Dispencing

Tethicists

Tethics is the portmanteau I like to use for Tech Ethics. It contains a tricky "th" sound in the middle, which when said out loud, "I'm a tethicist!" sounds just a bit off. I like things that are a bit off and know it; don't you?

Another benefit of "tethics"? It doesn't sound cool. Maybe anyone willing to self-describe as a tethicist would not be the self-aggrandizing type, a key trait of a good tethicist.

Making good things in good ways with good ends is devastatingly difficult, but not impossible. Tech, especially software, seems like the kind of domain where it should be possible. So why isn't it more normal?

For one, it's not going to happen as a happy coincidence when aiming at profit by organizing the world's information or helping consumers buy everything from a to z or manifesting the best personal computing products or entertaining the world or (God help us) bringing the world closer together. Over and over, the best intentions are captured by bad incentives. Iconoclasts disrupt institutions only to become the new institutions.

Ethicists, of course, can and have been brought in to institutions to try to make things right. But once unethical behavior is embedded in the incentive structure, there's effectively no internal reason to change. Ethicists can become a rubber stamp on bad behavior. Or get sacked.

And so regulators must step up, as in Microsoft's case 20 years ago. But what regulators today would have the expertise, courage, and tenacity to stand against nation-states masquerading as corporations?

Perhaps we need a new kind of professional, the tethicist? Protecting against corrupting decay in the garden of technology would be the tethicist's lot in life. Perhaps a good weeding is in order, or a hedging, or some other line in the dirt. There is plenty of work to avoid overgrowths of all kinds. And tethicists must be willing to do it. No plant enjoys trimming, but many must be trimmed if the ecosystem is to flourish.

Of course, tethicists must be invited into the garden, ideally before the first seed is sown. And they must keep themselves from bad incentives by holding to a high professional standard, clearly visible above the garden walls - impeccable and unvarnished. If such tethicists dotted the landscape, then weary web travelers, seeing the standard flying, would know that safe haven and good fruit can be found inside.

Perhaps, in a world with abundant tethicists, instead of seeing visitors as revenue to extract, we could see them as honored guests to respect. Instead of planting thorns to draw blood, we might cultivate gardens to share love.

And I do mean love - deep, enduring love that gives itself up for the good of the other - the kind of love that you'd want to be on the receiving end of.

And don't tell me there's no place for love in internet businesses. We all want to love and be loved. We might as well move toward love now in our globe-scale, instant-communication inter-network. If we leave loving out of internetting, then we leave the world a duller, lesser place. And besides, won't generations in the future have figured out how to love online? Won't they want to know we got the ball rolling?

It's no easy thing, love. It'll take a while to figure out how to breathe love into every node and cranny of the internets.

But you know what? I believe it's worth it. Don't you?

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