My solution to the post-truth crisis is to develop a culture of collaborative explanation and exploration via development and use of new and different tools.
My belief is that humans have a couple modes of working with truth. Some are adversarial and propagative, and some are exploratory and collaborative. The adversarial mode is killing us.
My contention is that early visions of the web and digital technology (Bush, Engelbart, Kay, Berners-Lee, Cunningham) developed collaborative, exploratory approaches (Wiki, Memex, Dynabook, hypertext) as their dominant modes, but that later approaches (Facebook, Twitter) chose modes that promoted propagation and tribalism. That’s fine as it goes — these things are important. But as a dominant mode adversarialism is, unsurprisingly, polarizing us, and killing truth in the process.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Keep in mind that as the rest of the web has polarized, Wikipedia has, over the years, become less biased. Keep in mind that in the sciences tools like Jupyter notebooks have moved many scientists from “no it isn’t-ism” to “Let me tinker with your code.”
By embracing new exploratory modes of technology use we can create a culture of exploration, just as by adopting the tools of rhetorical dominance we created an adversarial culture focused on rhetorical dominance.
These tools include wiki (including newer versions of wiki), Jupyter notebooks, OneNote, and similar tools, but also require that tool makers rethink their own existing tools in radical ways. What would your platform look like if it made deeper investigation of an issue irresistible? If it made collaborative truth-seeking the norm?
Hint: Almost nothing like tools look now.
Hint: Almost the opposite of how things look now.
Hint: Fix that.
That’s it. That’s my one great insight. It’s been the drum I’ve beating since early 2013. It’s probably self-serving and maybe short-sighted. But it’s my insight and I thought I might put it in a single place and state it clearly.
And to the question of “But isn’t our current moment also caused by X?” Yes, most certainly. Gerrymandering, AM radio, racism, white supremacy, a parliamentary partisan culture mapped on top of a party-neutral government structure, corporate disinformation, adtech, Merchants of Doubt, the Big Sort, all of it. It all matters. My insight and expertise happens to be about the technologies we use, though, so I plan to work on that square of the problem.
4 thoughts on “My Lazy Manifesto On This Post-Truth Moment: Technologies for Collaborative Exploration”
I really like your ideas presented here about the two different types of massive internet tools. I just finished reading, but it seems to be a useful distinction.
Just to clarify, what’s the insight you refer to at the end of the article? You end the article with a question, and give hints that seem to imply you don’t know the answer. So its hard to tell what your insight is. Is it this:
“By embracing new exploratory modes of technology use we can create a culture of exploration”
I guess if I read it again, that would seem to be the most clearly stated thing in there. It seems to be invoking Marshal McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message”. In other words, the content that is put on Facebook is much less important than how Facebook is structured in general. It’s structure changes society in massive ways. The content that the structure contains has a much smaller effect, no matter what it is.
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