The Light Web

To my brilliant, millennial daughter and business partner, I was once the woman in the tin foil hat whenever I got a chance to speak about the chaos and missed potential of the internet. I liked to say that we are using the internet like a child running with scissors and we should really move on now, to a more productive way of using this remarkable tool.

But now when I speak about it to thought leaders, they are anxious to add their input to the dialogue, and my daughter is helping me push the idea into a global conversation.

You see, I’ve had this notion that if there is a “dark web”, then there is no reason someone can’t create “the light web”: an innovation that would allow us to use the internet at its most positive potential. (The “dark web” is a place that's generally harder to get to and has some super sketchy, terrifying happenings. If you haven’t heard of it, Gaud Bless you.  Don’t go there. Moving on.)

Here’s the question I am posing: What if there was a portion of the web that was curated for qualities like good intention, trustworthiness and progress for all?

One of the things I’ve learned from publishing over a thousand articles about insight and innovation is that the internet has evolved into a pure “attention economy”. In other words, qualities like merit, mastery, foresight, usefulness and ingenuity are not rewarded in our current system. Instead, the loudest voices win: the most shrill, exaggerated, and polarizing content gets propagated.

Can we create a corner of the web that rewards qualities that have stood the test of time, like kindness, honesty, respect, good humor, and the rigorous intention it takes to offer something you have truly put in the time to master?

I can imagine a part of the web where one could find the most conscientious, trusted information sources and places where we would be proud to spend our money: businesses who are earnestly finding a way to have sustainable profits while also making the world a better place.

The Light Web

In the light web, we would start with a framework that could largely eliminate the ability for advertisers and content creators to appeal to our primitive impulses (fear, anger, ego, etc.). Instead, the foundations for an innovation in the internet landscape might be to very purposefully nurture our most helpful instincts (generosity, creativity, curiosity, perseverance, empathy, etc).

What if, when we shopped online or searched for information, we had a choice: we could stay in the scrum that is our current internet search, or we could drop into some new place on the web where organizations were vetted for their social responsibility, their trustworthiness.

Our Clicks Are Votes

Another important thing I’ve learned from becoming a digital publisher (with no previous experience in that field) is that every single click we make is being counted by someone who is keenly interested in what gets our attention. The internet we have today is based almost solely on that one principle.

Every single click is like a vote that says, “Yes, please. Definitely give me more of this!”

That said, it is time we all pull back on our impulses to click without consideration. Clicking on anything that catches our eye is giving some bad players all the wind in their sails and leaving some amazing innovations to vanish in obscurity.

Bottom line: what we click on, we get more of, both personally and as a global internet collective. I believe this is at the heart of our hyper-divisive and necessarily suspicious era.

7 Billion Versions of “Reality”

Additionally, our clicks are informing the unique algorithms serving us all our content. Whether we’re on our favorite search engine, Facebook, or anywhere else on the web, these algorithms are taking us on an utterly personal journey into an utterly personal version of “reality.”

Now that most people have access to some part of the internet, there are probably over 7 Billion versions of “reality”. And that just might lead to some confusion, division, and fear.

This is why you may think some of your friends and family (the ones who voted the opposite way you did) have lost their marbles. Because every click they made, and every click you made—often out of pure curiosity—has led you both on a divergent train of thought and therefore, left you both with vastly different worldviews.

Each of us is now staking our relationships and hopes on a unique and narrow worldview of what is possible.

And this is all astoundingly limiting when we consider the potential of the internet to bring us together and be the ultimate multiplier for the best in human nature.

An Alternative Future

Here’s a possible future for all of us: The Light Web could be the first place to go—no matter your politics, culture or generation—if you want a better world for everyone.

There, you could search for everything from responsibly sourced chocolate to luggage made with a sustainable supply chain.

You could buy your glasses, shoes, and socks from businesses that give a free pair to someone in need for every pair you buy. You could find an amazing place to send your old cell phone, and they will use it to save rain forests all over the planet. You can set your computer to be working in the background all the time on a project to help find planets outside our galaxy. You could find jewelry made by homeless teens or from unexploded landmines.  

And it would be a place where a search for information for a homework assignment could be unsupervised by parents (just say’in... nothing is impossible.)

BTW: All those projects already exist!

But you may not have known that, because even with the best intentions, they are getting lost in the chaos of our current “attention economy” on the internet.

Maybe you have seen this for yourself: there is a movement well underway that will soon be demanding a better internet.

There are countless thought leaders taking up an almost radical commitment to “Social Responsibility” in business and there are many others who are simply nose-to-the-grindstone, solving the most vexing problems in the world. All the biggest players in the business world are developing their CSR programs (Corporate Social Responsibility.) This would all be very refreshing, if we only knew about it and were easily directed to it!

Granted, we can be cynical and say some of those efforts are for show only. But I’ve spoken to many thought leaders with responsible mindsets and there is no lack of courage or authentic commitment from most of them. They are making it happen.

The Light Web would be a start at making their efforts findable and supportable! Just imagine how that might change the next generation’s vision of what is possible.

What if there was a portion of the internet—the light web—that we could count on to lead us forward?

We need some leaders in the digital world to step up.

It’s time for a new day that puts what we are going through now in the rear-view mirror, and I am ill-equipped to start the journey alone. I’ll tell you what: I’ll be the representative for the “ordinary person”, since I still feel more like that person every day, and I’ll keep their interest at the forefront.

But we’ll need industry leaders with great vision, character and intention to help people like my daughter, a Harvard grad who has that millennial zeal and savvy to improve the course we are on. We will need an unusual mix of talents and experience to champion this change.

I’m officially opening this concept for creative and well-meaning input and development.  Contact me if you have some thoughts on how we bring the internet to the next, socially responsible level.

I realize we won’t get it just right, but we can definitely make it better. Help me point to possibility and progress on an “Internet 2.0”, an innovation that could change everything.

My goal is to change the negative dialogue about our times. Maybe we can create a concrete place where people can see their best impulses validated. I believe in the past as a teacher, the present as a harbinger and the future as a landscape of possibility.

Join me. I’d love to hear your ideas!

Lynda Ulrich