On ethics in design & technology and the case for WordPress governance

On ethics in design & technology and the case for WordPress governance

Host: Sean Tierney | Published: November 16, 2019

Morten Rand-Hendriksen has made it his mission to help people understand and get the most out of the web, and contribute to the debates about ownership and democratization of information, design philosophy, and the open web. His 60+ published courses on WordPress, front end web design and development, and web standards on LinkedIn Learning have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of viewers from all over the world.

In this conversation Sean interviews Morten on the ethics of Open Source, our responsibility to the greater tech design community for having a seat at the table for conversations in government which have implications for WordPress and Open Source in general. Also covered: Morten shares a swing dancing catastrophic dance move, what he’s advocating for in the WordPress community and beyond and some of his favorite musical and literary influences.

Show Notes

0:00:56   Welcome and context
0:02:00   Can you tell the story of the disasterous swing dance lesson?
0:03:30   Your PN talk is on the ethics of open source- how do you define ethics?
0:10:34   Talk about the concept from your WCEU talk of the “precedent loop”
0:16:14   “It’s a really naive way of thinking – people get the printing press and use it to indoctrinate others into political thinking.”
0:19:58   “If you go back to Tim Berners-Lee at CERN it’s about making information accessible in a non-friction way.”
0:21:16   “Two pieces: 1) accessibility 2) low technical barrier”
0:23:12   What are you advocating for?
0:28:56   “What WordPress does becomes the cattle path that the web follows.”
0:33:56   “Who speaks on behalf of bloggers? No one and silence is compliance.”
0:35:56   “They will go down the causal chain until they find someone with a bad answer or no answer.”
0:46:48   “For its own sake proper governance is needed for WP”
0:50:36   “When people come to WP they should be able to understand what they are adopting.”
0:54:36   “There’s no such thing as just code. Software is politics.”
0:58:42   When you’re building a platform as open-ended as WordPress, how can you possibly implement safeguards that prevent its abuse?
1:03:00   “Modify people’s capabilities so that can do and be what they have reason to value.”
1:08:30   What is one book that has profoundly affected you in some way?
1:09:54   Who is one person you’d love to have dinner with?
1:11:02   What is one tool or app that saves you time/money/headaches?
1:13:16   One piece of music that speaks to you lately?
1:16:08   What important truth do very few people agree with you about?
1:20:24   If you could go back to your 20-year-old self via a timemachine and give yourself one bit of advice, what would you say?

Show Transcript

Sean: 00:00:57 All. Hey everybody, welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Sean Tierney, and I’m here today with Morton Rand. Hendrickson Morton is an instructor educator speaker at LinkedIn learning, helping people master WordPress, the web and online communication. Since joining forces with lynda.com in 2010 which is now LinkedIn learning, he has published over 60 courses on WordPress, front end web design and development and web standards, reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers from all over the world. Morton also contributes to the web community as a public speaker, author, educator, web developer and design philosopher. Welcome Morton to the show.

Morten: 00:01:32 Hello. Thanks for having me.

Sean: 00:01:34 Absolutely. so I asked, I’m gonna normally I would dig right into the topic matter here, but I asked a set of pre-interview questions and one in particular I ask, and I’ve never seen anyone answer it this way. So I think we’ve got to start there more than I, but I asked you something. What is something remarkable that you’ve accomplished and your response has to do with a swing dance lesson where you took down not just your partner, but another couple. And so I think I got to here. Like what does that story all about it.

Morten: 00:02:00 Yeah. It’s you know, you go to a swing dance class and you try to learn something super hard and then this whole balance organ thing in your head doesn’t work quite right. And then, you know, you’re, when you dance with people, you’re holding the person you’re dancing with and if things go bad enough wrong, you will actually like tackle them to the floor. And then there were some other people that happened to be very close by and then we kind of fell and took them down as well. You, you know, you see your dad’s instructor just be like, w what has happening in that and that everyone is super angry. It’s, I have a, I have a balance issue, which I used to do a martial arts along like in a past life 20, 30 years ago. And I have to stop because my, there’s something wrong with my balance.

Morten: 00:02:54 And I found like I found that line in the sand in dance where it’s like if I get to, if I do this, then I have no idea where the Flores and then what direction it is and I’ll look over, lean to the side and just take down whoever I’m done say with, I mean I’ve heard of people dropping their partner, but the collateral damage of taking that on another dance Coppola is pretty impressive. So it’s it, it gives you a nickname, some things like that. I thought dance cool. For sure. Awesome man. Well, okay, so you are a speaker for PressNomics six and your talk is on the ethics of open source. I just wanted to ask you before we get into this, how do you define ethics? Ethics is in, in a formal, and a formal definition of ethics is a philosophical way of looking at how society agrees upon how to judge the rightness and goodness of an act.

