A colleague on the TALO email list (yes there are some still) posed this question in regard to our collective role in promoting use of the internet before it all went wrong. I felt compelled to answer:
I don’t know if this was a serious question but I’m going to assume it was. Because this has been on my mind. Where the Internet and social media has led us has me worried. And when Tim Berners-Lee says much the same I feel my concerns are well founded.
I’m trying to reconcile my own part in all of this. Like many on this list I was an enthusiastic advocate for teaching and learning online. I don’t know if I was an advocate of the Internet in particular. I was certainly fascinated by its potential, and what it might do to our lives. But I don’t think I was an advocate per se in the way that people like Mark Pesce may have been. I remember Pesce boasting unashamedly that ‘the Internet is coming and I am a pusher!”
I still stand by the Internet’s potential to improve education, in the hands of experienced and wise facilitators. But there are still so few of them. But after 22 years of watching its impact I am worried about what the internet and mobile technologies have done to our lives.
I am feeling a sense of professional embarrassment. How can I/we not have seen this coming? For me it’s connected with the election of Trump. That stunned me. I was one of those who thought it would never happen. Don’t laugh, but I thought humanity was evolving to a point where trogladytes like Trump would be left behind. It was as if his election snapped me out of a naïve dream.
Similarly I knew the potential of social media to spread evil, but like all good fairytales I thought good would prevail. And it still might. But with all the good it has done, it has connected all those with a message of hate and division. It fosters unrest based on lies and misinformation in Ukraine, genocide in Myanmar, subverts democratic processes, and provides a platform for murderers, racists and child pornographers to peddle their wares.
And I do think it’s time to call a spade a spade and declare as T Bone Burnett has done that it is stealing our culture on the basis of some flimsy pretext like ‘all knowledge wants to be free’.
So I do feel like making a public apology quite honestly, where I can admit that I was naive about a lot of things. That may absolve my conscience but do I/we who were at the vanguard of the changes have a responsibility to try now and fix up the mess and redress some of the mistakes?