For the past three years or so, I have concentrated on topics other than technology, beginning with comics/graphic novels and moving to neurodiversity Some of this change can be attributed to life circumstances: the autism diagnosis my son received almost exactly five years ago has led me to read as much as I can on the subject. If you are interested in some of this recent work, check out my projects and publications page.
But more to the point, the web has really changed over the past five years. And while my misgivings about these changes have been mostly intuitive and obvious, as in my ongoing gripe about Twitter or my misgivings about the monetization of WordPress and other formerly free services, Tim Wu of Columbia Law has written a really intriguing book about this issue. I heard his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, and it made a lot of sense to me. Among other things, Woo argued that the web used to be like the “wild west,” in that it was a place for imagination and exploration. Now, he claims, we are largely concerned with who is watching, who is gathering data on us, and who could potentially exploit what they find out about us by using the web. This feels about right, and when you combine some of these concerns over commercialization with the negative effect of the echo chamber (how social media feeds us only the info we want to hear), I think the web is indeed worse than it was. The question that Woo addresses is whether we can take it back. I’m eager to read his answers in his new book, The Attention Merchants.