Making Choices That Maximise Optionality
“Things in life we love most — including life itself — are infinite games. When we play the game of life, or the game of the technium, goals are not fixed, the rules are unknown and shifting. How do we proceed? A good choice is to increase choices. As individuals and as a society we can invent methods that will generate as many new good possibilities as possible.” - Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants (channeling James Carse - Finite and Infinite Games)
I’m increasingly conscious of the decisions I make with technology.
This is not about avoiding new things. I’m not quite at the stage of yelling at people to get off my lawn.
It is about thinking through the longer term consequences of the choices we make.
I’ve been using the internet for 20 years now. New ideas have come along at a blistering pace, and my position has been to embrace pretty much everything by default.
The scale with which ideas enabled by the internet can impact our lives has, in the past few years, grown significantly - driven mainly through the pace of innovation and scale of production of mobile phones.
Today, our technology choices can have large and rapid ramifications in our real world. For internet enabled technology, this is a relatively new thing. And something I’m not sure we fully grasp yet.
The decisions we make through our choice of technology are often leading to global-scale monopolies. These monopolies have the power to shape many things - the future of jobs, economies, laws, regulations, culture, and societies. Some of this shaping is good. But a lot of it can be not good.
So I’m now putting more consideration in to the impact of my decisions on technology. Altering how I use technology to ensure that I’m doing my part to create a world that I actually want to live in.
A few of these choices are below. I’m not saying they’re right, but I do hope that through sharing them, more people will take some time to think about the choices they are making:
- I don’t use Facebook because I found the filter bubbles impossible to pop. The world Facebook presents to me is one where I learn little, and spend a lot. Alongside this is a huge opportunity cost - the average person spends around an hour a day on mostly pointless scrolling. (it also turns out that there’s mounting evidence that Facebook makes you miserable)
- I don’t use Instagram because it reflects something that is not quite reality. After using Snapchat for a while I switched to Instagram briefly, and could not believe how perfect everything (and everyone) looked. It reminded me of the Montesquieu quip… “If you only wished to be happy, this could be easily accomplished; but we wish to be happier than other people, and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they are.”
- I use (and pay for) FastMail because it is a tiny cost to own and control my own email. Given how central email is to my life, I see no reason not to pay what is a trivial amount to not have it voluntarily surveilled.
- I use DuckDuckGo because I am not completely comfortable with the surveillance economy that has been built beyond the scope of search ads. I’m totally fine with Google Search serving me ads in results based on my intent, but I’m not happy with where else that data is used. (On top of this, DuckDuckGo has super powerful !bang search operators which make it impossible to go back to Google)
- I don’t use Uber because of their systematic immorality that extends far beyond challenging outdated regulation in the taxi industry. (I wish we had Lyft in Australia, and I do use GoCatch despite what seems to be a frequent lack of cars)
- I use iOS because Apple has consistently and thoughtfully balanced user privacy and data security.
- I host my own writing because despite what any publishing startup promises, it might not be there tomorrow.
 I do acknowledge that Facebook for many users is about keeping in touch, particularly with people overseas. If I was overseas (or a lot of friends or family were) maybe Facebook would play that role. Currently I keep in touch with friends overseas through email. It works pretty well.
- May 2017