’s an ugly thing to do. Don’t take my word for it, go read danah boyd’s very elaborate rant. Or watch Tim O’Reilly speak about the future of the Internet (of Things) and his pleading why it has to be about openness.
At the end of his talk, O’Reilly is saying that we are at the verge to lose the openness of the Internet as we’ve known it for the last 15 – 20 years. He is right. We, as a society, taking the openness of the Internet for granted, because it was born into this world as an open system. Nobody had to fight for it’s openness, because the people who are responsible for its creation did an excellent job of establishing an equal access to it. People like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg don’t believe in equality, because they believe that they ‘know better’. That’s why we have products like the iPad, which is ironically being described as ‘curated computing’. What’s next? A curated version of the Internet?
To that I would need to say: no, thanks. And I can only plead that more people stand up for the fact that those companies don’t take away what we hold precious and that is fundamentally right. Equal, uncontrolled and modified access to the Internet should not be a privilege, but a right.
How can we motivate more people to join in? Well, the first step would be for more people who already know about the problems that companies like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google & Co. inflicting to the Internet to actually do something about it. That alone is, of course, not enough and that brings me back to the Steve Jobs quote from all the way up there.
It’s time that we start thinking about design not only in a way how it looks, how it feels or how it works, but how it was created. Was is the mind of one person or was it a collaborative project? Does it integrate itself in already functioning mechanism or does it exploit those out of pure single mindedness and the wish to make more money for one company? Are you ready to pay more for a product that has been created openly? Would you pay more for an iPad that wouldn’t be so dependent to a closed and censored environment like the App Store?
I’ve written it before: we achieved the same with the production of our food and we’re able to achieve the same thing with digital products. There is no reason why not, but we should hurry up and start asking for change before it’s to late and we lose something that we take for granted today.