Bookmark: "Crowdforcing: When What I “Share” Is Yours"

Sebastian Greger

Via yesterday’s bookmark on “luxury suveillance”, I discovered more of David Golumbia's work – and specifically this article on yet another proposed concept for framing some harmful consequences of the unreflected application of digial technology: “crowdforcing”.

The author describes through various examples how pretty much every “sharing” interaction in a digital system has externalities: costs to somebody not involved in the transaction themselves.

From citizens in neighbourhoods whose rental market is destroyed (in tech lingo: disrupted) by AirBnB, to children whose parents post their photos on the internet (aka. “sharenting”), and relatives of a person who submitted their DNA (and thereby genetic information about everybody they are related to) to a platform providing gene analysis services: whenever an individual shares a resource or information about themselves, they are also sharing something that isn’t theirs.

Dealing with this problem requires, first of all, conceptualizing it as a problem. […] As always, this is by no means to deny the many positive effects these tools and methods can have; it is to suggest that we are currently overly committed to finding those positive effects and not to exploring or dwelling on the negative effects, as profound as they may be.

When engaging with the examples presented in the article, it becomes clear just how severely this effect of crowdforcing affects people’s lives and our culture at large.

In a time when so much cultural energy is devoted to the self, maximizing, promoting, decorating and sharing it, it has become hard to think with anything like the scrutiny required about how our actions impact others. From an ethical perspective, this is typically the most important question we can ask: arguably it is the foundation of ethics itself.