World builders

World builders

Jonathan Harris shares a series of powerful vignettes about both the current state of the digital world, as he sees it, and his vision for its future:

You could argue that people will do what people will do, and that trying to change people’s behavior is arrogant and foolish. There is truth to that, but people’s behavior is largely influenced by the context in which they live. People who live near a ski slope are more likely to ski, as people who live in a city are more likely to hang out at bars. When we design spaces (real or virtual), we need to take responsibility for the types of behavior those spaces are likely to encourage.

We cherish our capitols, cathedrals, museums, monuments, and parks, but who will build structures of this stature in the digital world?

Speaking especially to young students of computer science, art, architecture, and design — I would encourage you, as you imagine what you want to become, to consider becoming digital world builders.

Help construct our future digital world. Build honestly, naturally, authentically, beautifully, not motivated by page views or ad revenue but by what the digital world should be, in its purest, noblest sense. Articulate digital spaces that nurture the soul and the spirit.

…. Don’t leave it to today’s companies to solve these problems, as they will only perpetuate the same habits they have already adopted. There needs to be a new vision for the future of the web, one that is sensitive both to the human individual and the human collective, just like real life.

I read this as I returned from time away from New York City where I was on land and space designed by an architect who’d carefully considered how people interact with the surroundings in a natural way. Authenticity, in particular, was intensely important to him. And every time I return from this place, I get to see the digital work I do differently.

An added challenge, as I see it, is to build worlds without having to leave our place — to gain objectivity and authenticity while staying home — wherever that may be.

I’d recommend reading it in its entirety.