The concerns voiced in this post have been disturbing me for a long time, but it took me a while to articulate them here - probably because of the somewhat contradictory nature of doing so. I've been thinking about the means we use to achieve the end desired - social justice, ecological health, better health and well-being for people and planet in the form of wholeness, not one of these goals at the expense of others. They are, after all, interconnected. In recent years, the internet, and in particular social media has become a nearly essential tool to this end. And although there are examples of cooperative social media structures, these have not attained the mass usage necessary that have rendered big-business run entities such as Facebook nearly essential for individuals and organizations to communicate and share information. Unfortunately, big businesses are not conducive to the end desired for those who seek a more peaceful and whole world; they undermine this, even if simultaneously engaging in 'corporate social/environmental responsibility' activities.
A recent case illustrates the point. Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was one of several technology giants that recently started a political organization called FWD.us, which focuses on progressive immigration reform in the United States. Its tagline is "moving the knowledge economy forward", and other technology leaders involved with it hail from Dropbox, Linkedin, and Microsoft. While pushing for pro-immigration reform, FWD.us has financially supported two groups airing television ads of lawmakers who opposive healthcare reform, support drilling in the Arctic, and support the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Tar sands development in Canada is what James Hansen, NASA scientist, has said would mean "game over for the climate". The actions of FWD.us have resulted in a boycott of Facebook by a coalition of environmental, immigration, and progressive change groups; to their credit, they reject the strategy of pursuing support for one issue at the expense of others. But back to the underlying problem - these companies make have made enormous profits through mass use of their products or services, and like all big businesses, use their power to influence policy via lobbying groups. Sometimes, as with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, their philanthropic organizations invest in other corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, while also promoting schemes undermining social and/or ecological justice - e.g. GM crops in Africa.
There is also a dark side to internet use in general. The ever-increasing amounts of information, communication, and entertainment that exist in cyberspace rely on data centers or 'server farms' that use vast amounts of electrical power. As the New York Times reports, "The inefficient use of power is largely driven by a symbiotic relationship between users who demand an instantaneous response to the click of a mouse and companies that put their business at risk if they fail to meet that expectation." Or, as stated by a technology expert quoted in the same article, “We’re what’s causing the problem.”
The questions that run through my mind are: What is our role in causing some of these problems? Or is it that corporations create demand and feed it? Should we resign ourselves to the notion that there is no way to pursue our goals without corporate conduits? Or is there another way?
So returning to why it took me so long to voice these concerns; here I am sharing this on a blog on the internet. I've realized It's worth sharing these thoughts, and that's the reason WIN and countless other organizations and individuals use the internet and social media - to reach and connect with people. However, I feel that it is important to acknowledge that all the stuff that we share and store online has costs- much more than the ones raised here. Only through awareness can solutions emerge.