Don’t Be Evil
It’s tempting to think of the Great Enshittening — in which all the internet services we enjoyed and came to rely upon became suddenly and irreversibly terrible — as the result of moral decay. That is, it’s tempting to think that the people who gave us the old, good internet did so because they were good people, and the people who enshittified it did so because they are shitty people.
But the services that defined the old, good internet weren’t designed or maintained by individuals; they were created by institutions — mostly for-profit companies, but also nonprofits, government and military agencies and academic and research facilities. Institutions are made up of individuals, of course, but the thing that makes an institution institutional is that no one person can direct it. The actions of an institution are the result of its many individual consitituent parts, both acting in concert, and acting against one another.
In other words: institutional action is the result of its individuals resolving their conflicts. Institutional action is the net results of wheedling, horse-trading, solidarity, skullduggery, power-moves, trickery, coercion, rational argument, love, spite, ferocity and indifference among the institution’s members.
But of course, not all members of the institution are created equal. The CEO’s personal assistant might be able to change the location of a key meeting in an online calendar and send a hapless exec to the wrong room at a key juncture in an institutional crisis, thus facilitating a palace coup; but the CEO can just fire the personal assistant.
Tech has always included people who wanted to make a better internet — one where users enjoyed the technological self-determination to choose from among a wide variety of services, to start their own rival service, or to use plug-ins and mods to alter how a service works. Many’s the mid-2000s blogger who used an ad-blocker and expected their readers to have one as well, even as their bosses stamped their feet in frustration at the “lost revenue” these users represented.
Tech has also always included people who wanted to enshittify the internet — to transfer value from the internet’s users to themselves. The wide…