What is 'user-kind'?

3 minute read Published: 2021-11-24

What is "user-kind", and why should you care? The internet has evolved to optimize for clicks and ad-impressions, and the result is not necessarily kind to humans.

"User-friendly" measures how easy and attractive a technology tool is to use, but tools that are user-friendly can still act against the best interests of the user. In the attention economy, there are market pressures to encourage obtaining and retaining user attention even against the user's own interest, as observed in the emergence of dark patterns.

Accessible, ubiquitous technology is also a powerful tool for human good. Trying to fight the machine by shutting everything off throws away potential benefit at the same time it combats the problem. All-or-nothing would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

How can the average person come to grips with this problem? Internet-connected technology is a deep and complex domain that requires a lot of work to understand, and most people have other things to do with their lives. Lucky people have a computer nerd in their lives to help navigate the worst of the pitfalls, security issues, data breaches, and privacy compromises. But not everyone does, and to fight user-hostile behavior, large numbers of people need to vote with their feet - and their attention - to improve the impact of technology on our lives and societies.

"User-kind" is meant to help address this problem. I chose this term to capture the idea of technology tools that are not only "user-friendly", but to try to additionally describe how well or how poorly a tool's interest aligns with your interest. Is it collecting data on you to sell ads? Is it trying to get you to keep scrolling? Does it treat your data and your privacy seriously, or is it leaving its options open to sell you as a product?

Maybe you'll choose to use it anyway: that happens. But hopefully this will help make that choice a fully informed one, casting light on some of the finer details that aren't always easy for people in general to discover.

"User-kind" is my attempt to be your opinionated computer nerd friend, wherever you are and whoever you are. It's tricky to take a complex situation and try to capture it simply and accessibly, so I will make mistakes and some of your other computer nerd friends will likely disagree. That's all right.

Ultimately, you should always make the best choice for you. You have your own priorities, your own concerns.

I'm hoping to arm you with some perspective from someone who is in your corner, and to help you understand how kind your technology tools are to you, and your interests.