Morten: 00:03:59 So ethics is less a list of things you can and cannot do than it is methodologies we use. Ask societies to say, look at this situation. Is this a good or bad situation or is this a good or bad act? Or is this something that you should or shouldn’t do? And it’s an important distinction because we often conflate ethics and morals, right? Cause these two terms, technically speaking, if you come from an academic perspective, they’re two sides of the same coin. But practically what we’re talking about is if you take if you have strong opinions on a topic, let’s say you have strong opinions about whether blonde people should be allowed to be on podcasts, right? Some people probably have opinions about this, so he can say you’re going to have a very strong opinion about this topic, right? And that that opinion can be rooted deeply into your understanding of the world.

Morten: 00:05:00 But the chances of other people in society agreeing with your opinion to the point where they say, this is how I should actually just be the standard practice for everyone. It’s quite low. Right? Whereas if you have a strong opinion internally about stealing something, there’s a very high chance that people in your society would agree that stealing is wrong and then you can ask what is it about? What is it that differentiates those two situations? Like what is it that differentiates this? Seeing an attribute in a person that they have no control over and saying that this attribute on its own is something that we can use to make decisions around versus seeing an action that someone performs and saying, this is an action that we can do something about it. That’s the difference. That’s the distinction between morals and ethics and that’s also why you often see situations where morals conflict with ethics, right?

Morten: 00:05:55 Like, if you are for a company and you discover that the company has a trove of data that could be used to help a minority group or a disadvantaged group in some way, but the company has no interest in sharing that data because it’s proprietary data, you might morally feel compelled to release that data to the group because you’re like, this could actually help these people. But from an ethical perspective, you might say doing so as wrong for a number of reasons, including you don’t own the data. If you share the data, you are basically breaking rules of ownership, which are agreed upon rules that we have in society. And also if you share that data, you’re saying to other people that it’s okay for them to do the same in the same type of situation based on their moral imperatives, which can be very challenging, right?

Morten: 00:06:51 And of course it gets more complicated because in philosophy, what we refer to as ethics is called moral philosophy, right? Because what philosophers do is they try to take morals and then turn them into universal rules that can be used everywhere. And that’s also why you get these different branches. You’ve heard about. Consequentialism is a thing and duty ethics is a thing. And virtue ethics is a thing. And you have different philosophers trying to come at this from different perspectives to try to understand can we make a system, can we make a standardized system that if we apply it, people will always land at the same conclusions. Yeah. Right. So it’s a very theoretical thing, but it’s also an extremely practical thing. So in the real world, ethics is how you apply univer societal norms and morals in a consistent way to judge the rightness and wrongness of acts.

Sean: 00:07:50 And so I watched your talk at WCU and it was fantastic. All Lincoln in the show notes, if people want to watch that. There was an element that you mentioned about the loop of setting the precedent and then that feeding back in. And can you talk about that and like the role of that loop and how that fits in with what you’re talking about here with the ethics?

Morten: 00:08:09 Hmm. So the, the loop comes into two different branches of moral philosophy. So one is current and deontology or duty ethics where Manuel Khan said that you should act in such a way that what you do is the thing you would want every other person to do in the same circumstances. And you judge their goodness and rightness of an act based on whether or not your action is sort of precedent setting in that you’re saying, I’m setting an example here for every other person to follow. And on the face of it, it sounds kind of weird, but if you think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense. If you as if you see yourself as a thought leader in, in a community for instance you also know that if you do something that really works, there’s a good chance other people will see what you do and then they will try to do the same thing and they’ll follow in your footsteps. So you’re effectively carving a path, right? I’m going to to and come follow me. This is a path to success and you have to then think, is it okay that other people do? The thing I just did?

Morten: 00:09:19 And the weird thing is, in business, you’ll often find that businesses make decisions that pretty much are based on this idea that this is, this is only going to work if we’re the ones that do it first. Ryan, whoever does the first wins and everyone else loses. And there’s a really hard ethical dilemma in that because then it’s like, are you setting good examples and carving meaningful paths into the future? If you’re creating a situation where only the first person can benefit from it? Or are you fully considering what happens if everyone else follows this path by doing so. And that ties into what we call virtue ethics, which I, the term virtue has been completely destroyed and the social context now, because people use virtues for all sorts of weird things. Like they’ll, they’ll talk about physical assets and people as virtues. They’ll talk about, you’ve probably heard this term virtue signaling which is a very confusing term.

