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Tragedy of the Commons on the Web

The internet is suffering from a well established phenomena, the tragedy of the commons:

"The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action.
The concept originated in an essay written in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land (also known as a 'common') in Great Britain and Ireland.[1] The concept became widely known as the 'tragedy of the commons' over a century later after an article written by Garrett Hardin in 1968.[2] In a modern economic context, "commons" is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, ocean fish stocks, or even an office refrigerator.
The term is used also in environmental science. The 'tragedy of the commons' is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over global warming. It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation and sociology."

This is part of the internet today because much of it is free and open to the public, with few restrictions to abuse and misuse.

While freedom on the internet is an important part of the platform and deserves protection, as the internet becomes of greater value and use, especially in areas of substance not simply entertainment, protecting people from abuse and harm will need to be accounted for. This will mean adding restrictions to protect individuals from harm, instead of protecting their freedom to harm.

As with most 'tragedy of the commons' cases, most people are good actors, and respect and use the resources without harm.

However, there are 2 main abuses of a common resources that the internet is suffering:

  • The well intentioned but incompetent

  • The willfully abusive

Both cause harm and degrade the value of the resource.

Incompetents simply don't intend to, while the willfully abusive do.

We've done a poor job maintaining lines between entertainment and serious conversations. As a result, it's difficult for anyone not formally trained and employed in a serious discipline with immediate consequences to be competent in even knowing the difference.

The internet, as it is, encourages and rewards bad actions.

Whether deliberate or unintentional, the internet rewards attention. Our biology programs us to give the most attention to harm.

This isn't new.

Popularity and attention to information is always based on our biological reaction to it. Whether grunting in a cave 100,000 years ago, reading a book, or scrolling the internet, we are drawn to information the triggers positive and negative biological reactions (ie. feelings / emotions).

What's different today is how ubiquitous our use of information is, and how much believable content is available. While large professional organizations used to be the only ones with wide platforms and voices, now anyone who can produce catchy content can reach the world.

As you can see, the internet isn't the direct cause of this problem. Biology and our poor capacity to process and understand information is.

However, the internet is a breeding ground that allows and encourages the spread of negative events, thus spreading harm.

We aren't going to change biology or our capacity to process information, but we can do 3 things:

Companies can enable the internet platforms with well-being management software.

These would be programs real people could sign up to monitor their well-being, and how their internet experience impacts it. These programs could then be personalized for the individuals to their style, interests, and goals, while allowing the internet platforms to help identify mass-events with negative impacts on well-being, as well as helping individuals personalize and manage their internet experience around their well-being.

Individuals can learn about and commit to improving well-being.

Everyone is gifted through biology with certain abilities. We have bodies, and senses, and brains that can all do a lot of the same stuff automatically for us. We don't need to understand it to use it. I can move about the room without understanding how my body does it. I can imagine things that are out of sight without understanding how my brain does it. I can make judgments about life and well-being without understanding it. But, if we want to do it well, understanding is an important part of the process. Everyone can tell a story about why something is good or bad, but until they can understand how they do it, they will regularly be confused and mistaken. The value of this isn't limited to the internet, but it is the most valuable thing individuals can do to improve the internet, or well-being elsewhere.

Institutional philanthropy can change to measuring well-being in state/hours.

Well-being today is professionally measured in philanthropy by $ spent or # of things produced -- That's it. Those are then tenuously and illogically tied to 'helping people', 'improving lives', or 'making the world a better place'. While they often CAN do those things, and there are correlations, they are not the same. And a far better approach, which we have available to day, is to measure well-being as the state someone is in, over a period of time.

An example of the change:

Today, when we track well-being, it's tracked in 'instances' that are then given a singular value. So:

  • 10 events that raised a $1,000,000 dollars for cancer

  • 12,000 tons of food donated to underprivileged families

  • 74,000,000 cases of the flu

Whether the events are good or bad, there's nothing wrong with tracking this information at this level. It simply doesn't tell us the impact on anyone's well-being.

  • The 10 events that raised $1,000,000 could have cost $10,000,000 to produce, thus losing $9M in the process.

  • The 12,000 tons of food could have been donated, but none actually made it to families in need.

  • the 74,000,000 cases of the flu could have all been asymptomatic. Or they could have all died slowly and horribly.

We simply don't know the impact, based on the numbers. And can't.

We also can't compare or personalize them.

We can't compare the impact of $, food, or the flu directly on individuals well-being, and be able to balance investments in each to achieve better outcomes in the future. Each is siloed in its measurement and comparative capability.

We also can't take into account personal details of individuals for each topic, and how it impacts them personally. While there's acknowledgement in each topic that this exists, it isn't accounted for in their data methodology, and is certainly not possible between specialties. At least with their current approach.

A shift to our approach to measuring well-being across specializations as a state/hours solves this, by creating a simple, measureable framework that allows tracking, evaluation, and management of well-being, in real-time, across specializations, and at scale.

It basically mimics your general biological evaluation processes.


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