Web empathy

I was thinking about something Mike posted, and because my default reaction is to defend classes of people insulted, I had a realization: nearly everyone would have started Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc.

My thinking goes like this: the reason every site doesn’t have RSS is because most people don’t care. If they are using RSS to collect information, it isn’t apparent to them. I know this, because over the last year every single one of my clients paid me money to set up posting their content to their social media accounts and mailing lists, and none of them know what a feed reader is (these are two separate questions, I suggest that folks follow their industry/passion/cause with tools that make it easy, but they are content with Twitter lists…).

This makes sense, the UI of modern operating systems are made so a person can use them without understanding what works underneath, and when a person doesn’t know how something works, they describe it in terms of features they want. I deal with this all the time, and I have people who I think shouldn’t be building websites, but they have ideas and they go for it. The web is dope, because it means they can. And this world discourages folks enough, I say go for it!

Some of the features a website can have are tracking, control and obfuscation. These seem like dumb ideas to me, but despite that, I get requests for this all the time. Folks are compulsive in tracking every little detail, despite most not being qualified to deduce what their stats mean. Equal is an obsession with controlling the behaviour of strangers, which is what a website is, just a bunch of people you don’t know, looking for something.

I don’t agree with the sentiment, “that the vast majority of web developers are ignorant, talentless hacks”. I actually think most people are unconsciously acting on loss aversion, and don’t know how to balance the power of an open publishing platform (the web). Most sites are not built by web developers, they are built by crews of people directing web developers, and most of those folks may not even particularly like the web. But if they had the choice, they would rather build Facebook than a free, open and standards-based site, because free, open and standards-based are hard to understand and means giving up power. Also, Facebook seems to makes people super rich.

We need more empathy, well, in general, but also in digital literacy. The first reason is because we need to understand where our most vulnerable people are coming from. And just as importantly, we need to instill that as a foundation in problem-solving and approaching technology. I am researching orgs and people that are working in digital literacy, and almost everyone wants to pump out a new generation of founders to build the next wave of proprietary platforms that do not respect the dignity of strangers (remember from earlier, that is what the web is). If we want RSS on every site and to stop all the tracking and to have a better experience overall on the web, we need to include some humanities along side our tech workshops.

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