Morten: 00:10:20 That makes no sense. But virtues app, the roots are the, is this idea that you can imagine your best self, right? The person you actually want to become and you can see what kind of properties that person has in terms of how they deal with the world. You can see yourself as, I want to be a just person, someone who cares deeply about just as an acts in a, in a way that focuses on justice or I want it to be a fair person. I wanted to be an honest person, whatever. Right? Those are virtues and then you start acting in a way that you would think someone who has those virtues would behave. Ryan says modeling behavior, your own behavior on the person you want to become. And you can see how these are linked, right? Because if you say, I as a person or we as a company want to do things that carve paths for our industry that are meaningful and then you ask, but why do you think that those paths are meaningful?

Morten: 00:11:19 Or why do you think that this matters and say, well I believe in these virtues and this is where we want to go. And when I say all this, people’s eyes glaze over because I’m like, this is not how I think about the world at all. Right. But the funny part is it is, you’re just not aware cause it’s not focal, right. It’s like tacit knowledge that sits in the back of your head. You make ethical judgments and all the time because that’s how humans behave is just that we’re not putting it front and center and looking at with the type of decisions we make and we make those decisions. And what I’m trying to do is get people to bring the ethics into view as we make decisions, right. Especially around technology because technology has such direct impact on real people in the real world.

Sean: 00:12:07 Right. Well I saw one of the slides in your talk, it had Shawn Parker and Chamath Paula, I can never say his last name, but Paula T a pull, Paul Aptia the Facebook guys, right. Coming out basically and saying like, Hey, we regret creating this thing because it’s now really screwed society up. You know, and we so sorry. Basically like I don’t let my own kids use Facebook, let alone even like open an iPad basically.

Morten: 00:12:30 So up there there’s, there’s an interesting thing happening and sad thing happening really in the web community and in the tech community in general, which is you’re starting to see a lot of the people that were there at the beginning who planted the seeds that we are now reaping, who are looking back and saying we made, we made errors, we made significant errors in our understanding of how people would use the technologies we were building. And a lot of those, I’m not, I’m putting words in their mouth, but I’m kind of summarizing the opinions that they are putting forward. A lot of what they’re talking about is, there was this idea in the very beginning when we created the world wide web and all these technologies started rolling out, that if you give people the ability to publish anything they want and connect with, and I think they want, they will use it to build a better world.

Morten: 00:13:28 And it’s a really naive way of thinking because you know, looking at the last whatever, three, 4,000 years of history, that’s not how people behave at all. People get the printing press, they use it to indoctrinate people into a very specific religious ideology than political ideology, than whatever, right? So it’s not surprising that given this ability to publish content on the web, they would use it to try to do the same. Right? But there was this, there was this belief that underpin the entire foundation of the technologies that we use every day now, which was if we just give people the power to take control over their own voice and actually bring their ideas to the table, the community at large will filter that information and say that this stuff that is good and right will bubble to the top and the stuff that is bad and wrong will fall to the wayside and we’ll move into a better society.

Morten: 00:14:22 So the technology was given to the world without any, without any limits, but also without an new mechanism for limiting anything. Right. And was also given to the world in this way that made it very hard to regulate and very hard to put laws around. And it was all done on purpose. It was this very strong ideology of just absolute freedom in this digital space because there’s no way that that could harm anyone. And now all of these people are like backing away from it to the point where actually like literally walking away from the entire community and saying, I’m not, I don’t want any part of this anymore. I made a thing for you all and you destroyed it. I don’t want to be part of this. Right? And, and we are now the web and the community’s now mature. So like we’ve gone through our adolescent years, we’re now mature and we need to now be adults about it and start saying, look, we now know what dangers lie in the materials we use to create the future.

Morten: 00:15:21 So we now need to put, the onus is on us to put rules and regulations in place for ourselves and use this in a more responsible way. Because what we’re doing is establishing best practices for the people who follow us and the best practices we’ve created to this point are harmful. And we’re even admitting it that they are harmful. But we’re not doing the work of saying, well then we need to change how we do things. And then what happens is when the community doesn’t do it, legislators do it for us except the legislators. They will make decisions, like politicians make decisions based on two things. They make decisions based on what gets them reelected and they get mad and they make decisions based on what people tell them. So the people who tell them about the internet and about how the web works are large special interest groups who usually come from religious corners will come from strong political agendas and big companies with a lot of money.

