A Blueprint for a Better Digital Society

Back in 2009 Jaron Lanier spoke about the idea of a different system for the fabric of the “social web”, and a different business model to support it. He connected this notion to the original ideas of Ted Nelson, which have never been tried. He spoke about the ideas of micro-payments and a web that’s not free, but affordable. In 2018 I posted a short video here with the excerpt from that conversation.

Since that time, Jaron Lanier continued to expand on these ideas. In 2018 he published “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now“, which got a lot of attention from the general media at the time and a couple years after it.

I think the best example of how much attention he got on the book was his appearance on The View. It was a year of a lot of scrutiny of social media platforms – 2018 was the same year in which Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called for a Senate hearing on the repercussions and missteps on elections, misinformation and Cambridge Analytica.

Later in that same year, Jaron Lanier published with E. Glen Weyl an 18 page article on Harvard Business Review called “A Blueprint for a Better Digital Society. In this article they articulate the concepts of Data Dignity and MIDs. They also go over some ideas for regulations and the underling principles to support this system.

The year after that, in 2019, the New York Times published a series with three video episodes in which Lanier describes these ideas and concepts with compelling visual interpretations.

In 2020 Netflix launched a documentary called “The Social Dilemma“. Once again, in this documentary Jaron Lanier (along with many others) described in more detail some of the ideas he’s been thinking for decades. The documentary received a lot of attention and appraisal.

Big ideas take time to develop.

I’m particularly interested in hearing more from Jaron Lanier about these ideas on digital society when they start to intersect with virtual reality. Lanier has a lot of experience and context on VR and it will be interesting to see how the growing notions of the “Metaverse” will work from his perspective.

Although big ideas are essential, on the digital world implementation is everything. If we don’t get to a point where people start building new and engaging platforms from these ideas, they will continue to live in the realm of ideas, and we will continue to wonder (like Ted Nelson) how the world could be if we moved in another path.

The real question to me is who has the influence and the resources to move us in that direction?