In the Image of its Creators
How technologies are influenced by the principles and philosophies of those who make them
Rooted in the products and services of any company is a reflection of their culture and values. Whether explicit or not, principles like social responsibility, customer centricity, financial transparency, gender equality, freedom of expression, and others all find their way into user experiences and product designs. This is either seen in the ways products are built or in the choices of which products are made. Contrasts between alternatives can be subtle or blatant. Consider Uber vs. Lyft, or Tinder vs. Bumble.
In traditional markets, established expectations of conduct and ethics form the common denominator. Although companies are free to define their own cultures and approaches, the boundaries in which they can operate are somewhat pre-defined. Many of these guidelines have been formed throughout centuries of competitive tensions and evolving government oversight to form the current ‘norm.’ This is true of industries as diverse as finance, international trade, real estate, mining, agriculture and more.
Of course, all of these industries have been transformed many times over, but common factors carried forward. By no means have these systems been without fault, but short of malicious behavior, companies generally understood the ‘lines.’
At the turn of the 20th century, something unprecedented happened; a new industry emerged that had no ancestors. The modern consumer internet brought incredible promises of a better world, connected through free access to information.
And in all the excitement, we saw incredible companies created to introduce us to this new world — and we didn’t hesitate to jump on board. How could we resist? We could learn anything, talk to anyone, shop anywhere, and share our unique selves with the world — all from behind our screens.
But unlike other industries, this time we went in naively without questioning whether these ethical boundaries existed and whether anyone fundamentally “had our backs.”
The problem, of course, was that nobody knew what we were getting into, including the companies themselves who have come to define the modern internet industry. Instead, companies sought the most profitable business models, the most aggressive growth strategies, with the least existing legal or regulatory barriers.
Somewhere along the way, we ceased to be the consumer, and we became the product — packaged and sold to advertisers, pollsters, and governments around the world.
But before we start calling for the heads of our favorite modern heroes, we should consider where the fault lies.
Chamath Palihapitiya, the former Facebook executive and Founder of Social Capital, has been shining a light on the challenges surrounding social media and how they stem from the fact that the business model of the internet is broken.
In other words, “don’t blame companies for developing businesses enabled by this model, but rather challenge the model itself.”
As we work towards our objectives for a fairer, more inclusive, and open internet (web 3.0), we need to carefully consider the characteristics we’re embedding into it; many of which are derived from the cultures and philosophies of the companies building this movement.
Along with industry-leading technology, projects led with positive intent, operational integrity, community accountability, and financial transparency will be best positioned to influence the market and set the tone for the internet’s future.
The Aion Foundation is setting the tone and challenging its peers by kickstarting the industry’s move towards accountability and transparency. Beyond our leading research and engineering, we expect our community to hold us accountable to a higher standard. The Aion Foundation Report signals the first move in this direction.