Morten: 00:16:17 So what’s happening right now in Europe, in the United States and Asia, is that politicians are making rules about how we do things. And those rules are almost exclusively made around whoever has the most money. So the ISP are heavy in this conversations. The browser vendors are heavy in these conversations. The open web is not represented in this conversation at all, or just absent? Well, I would, I would argue there’s also a third variable there, which seemingly in some of these like judiciary trials and what other congressional hearings that you see is the cluelessness of the legislators that are, they’d like to just by the questions that they’re asking, it shows that like just how little they understand the internet in general and how things work. That’s just the way the world works. So if we’ve created through the, through the web, we’ve created technology that is designed to not in such a way that people don’t need to understand it, right?

Morten: 00:17:12 The entire purpose of the web, if you go back all the way to Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, the entire purpose of the web asset exists today is to make information accessible in a nonfictional way, right? So if you can think of what the world was like before the web existed, if you were a research and you sat at CERN and you made some data that you needed to share with someone, you would have to package that data up and send it by mail or over some network to someone else. And then they would have to have to print it out or put it into some proprietary software to get access to it. And then he basically said, is there some way we can use this internet thing that we already have between all the universities? And then a format that is standardized with a standardized reader so anyone can put any information you want into this format.

Morten: 00:18:01 And then I can just ping their computer and say, Hey, can, can I read the documents on your computer without downloading any software? And then if there’s something in your document that I want to add to, can I just add it and can I hyperlink inside the document? So when you see a little footnote, can I just like click a button on a jump to the footnote and read and can we then link to other documents? So that is the idea, right? And built into that idea of two pieces. One is accessibility, that the whole point of the web is to make content accessible to other people and in a universal way so that they can choose how they want to consume that information. That’s just text the bacon Parson their own way with an open parsing language and that they can then build whatever user agent they want to consume.

Morten: 00:18:46 And the other part is this needs to be, you don’t have to be a computer scientist to understand how to do this right. And now we’ve gotten to the point where the abstraction between building the web and using the vibe is so great that the people who use the web generally have no understanding of how it works and we’re [inaudible] and they shouldn’t need to. But the result is those people then are the ones that make decisions about how the web works or how to regulate the web. And they are then entirely dependent on people who know what they’re doing to come to them and say, look, here’s how it works. Here’s how it needs to work. And the people that are doing that work are the ones that are trying to wall the web in to their corporate little bubbles and earn as much money from them as possible.

Morten: 00:19:33 Right. And the people that are working the open web are sitting there on the sidelines going, no, the web is this open space and there are no politics on the web and we, we should just do whatever and no one speaks on my behalf because, you know, I have my, I should be allowed to do whatever I want. And that is this divorcing of reality. Like it’s entirely divorced from reality is how this actually works. That there’s this belief that somehow the web will remain unregulated if we just don’t partake in the conversation. And it’s actually the opposite. If you don’t take part in the conversation, the web will become a nightmarish corporate health space where we can do our jobs anymore. Right. And then we’ll sit on the sidelines and be like, Oh, we really fucked up that one but can’t do anything about it now.

Morten: 00:20:15 And then we’ll try to make like a side thing. Right. That is, that is that no one’s going to go to. Right. So, so what is your I don’t disagree with anything that you’ve said. But what are you advocating? Like, what would you like to see as an outcome of doing these talks? W who, who are you hoping will change and what do you want them to do? So there, there are two parts to this. One is there’s, there’s the societal kind of all of the web part and then there’s the WordPress component of this and they kind of linked together. So for, for the community and I kind of bundle everything under the design community. If you’re a developer of any kind, you’re really a designer. You’re just not doing pixels like you designed data structures, you design code, you design how algorithms work and parse information and supply information based on everyone is a designer in some way or designing how people interact with that.

Morten: 00:21:07 For the design community I’m trying to help people understand that ethics can actually be a very effective design tool. That if we use ethics in a structured way and agree upon certain principles around the type of work we do, we’ll be able to build constructive futures for our users on ourselves. And I’d like to say this, as designers, we are literally the people who build the future because every decision we make, our decisions that we make on behalf of other people and those decisions form what possibilities those people have to go into their futures. And it actually shapes the future for those people. So when we make decisions about how the web works and how we want people to use it, we have to consider what type of future are we building for those people in, for ourselves. And what capabilities are we modifying in the people we designed things for and how are we altering their ability to interact with the world by making these interfaces?

