Overextending and the free internet

The easiest opponent in wrestling, boxing or any form of martial arts is one that rushes at you. The easiest defender to dribble past in football is the one who commits to a tackle too soon. In all of these cases, we use our opponents’ momentum against them. This is what is what is termed as overextending in the wrestling or the martial arts world.

About 20 years ago, when we decided that a “free” internet – one where access and services where provided for free and monetized through advertisements, was the best way forward. We committed to this decision, putting all our weight and investment money behind it and this commitment has served us well. Some of the world’s biggest corporations and cutting-edge innovations have been financed by revenues and profits from advertising.

However, on going too far down this path, we are beginning to see how our momentum is being used against us.

We live today in the attention economy, where every waking (and sleeping) minute  is scavenged by the cleverest engineers and designers in the world, with products tailored to arrest our attention. This race to the bottom for ad revenues is causing several problems – from unprecedented rates of teen depression related to smartphone use to rampant fake news on Whatsapp in India, its biggest market.

As we see these frightening trends unfolding, it is time to step back and interrupt our patterns. In doing so, we can challenge the assumption of the free internet, that has gotten us so far down this road and into the trenches of the attention economy.

Inspiration: A snippet of Jaron Lanier’s talk I heard on the TED Radio hour podcast. You can listen to his full talk here.

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