Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ My McLuhan lecture on enshittification (30 Jan 2024)

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

This his Cory Doctorow at his absolute best, a definitive statement describing enshittification and suggestions on how to counter it. I'll summarize, but you really need to read the whole thing. Take your time. It's really clearly written. Alternatively, you can watch the video. Or listen to the audio version I created.

Enshittification, writes Doctorow, is "a three stage process: First, platforms are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die." There's a really good example in Facebook. The mechanisms enabling it and the routes to stopping it are the same:

  1. Competition. Ending competition and creating monopolists is what enables it. Restoring proper competition is what pushes back against it.
  2. Regulation. The push to deregulation allows companies to flout laws intended to prevent the sorts of harms to indioviduals and societys caused by enshittification.
  3. Self-Help. Having the ability (and making it legal) for people to create their own responses to enshittification is essential. Example: ad blockers.
  4. Labour. People want to work for good (as in: "don't be evil" and "connect the world") and they need to be able to resist when forced to do the wrong thing instead.

Why is this important? If you read through the 23 year history of this newsletter, I have been arguing for these things every day since day one. Because Doctorow is exactly right. The abuse of people, product, society and law in the name of profit is not only wrecking the internet, it's wrecking the world. As Doctorow notes, the same forces are at work in other domains: energy and environment, health care, food production and agriculture, security and policing. We can save the world. And it starts with these four principles.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: May 20, 2024 03:17 a.m.

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