Morten: 00:22:18 And when you look at it like that, you all of a sudden realize it’s less about where you put the pixels or how many ads you can cram into a page. Then what are you actively doing to change the life of the person you’re designing for? And getting people to that point. It’s very, once you understand that premise, it’s very hard to go back and say, no, no, I don’t care about this. I’m just going to make a database table. If you start thinking about your work differently and if you talk to doctors or lawyers or structural engineers or electricians and all those, all those people think that way because all those people are in, in industries that had this reckoning 50 years ago, hundred years ago, 600 years ago, and have built this way of thinking into their industry. We are acting like stupid kids and pretending like this doesn’t apply to us.

Morten: 00:23:14 Right? Meanwhile, we have a larger impact on the world than any of those groups do, right? So we’ll think about it this way, even if you ever been to the hospital. Sure. Have you ever had like an injury or been sick to the point where you’re like, I can’t do this on my own, I need help. Yeah, absolutely. So you go to the hospital and you go, here, take my body and do what you want with it. I trust you completely. That’s what you do when you go into the hospital, right? These people have a building full of tools to kill you and they know exactly how to do it. And you’re like, I’m fine. Just here’s my body. I’m F you can turn me off if you want to just go ahead, turn off my body. I have a friend who had a heart murmurs and the way they solved that, it was literally stopping her heart and starting it again.

Morten: 00:24:08 Think about that. It’s like you go through a person who’s like, please turn me off and just boot me up again. I’m fine with this. Right? And then we in return go give me all your data. I’ll use it to try to program you to do something I want. That’s, that’s the balancing act, you that right now. Right. So it’s like they have an industry based on an absolute trust. We have built an industry based on an absolute exploitation of the user and we need to somehow narrow that capital base. Right. And then for the WordPress community, because the way that this links to the WordPress community is we are in an extraordinary position of WordPress has proven beyond any doubt in a way that no other software has. That this concept of open source actually works. This, this absolute is socialist view of the world, of the software world.

Morten: 00:25:07 As those who have the ability to write software, contribute that software with no strings attached and those who need that software can use that software in any way they want with no strings attached and at no point in that transaction is there ever an actual transaction beyond here’s my contribution, do whatever you want with it. You can trust me that I do the right thing. That’s like WordPress has proven that in a way that nothing else has and it’s continuing to thrive and there’s an entire economy built around it that isn’t actively trying to destroy it. Well, there are in theory an economy around it that is not harmful to the community itself and practice that is changing, which I’ll talk about at the at PressNomics, but the, the, the core idea has been proven to be functional. The result of that is I’ve, WordPress now has a bigger footprint than anything else on the web.

Morten: 00:26:05 Like this number we keep throwing around 34% or whatever it is now. It’s significant because what WordPress does becomes the cow path. The web follows. So if WordPress makes a decision, the web just goes in that direction because there’s such a huge amount of sites on the web that will do the thing WordPress does automatically just because it’s a baked into WordPress that the web browsers will go, well, okay, I guess we have to implement this thing now and they’ll do it and then other people will do the same. That is a responsibility that we’ve built for ourselves and it’s a responsibility we need to take on. So what happens now is aren’t from purely web platform perspective. We now have to make decisions not on behalf of WordPress, but on behalf of the web. Meaning that we need to, when we see something that we want to implement on the web, we have for that benefits WordPress, we actually have to consider is this a thing that we want the web to do as a whole?

Morten: 00:26:58 Right? So you’re back in that duty ethics thing. Like when we do this, is this the thing that we, is this how we want the web to work right now or is this just a convenient solution for us? And do we have the right reasons for doing this? Are we carving the right path into the future for everyone to follow? The other part is when we, when new technologies come on board, like right now we’re talking about lazy loading images as a, as a native feature in, in browsers. When new features come to the web platform, because WordPress is so big, WordPress implementing those new features forced those features to come to the web platform sooner. WordPress not implementing those features make the platforms slow down. And there are now people in the web standards community who are concerned about WordPress slowing the web down because we’re so slow at adopting modern practices because of policies around how WordPress does things.

Morten: 00:27:57 And also because the WordPress community isn’t very well connected to the, the forward looking web community, we’re kinda in our own little bubble. We sit on our own Island and not properly connected to the other islands around us. So there’s a job in starting to carve, like starting to clearly defined Woodward versus role is on the web and how we use that role. Like there is an open question of why we are not represented in like the W3C or in the the thing that’s called what WG like the, not standards body, but the actual meaning bearing body that decides how the web technologies should work. It’s weird that WordPress isn’t at that table. And the reason why we’re not at the table is because we don’t have any kind of agreed upon policy on what the web should look like at all.

