Social Media & Permaculture

Given the strong ethical image that permaculture design philosophy aims to project, the so called Social Media present a fascinating conundrum that we need to address at some point.

Internet: the good news

The roll-out of Internet has transformed our society and empowered anybody with the means to do so to connect with anybody else on the Internet. It’s enabled communities of interest to stay in touch over global geographical and cultural distances. It’s enabled almost instant mobilisation of activist people on any geographical scale to respond to any kind of challenge and gather critical mass to influence government and corporate agencies.

The not so good news

The effects of the global and instant connectedness hasn’t been wasted on those same government and corporate agencies either. Most visibly the Big Five tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have embraced the ubiquitous surveillance capabilities of Internet technology as their core business model. Gathering and globally trading user-profile data is now the single largest import/export industry in the world.

The “products and services” these companies offer their users (not: clients) are just the seductive and addictive incentives they use to gather information on the behaviour of the blissfully unaware and uninformed users. This information is gold to the real clients: other government and corporate agencies seeking to manipulate their markets and constituencies – without their knowledge or consent.

Behind the scenes a growing cast of shady players are designing and using algorithms to massage Big Data into actionable information for their government and corporate clients, often crossing international borders to avoid regulations and legal challenges.

A permaculture perspective

From a perspective of permaculture design philosophy it seems fairly clear cut that we should adopt a policy similar to our stance against the Monsanto’s and Exxon’s of the world: avoid and use better alternatives.

From the perspective of the ethic of “care for the earth” we should note that beyond the perceived convenience of being connected to the world via a plug in the wall or even the ubiquitous wireless networks, lies a world of resource and energy hungry infrastructure that is at least on par with the wasteful practices of any other kind of industrial scale activity. I’m saying this not as a technophobe, but as a concerned cosmopolitan. I’m saying that the “convenience” rolled out by Big Industry is keeping us from exploring better alternatives that are more conducive to Life and a convivial egalitarian and cooperative society. It’s just one of the buttons that are easy to press and hard to resist. Resistance is fruitful.

From the perspective of the ethic of “care for the people” the nefarious business models of the major players in the Social Media industry should have your alarm bells ringing loudly. It’s obvious that the users in the surveillance marketing business model of more and more government and corporate agencies play the role of unwitting feedstock for the movement of wealth away from the many to the ever shrinking few. These agencies don’t care for people, just their bottom line of aggregating wealth. The unavoidable outcome can only be one thing.

Inherent in all this is that Social Media score an apocalyptic fail regarding the third ethic of “fair share“. Gobbling up untold resources that are wasted beyond recovery, distorting the fabric of society beyond recognition and the accrual of wealth to a shrinking elite, doesn’t really sound like sharing surplus, limiting impact of resource use and procreation.

Call to Action

So, as permaculture designer and practitioner, can you in good conscience participate in the industry lead Social Media? I put it to you that you should not. There really is no excuse or reason to facilitate the surveillance marketing business models that are popping up everywhere.

What not to do:

  • open or continue your use of Social Media accounts operated by the Big Five – to start with.
  • promote those services by referring to them on web sites you “own” or in other publications that your produce, including emails and blogs.
  • use email -or any other kind of- accounts operated by the Big Five.

What to do:

  • Find a trusted local ISP to register your own domain name to host your own web site and your own email service.
  • Find a trusted local internet-savvy person to help you set up secure email and web services. Use open source applications and encrypt now.
  • Offer RSS feeds on your publications so your online community can stay connected under their control as equal and well informed participants. WordPress is a currently trusted and convenient open source platform for this.