The conversations around work, income and business yield insights around both problems we see as a consequence of introduction, use or monetisation of technologies and their root causes. We also get clues as to where we can invest in building alternatives to mitigate harms or do away with them all together. What is clear is that there is not one model that fits all, rather it is a puzzle where we can see the diversity of puzzle pieces that together build the whole. What is clear is that you cannot just throw more money at tech to solve the issues — rather, parallel investments.
Our main takeaway: As long as resourcing of non-extractive technologies and their uses relies on voluntary donations or institutional funding fads, we cannot secure a next generation internet that offers new functionalities to support people’s needs and to address global sustainability challenges, while respecting the fundamental values of privacy, participation and diversity:
“Running computer systems, in any form, comes with a cost — be it your time or your money — it’s equally true. It’s true also, that if you don’t care — you are still free (under the four freedoms of FOSS) to USE the software as you please. However, if you think that running/modifying the software comes without cost, you need to rethink. Free and Open-Source Software has nothing to do with cost. It is about what principles the software operates under.”
So what is to be done to ensure the viability of better solutions?
Four candidates emerge:
Stocks over flows: We should explore how to secure stocks that can provide a reliable source of income to finance development and maintenance of technologies as a public good.
Design appropriate mechanisms and strategies for better alignment and coordination of existing funding programs and procurement budgets so that they are, in effect, pooling resources towards securing reliable, secure and ethically sound digital infrastructure and tools to meet their needs.
This includes adjustment of priorities and investments in different policy areas (e.g., housing, health, education, culture, etc.).
Public procurement at the municipal and regional level as a key enabler: It comes down to this: either we keep buying licenses from Microsoft, or we give the same money to local individuals and organisations who can design, deploy and maintain FOSS solutions in close consultation with organised civil society. The second option clearly builds more competence in the organisation. It also serves as an innovation support system to the capacity of local industries to grow innovation and technical capacity.
Perhaps the NGI ought to be reframed as an emergent web of interdependencies between people, places and processes. Placing special emphasis on interdependencies between our technology-mediated human to human interactions and the impacts of these interactions on multiple dimensions of human needs and aspirations.
An interesting story in The Atlantic explores how pandemics have previously impacted society and economies. It talks about how the Black Death that swept across Europe between 1347 and 1350 resulted in a huge loss of lives — particularly among children. This inevitably led to a shortage of labour and farmers in northern Italy began to increase their wages to attract workers. A middle class began to develop and the region became more affluent.
Like previous pandemics, COVID-19 has changed our societies and economies. While we won’t see some of these changes until further down the line, others are more apparent. Perhaps one of the more obvious is the move to remote working. While many companies and employees were beginning to adapt to this model in recent years, they still made up a small proportion of the entire workforce.
With the pandemic, employees based in offices have been forced to work from home, and those who were more cautious to this style have seen its merits. The crisis has propelled a definitive move to remote working for many; even major tech companies that were previously ‘office-centric’ are now fully committed to the model.
Community conversations have explored implications of this development on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. What kind of support is needed to improve the situation for zoomed out workers, parents struggling to balance personal and family life and distressed owners of businesses struggling to cope with a situation of extreme instability? With more people working from home and logging onto the internet to access their work network, it is likely that issues surrounding internet governance are more pressing than ever.
It’s not just work and our new behaviours surrounding the internet that are changing because of the pandemic. The crisis has also shone a spotlight on inequalities — and in cases, exacerbated those inequalities — in our societies. People are demanding change to these old unfair systems on which our societies have been built. Several of our community contributors are actively exploring these topics in their work in academia and on the political arena.
Contributors have also identified the movement for social justice for ethnic minorities as a key battleground for reining in the threat posed by algorithmic decision making on our ability to secure, and grow, substantial freedom and prosperity for all. Another key domain is expanding our thinking about how the welfare systems adapt and extend protection to the new social and economic realities of life in the age of platform-mediated work. As well as securing the material means for us to be able to do so.
Join the conversation
You will get
A copy of this months’ digest (magazine) and opportunities to make meaningful new connections across shared interests:
- Access to other contributors via the community forum
- Ticket to an invitation-only session at our 2021 international conference
- First access to future community digests and event invitations
How is this financed?
This Community Journalism project and publication is part of the NGI Forward initiative. Launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016, NGI stands for Next Generation Internet. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825652 from 2019-2021. You can learn more about the initiative and our involvement in it at https://ngi.edgeryders.eu
Where does this lead?
The contents of Edgeryders “Internet of Humans” NGI Forum and the Community Journalism project are analysed using the SSNA method. The results are then sent to EU lawmakers to be incorporated into policy recommendations. It will also inform a conference at the end of the project and selected articles and contributions will be published in book form as the “Next Generation Internet - Edgeryders Digest”. The authors of the selected articles who agree to them being published in that book will also be invited personally to the final conference.