Social media is broken. It has poisoned the way we communicate with each other and undermined the democratic process. Many of us just want to get away from it, but we can't imagine a world without it. Though we talk about reforming and regulating it, 'fixing' it, those of us who grew up on the internet know there's no such thing as a social network that lasts forever. Facebook and Twitter are slowly imploding. And before they're finally dead, we need to think about what the future will be like after social media so we can prepare for what comes next.
I don't mean brainstorming new apps that could replace out-dated ones, the way Facebook did MySpace. I mean what will replace social media the way the internet replaced television, transforming our entire culture? To find out what comes next, I went on a quest. I was looking for a deeper future than the latest gadget cycle, so I spoke to experts in media history, tech designers, science fiction writers and activists for social justice. I even talked to an entity that is not a person at all. 'User-centred' design Collectively, they gave me a glimpse of a future where the greatest tragedy is not the loss of our privacy. It is the loss of an open public sphere. There are many paths beyond the social media hellscape, and all of them begin with reimagining what it means to build public spaces where people seek common ground. I began on a steep, narrow street in San Francisco's North Beach, a neighbourhood overlooking the Bay where beatniks used to hang out in the 1950s.
It's miles away from techie-clogged SoMa, where Google employees eat their free lunches and the glowing Twitter sign looms over Market Street. This is the home of Erika Hall's design firm Mule. She cofounded it 20 years ago, and she's watched the web move from the margins to the centre of the business world. Back in the early aught, companies were just trying to figure out how to have an 'online presence.' She and her team built websites and digital campaigns for them, using the principles of 'user-centred' design to help people navigate the confusing new world of the internet. 'I absolutely believe that you can design interfaces that create more safe spaces to interact, in the same way we know how to design streets that are safer,'
she said. The generations of people who have grown up online (soon, that will be most people) and already know that digital information can't be trusted. They will care about who is giving...