Morten: 00:28:45 Nor do we have any mechanism for making those decisions. Right? So there’s no way for anyone to go and say, I represent WordPress because WordPress cannot be represented because we don’t know what WordPress ones because WordPress is not an entity that has an opinion about anything, right? Where businesses have random conglomeration of people who have ideas and they just throw them into a bucket. And then some of them wind and some of them lose, but there’s no system to it. And then if you scale that up and say, how does the, the environment that we work in, so the internet, the web work all of the stuff that happens over these cables and opens a space and all that stuff is governed by governments and laws and regulations. And those governments are now trying to regulate that space very aggressively to the point where they’re serious consideration being made about platform responsibility as an if like let’s say terrorist starts live streaming and attack on a platform, the platform is responsible in some way and that trickles all the way down to open source software that if you write software that is that can be shown to be an integral part of some form of crime, you as a software developer are going to be held in some way legally responsible for the outcome of that crime because you provided the tools necessary.

Morten: 00:30:09 Right. And where do we draw the line though? I mean this is like the telephone been used to commit a crime. You know, these are the important questions. No one is asking because we are not at the table. That’s the thing. Like you have to understand, the politicians are looking for quick wins. What they see is a lot of people are being radicalized on the internet and turn into criminals or terrorists. What platforms are they using? Is there some way we can just stop them from having these platforms and on the go out and they say, how? How are they doing this? Where are they doing it on? And then they go, well you know, here’s Facebook. Some terrorists have used Facebook to do this stuff on Facebook. Immediately shows up and goes, look, look, we are not a media platform we on have no control over.

Morten: 00:30:59 When people publish, we do everything we can to prevent them from doing this. But some things slip through, right? So then they go, okay, who else can we blame? Oh bloggers who speaks on behalf of bloggers, no one, right? And then they go, well that’s an easy deal, right? We’ll just take the people who don’t respond. Silence is compliance. So we’ll just crack down on them instead. That’s what’s happening right now because no one is sitting at the table and going, I started out, I speak on behalf of these people and let me show you how this actually works, right? So WordPress is now the entity on the web that actually has enough clout to be able to go into those conversations and speak on behalf of us and say things like what you just said that you know the hammer analogy does not work here.

Morten: 00:31:45 However, you can also not say we have to restrict the use of publishing software simply because people publish garbage. What we have to do is figure out other ways of moderating what is happening on the internet and figure out how to place responsibility where it belongs, right? Like the the, the regulation level needs to be at some other place. Then if you contributed a line of code to some open source software, at some point you can be held legally liable for some random thing someone else did 10 years later. That doesn’t work. We need to find a different way of handling this. I mean in the, in the scenario you just put forth what would to me that would be so clearly addressed by like some kind of DMCA thing to the hosting provider, wherever, whichever is like physically hosting the server where that’s happening on.

Morten: 00:32:30 They can take it down. But how the heck would you go after the code base of the CMS that was used to build the platform that they happen to be using? That’s just a random, it’s easy. The hosting provider has a lawyer, we don’t so okay, let’s do proud of this as Hey, we have no control over when people use the software for the software should put limits on it. Right. And then the presidents go, okay, can the software do limits on it? Can someone speak on behalf of the software or no one to speak out? That sounds irresponsible. Why don’t we just take them down instead? Like the way that real world works is uncomfortably stupid, right? Like when you look at how these things work is literally like they will go down the causal chain until they find someone with either a bad answer or no answer.

Morten: 00:33:16 And then they put all the blame there, right? And when we are not in those conversations and then we just end up holding all the shit right and then all the people with money will just be like awesome. This means that we can not only like take away our competition, but we can put all the blame for everything on the competition because they’re just not in the conversation the heck they’re choosing to stay out of this. Awesome. We’ll just like funnel the problems down there and then we’ll come in and be the heroes and say, you know what? We can restrict this. We can provide publishing platforms where we control everything and you don’t have to worry about this and all those stupid open source people. They will never be able to do this again cause they’re so irresponsible. Right? Like the, the, the way this can be played is plain to see.

