I’m a blogger, an amateur coder and an employee at a nonprofit organisation. My experience in these realms of endeavour is such that, taken together, keeping my blog online means a) using a trustworthy web host, b) using a simple as well as moderately featureful content management system, c) achieving this at a reasonable monthly cost, and d) not having to spend any time whatsoever thinking about the setup’s availability or security. Currently WordPress.com is fulfilling (a), (b), (c) and (d).
The next best alternative is a shared host offering WordPress hosting followed by a VPS managed through a control panel and with WordPress. If I drop WordPress, the options available to me dwindle rapidly. There’s Ghost, of course, but not much else. There are very many content management systems out there but the vast majority don’t have an option to import WordPress posts and also have either fewer features or too many for my limited programming chops to handle.
(I should stress here the extent to which I’m out of sorts in this area. I don’t understand all the differences between cloud hosting and VPS hosting. I kinda know what shared hosting is but I don’t know why its problems don’t assail other forms of hosting. It took me years to get the hang of static-site generators and what web-servers really do. I barely get Docker now and have no frigging idea what Kubernetes is or does. My sense of what is good is simply some better-informed people’s sense of good.)
In this scenario, can I afford to boycott all platforms and services that are interested in, or whose leaders are interested in, incorporating NFTs into their products?
The answer I think is a distinct and discomfiting ‘no’. WordPress cofounder Matt Mullenweg is pro-NFTs, as are Ghost’s John O’Nolan, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Twitch’s Justin Kan, as well as Microsoft, Google, Amazon Web Services, Akamai (for blockchain in finance) and many, many others. Hosting companies like Amazon Web Services and Digital Ocean ban the use of their services to mine cryptocurrencies, but I doubt they will assume a similarly hardline position against the storage of NFTs.
When you’re interested in boycotting the work of people who favour the use of a technology you distrust and dislike, but then find yourself having boycotted every platform, service and/or product you’ve needed and/or admired thus far, what do you do?
This conundrum is largely already real. Many of our internet-based tools today are the brainchildren of people and companies operating primarily out of that American white Democratic libertarian tech space (although I’m bearing in mind only the worst of this group here, principally Zuckerberg). I really like my smartphone but I have many problems with the practices of the company that made it. The same thing goes for my laptop, Kindle, debit card, WhatsApp account, Fire Stick, a vision-impaired aunt’s voice-activated phone, my neighbour’s electric scooter, etc.
My (first) point is that a certain geographically restricted demographic has monopolised innovation in the information technology sector worldwide. As a result, the best tools we have available to use (in this category) to do the work we’d like to do are often made by people and companies doing other technological things with which we’re often likely to disagree yet from which we can’t ever fully divest ourselves, and whose products we can’t readily replace with those of alternative provenance either.
At the same time the builders of these tools have accrued more decision-making power than the tools’ users, the result of which is that – for one example – we’re all contemplating the possibility of a “web3” erected on blockchain technology even though the population of people interested in that future is eminently minuscule. Another is that WordPress powers 43% of all websites on the web while Mullenweg has the single-most say on whether this mass will one day became NFT-friendly.
The second point is that of quality and scale, which taken together ensure a good user experience at a relatively low (monetary) cost. For example, if the best American cloud-hosting companies today start to offer pro-NFT services, my hosting options will suddenly be limited to Asian competitors with shady business practices and pricier European ones that, while being better with user privacy and such, also charge more as a result. (I’m neither aware of nor know how to evaluate hosting companies in other parts of the world). I get the philosophy of “either pay or be the product”, but here’s the thing: I work in journalism in India and don’t have much money to spare, not to mention neither the time nor the inclination to spend becoming a better technologist.
The third and final point is about the act of boycotting itself. Why has it been meaningful? It has been meaningful because it has had the power to force managers to change their minds in favour of consumers’ demands. Would it be as meaningful as it has been before to boycott WordPress or Twitter or Google? No, because boycotting does not have that power against companies whose breadth of innovation is so diverse that they build the tools with which to organise protests against tree-cutting as well as – to slip into a metaphor here – manufacture the axes with which they will be cut.
At this point, a quote from Elementary (2:21), the TV show on Amazon Prime – another behemoth, wouldn’t you say? – comes to mind: “Piffle. They want an army of drones keeping tabs on all of us.” Since when do you care about other people’s privacy? someone else asks. “I make use of the tools available to me. That doesn’t mean to say I have to applaud every advance in the field.”
I suppose this is my conclusion… for now. I think this will allow me to continue to use WordPress while retaining the moral authority to criticise Mullenweg’s support for, or even his equivocation on, NFTs… for now.