This morning, two excerpts from Alan Jacobs' "Tending the digital commons" resonate with me. Jacobs writes:
It is common to refer to universally popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest as “walled gardens.” But they are not gardens; they are walled industrial sites, within which users, for no financial compensation, produce data which the owners of the factories sift and then sell. Some of these factories (Twitter, Tumblr, and more recently Instagram) have transparent walls, by which I mean that you need an account to post anything but can view what has been posted on the open Web; others (Facebook, Snapchat) keep their walls mostly or wholly opaque. But they all exercise the same disciplinary control over those who create or share content on their domain.
To teach children how to own their own domains and make their own websites might seem a small thing. In many cases it will be a small thing. Yet it serves as a reminder that the online world does not merely exist, but is built, and built to meet the desires of certain very powerful people—but could be built differently. Given the importance of online experience to most of us, and the great likelihood that its importance will only increase over time, training young people to do some building themselves can be a powerful counterspell to the one pronounced by Zuckerberg, who says that the walls of our social world are crumbling and only Facebook’s walls can replace them. We can live elsewhere and otherwise, and children should know that, and know it as early as possible. This is one of the ways in which we can exercise “the imperative of responsibility,” and to represent the future in the present.
For the whole of my teaching career, I have privileged a focus on web & HTML-related standards and technologies. I believe in the power of learning to produce and circulate your own digital texts. I'm quick to acknowledge these tools aren't the digital panacea they were once thought to be, but I think they serve an important role in the world of a writer—and in our culture broadly.
I don't think we can fix the world with personal domains and text editors, but I do think they offer us a way out of the advertising-driven and aggressively polemical spaces of contemporary social media.
Like Jacobs, I believe in small things that can help us reimagine the bigger ones.
Link: "Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future" from The Hedgehog Review, Vol. 20, No. 1.