Morten: 00:34:04 And the terrible part is, if we will, it will be, it will inevitably go to that path. Just given the economic incentives. Like it’s not just that it can, it’s just, it will inevitably go there. Honestly happening this, these conversations happening right now, they will be, some of these things will be adjudicated before this year is over and we’re not in those conversations. Right? So some of this, like if we boot everything up now and actually get representation, it’s too late for some of this, right? We’ve been banging this bell for years. No one has done anything about it. We’ve been actively blocked the whole way through. And I was like, well, you know, now at least now we get to see what happens when we don’t take part and maybe we’ll be able to fix the next big problem because people finally realize that this matters.

Morten: 00:34:49 But it’s very important to understand that there’s very little malice in any of this. Like none of the actors that are involved here are doing any of this because they’ve won to in any way destroyed the idea of the web. However, there’s a lot of money and power involved. So there, there’s a really important distinction between a company protecting their financial interests by going into conversation like that and saying, we’re not to blame. You should blame the other people. And saying that company’s doing that because they want to destroy the web and that’s a, it’s a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people because they want to see, you know, ISP or large providers or you know, large commercial interests in open source or somewhere else as these villains who are there to destroy what we have. The reality is just is far more complex, but it’s basically everyone has interests that they want to protect and big financial entities have big financial interests and responsibilities that they wanted to protect and they have the means to do that protection.

Morten: 00:35:57 And the results of that is like someone pays all the time, like someone benefits someone is then this disadvantage someone profits and someone pays is, that’s just how the world works. So whoever has the means to go into a conversation and steer, that conversation will end up being rewarded for it and staying out of those spaces and refusing to take part or just choosing to not take part due to some misunderstood ideology about how the world works is harmful to the community. So this whole, the, the impetus of the WordPress governance project, which we started last year, is not to somehow go in and say word press is going in the wrong direction. We want to take control. Almost all the people, you know, Viva, I’ve lost you on nothing like that. The impetus of the WordPress governance project was literally we are not speaking up to protect ourselves at all.

Morten: 00:37:01 And the reason we’re not doing that is because we have no mechanisms in place to make any decisions about what we want and any attempt at making a decision about what we want, it gets shouted down aggressively because we have no one making, like we have no structures within the program to make decisions. So it’s literally a system of whoever shouts the loudest wins and the people that are shouting the loudest or people who have a deeply entrenched moral belief that politicians should not be able to control their space. But that’s the difference between moral and ethics. That’s a personal belief system that doesn’t necessarily correspond with other world really works. And what we need to do is figure out a way for WordPress to have enough governance to be able to make decisions for on behalf of the project. Assign like create policies, assigned people to represent those policies and push those policies into whatever bodies are the ones that make those decisions better.

Morten: 00:38:05 Whether that be web platform or whether that be politics and it’s incumbent on us to do it because we are the biggest footprint on the web and our absence in those conversations means that anyone would less of a footprint coming in, we’ll be ignored because they’ll just say, but what about that giant monster called WordPress? Why aren’t they here? If they’re not here, that means they, they’re okay with what we’re doing. Right. So it’s a, we did a poor job in explaining, well, I tried to explain it. I just didn’t, I wasn’t fully cognizant of how many people in the WordPress community were looking for someone to start a coop or something like that. It’s, I’ve been asked a lot of times like, is this a cool, when is the revolution starting? I’m like, I don’t know. This is not the revolution you’re looking for at all.

Morten: 00:38:56 Like I’m not interested in any of that stuff. I just want to have, sure and I want to have decision making bodies that actually are able to move this forward. And I want us to like I want Matt to be the visionary leader he can be and not be burdened down by all these small little maintenance things. Right? I want him to be able to carve a carve a path for WordPress and the web because his vision got us here. It’s just that the project is so large now that there are all these little things that shouldn’t be on his plate that are on his plate because the entire leaders have structures. Just Matt, everyone else. Right? And then so I want us to have a system in place where he can do that, where he can be the visionary, he can carve the path thing and say this is where we’re going.

Morten: 00:39:42 And then people can have opinions all they want about it, but like that’s where we want to go. And then have some sort of pyramid structure underneath them that can take, that can actually have strong opinions and do the work of figuring out what is the relevant information that we need to bubble up to the decision making body to say these are like, this is the relevant information in this area, this is where we should go. Right. So the advisory bodies that actually know about web standards and know about the politics and know about all these other pieces and say, you know, this is what’s happening. This is what we should do, this, this fit with the overall plan and then we can, you know, make system so that when some random person who just pops into the community who’s never interacted with the community before, knows who to talk to to get the thing that they want.

