The Web Random Acts of Kindness: Zittrain

29th July 2019

TED's logo with the slogan Ideas Worth Sharing

These days we are doing everything online and on our phones. We do our shopping on Amazon and eBay. Tesco and Sainsbury’s deliver our groceries right to our doorstep. And we can hardly remember the last time we went to the bank. Whilst social media and the Internet have brought people closer than ever before (remember that time you got a friend notification from the high-school classmate you thought you’d lost touch with?) there are still some people who think the world has become a colder place because of these advances in communications. Well, the Harvard professor of Internet and International Law, Jonathan Zittrain is here to disagree. In this entertaining TED Talk, Professor Zittrain gives three examples (and loads of fun facts) to restore your faith in humanity and show how the Internet is run by kindness, trust, and selflessness rather than wickedness or indifference.

The Internet was invented by three high school classmates in LA during the 1960s. Without any money and out of pure curiosity, they created the prototype for what is now a global network. But how does the Internet work? The Internet works solely because its 4.4billion users constantly share and exchange small packages of data with each other. In Zittrain’s words:

Imagine, you being part of a network where you’re maybe at a sporting event […] and somebody asks for a beer, and it gets handed at the aisle. And your neighbourly duty is to pass the beer along, at risk to your own trousers, to get it to the destination.

If one individual lies or sends out a wrong package to another user, the consequences could be grave. But the World Wide Web is functioning smoothly despite its delicate yet open infrastructure. Take for example Wikipedia, Professor Zittrain continues (strap in for another fun fact which is going to come handy for your next pub quiz):

At all times, Wikipedia is approximately 45 minutes away from utter destruction’ due to its being open to anyone (including corporate bots and crawlers) being able to edit its articles. ‘It turns out there are more people checking this page for problems and wanting to solve them than there are problems arising on the page’. Amazing, right?

The third example is even more heart-warming. Many of us may think that hitchhiking is dead because people aren’t trustworthy anymore. There are many “ride sharing boards” on the Internet that let people without cars book their free rides in advance. And it’s not just the ride. Services such as CouchSurfing.org is connecting people for free accommodation:

CouchSurfing: one guy’s idea to, at last, put together people who are going somewhere far away and would like to sleep on a stranger’s couch for free, with people who live far away, and would like someone they don’t know to sleep on their couch for free. It’s a brilliant idea.

It’s not just the Web, but the world that is full of random acts of kindness. At Altrui we often see the kindness and selflessness of women first-hand. So, for us it’s easy to believe the world is full of ordinary people doing amazing things. 💜

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *