By most measures, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Project (AMP) had a pretty good day today. The team announced that AMP is coming to Gmail, that AMP’s new “Story” format was released, and that the oh-so-problematic AMP URLs will gradually disappear (if you use Google’s Chrome browser).
Now, I’ve written about AMP a few times now, each time outlining my concerns with the platform—and, more broadly, what it means for the web. And each time I publish a new piece, I’ve been asked a question like this:
What can I do about AMP?
It’s a good question, but it doesn’t have an easy answer.
Thing is, I went for a run this morning. And as I ran, the second installment of Ursula Franklin’s original lectures on “The Real World of Technology” played in my ears. There’s a section I love, about thirteen minutes in, where Franklin’s talking about technology, and how it reinforces existing power structures. And as Franklin’s arguing that technology is a social construct, she spends much of that lecture exploring the cultural and political infrastructures we’ve defined to support the technologies we’ve created. Here’s Franklin:
More and more decisions are made in a technological mold, which is very difficult to influence through democratic and egalitarian decision-making. And we will be faced again and again, and in a number of guises, with that question of democratic decision-making in technical and technological matters.
I admit, it’s a bit difficult to excerpt any part of Franklin’s lectures. (Really, you should check them out for yourself.) But as I read it, Franklin’s suggesting that decisions made by, with, and for technology are, generally, placed outside any kind of governance or regulation. And today, right now, I don’t think we need to look further than AMP to see an example of what Franklin’s talking about. As of this moment, the power dynamics are skewed pretty severely in favor of Google’s proprietary AMP standard, and against those of us who’d ask this question:
What can I do about AMP?
Emphasis mine. Because absent action from some sort of regulatory body, I’m not sure what influence you or I could exert to change the trajectory of AMP—or of Facebook Instant Articles, or of Apple News.
(Related: wake me when we’ve got a new FCC, please.)
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth speaking up, individually and collectively, and writing about our concerns. Quite the opposite. In fact, that’s why I signed an open letter on AMP, alongside twenty other concerned colleagues. (If you or your organization has a GitHub account, you can sign it, too.) Perhaps together, we can make the issue more visible, and make more people and organizations aware of our concerns. So while there might not be much I can do about AMP, maybe there’s something we can do.
The problems that we need to address are not the sort of thing that one person can even begin to produce a solution. All I can do is an exercise of mapping: an exercise of trying to help, in the process of clarification, from which a very much larger, and broader, and more collective approach will come.Ursula Franklin, “The Real World of Technology, Part 2” (2:08)