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A mandala made from a knob and button-covered control panel.

This week on my podcast, I read my recent Medium column, Twiddler, which further explores my theory of enshittification, and the factors that make it endemic to digital platforms.

The early internet promised more than disintermediation — it also promised endless configurability, where users and technologists could install after-market code that altered the functioning of the services they relied on, seizing the means of computation to tilt the balance of power to their benefit.

Technology remains intrinsically configurable, of course. The only kind of computer we know how to build is the universal, Turing complete Von Neumann machine, which can run all the software we know how to write.

That’s how we got things like ad-blockers, the largest boycott in world history. The configurability of technology is why things like free and open software are politically important: in a technologically mediated society, control over the functions of the technology you rely on is control over every part of your life — your job, your education, your love life, your political engagement.

While it remains technically possible to reconfigure the technologies that you rely on, doing so is now a legal minefield. “IP” has come to mean “any law that lets a company control the conduct of its competitors, critics or customers,” and that’s why “IP” is always at the heart of maneuvers to block platform users’ attempts to wrestle value away from the platforms.


(Image: Stephen Drake, CC BY 2.0, modified)