As the boundary between technical and social decision blurs, it is increasingly important to understand the potential impact software can have within a community that utilizes it. This comprehension, however, remains a privilege and responsibility restricted to few software engineers and designers as mass adoption of technology can only happen after enough layers of obscurity and abstraction for wide public to intuitively adapt and utilize. In a sense user, the experience is the middle layer that masks transistors and translates binary code to human-readable buttons. This ironic cycle of technology going through abstraction for thus consequences to the public will probably remain a dilemma without a solution.
Galloway, in his book introduction in “Protocol: Control After Decentralization”, described the internet as an organized placed of information thanks to the protocol that reconciles its two machinic technology: the non-hierarchical, peer-to-peer relationship of TCP/IP and the rigidly defined hierarchies of DNS. These protocols function as “recommendations and rules that outline specific technical standards” and therefore organize the internet and the society into distributed systems. While beautiful in its analogies and abstraction of the internet, I found it contradictory to the commercialized reality of today’s internet businesses that thrive on the centralized, mass collection of data. One could argue that this only reflects rigid, hierarchical one of the two sides machinic technologies, as many individuals have simultaneously gained access to the distributed network of information that these platforms provide. The balance of these two sides of social media, however, is questionable.
The clear information and power asymmetry demonstrated by today’s Facebook and Twitter reflect that neither the internet nor its users are parts of truly distributed networks that TCP/IP may embody on a protocol level. In Tufekci’s paper on “Engineering the Public” the author mentions how the proliferation of data generated by the public has been used at the public by politicians and companies that mask this influence in “black-box algorithms.” The author refers to information asymmetry that with centralized data and modeling, campaigns create an illusion that candidates can now understand and address the public sphere’s common needs better when in reality they only improved the speed and cost-efficiency of individual-targetted advertisement. Will a shift to a more distributed of data ownership and influence come in the near future, and if so, how will it change the public sphere as this generation’s internet companies already have?