Morten: 00:40:28 Like if they are raising an issue, they should know if I go to this group here and flag it, they have, it’s, they have a responsibility to then do something about this. Either say, no, we’re not doing this or do the research or send it off to the right people or like do something so their things don’t get lost. Right. we just need to manage the project the way that a project this size should be managed. I mean, management structures exist for a reason. Things get too big to be not managed. And it’s extraordinary that we’ve gotten to this point without that. And much of the reason for that is we have all these things in place already. They’re just completely ad hoc and they’re not, they’re not established in a structured way. So, so now we have all these problems where like the community team of couple of weeks ago published an article where they said that we need to find a way of better enforcing conflicts of interests.

Morten: 00:41:26 And I was like, well, we don’t have a conflict of interest policy. What the hell are you enforcing? And the answer is, well, you know, the people who are making these decisions have a good understanding of what conflict of interest is. But that’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no. That means that you have individuals making decisions that are not consistent with any kind of structured way of doing things. And I’m sure it works fine except the time it doesn’t. And there’s no way for anyone to know what’s working. So there are all these pieces that are missing that need to be there. And the only way to do that is to have proper governance.

Sean: 00:41:58 So, so let me just kind of summarize and make sure that I understand everything you just said and what I’m taking from all of this, cause I never heard of the WordPress governance body that you’re talking about. I’ve, I’ve, I guess been in the dark somewhere that I didn’t hear about that, but it’s not anything like a choosing coding standards or something within WordPress. Like should Gutenberg be rolled out in the state that it’s in with accessibility issues or whatever’s going on there. It’s basically taking a step back and in the larger landscape of all CMS is and entities, things like Facebook and politicians and saying, Hey, WordPress, whatever differences we have amongst ourselves as developers and opinions of how things should work, we need to unite as a group just so we can have a seat at the table in this larger conversation because we are going to get swept, you know, just by default because we don’t have a seat there. Decisions will be made that put us at a disadvantage. So we should at least rally together on those issues and have some media.

Morten: 00:42:56 It’s both. It’s both. So just for clarity, so you know what I’m talking about. So we launched a thing called the word risk governance project last year. It’s a research project that sits outside the WordPress community. Like it’s an independent thing that sits outside with a large number of people involved who are WordPress contributors, but it’s not part of the official WordPress project. And the WordPress governance project is trying to figure out what should governance look like in a thing like WordPress based on other examples of other similar organizations based on what is needed for an organization like this. And so there’s a ton of work being done around that. And the governance project is trying to deal with two different things. One is that WordPress itself doesn’t have any kind of governance structured officially that allows us to make decisions about WordPress itself.

Morten: 00:43:50 And it also doesn’t have any kind of structure in place to allow us to make, to, to officially have policies around things like how the web works and how the internet is governed by politics. And all of that is necessary. So internally for WordPress’s own sake, proper governance is needed. And Josepha Haden, who’s the executive director of WordPress now of the WordPress project, she is also doing governance work right now. So she’s starting to talk about advisory committees and all that kind of stuff. So you can imagine like she’s doing the work inside the community. The WordPress governance project is sitting on the sidelines and doing more meta research around that as to try to bring informed opinion to the WordPress project because one’s a once any kind of advisory committee or whatever is in place. We’re pressing these things like a conflict of interest policy, a privacy policy, a community code of conduct on a community ethics.

Morten: 00:44:51 A disclosure policy. Like there are all these things that we don’t have that other open source communities have established that we need so that we have something to point to. But then to have those things, we first need mechanisms to build them and ratify them and then implement and enforce them. And we have none of that. So it’s, that’s what the internal governance part is. Once we have the internal governance, we can then also make decisions about how do we create policy for the internet that we believe in as WordPress? And then how do we push that policy into the world? And part of those conversations are things like when you save we, what the hell does that mean? Who is we? Who is WordPress? Like who, who do you speak for when you say that you’re speaking for WordPress? I speaking for the people who contribute to the WordPress core project.

Morten: 00:45:40 So the contributors. Are you speaking to anyone who has a wordpress.org account? Are you speaking about anyone who has a wordpress.org account and a wordpress.com account? Are you speaking about anyone who ever touched us? WordPress in some way? I w w w who is the WordPress in that sense that needs to be defined because the ones that’s defined, then you can say, okay, so now we know who has a voice in these matters. And then we need to figure out, figured out a way of letting people have a voice in those matters so that we can do this in the way it should be done. And when I say all this, people like, well, you know, democracy in open source doesn’t work and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This is not democracy at all. This is not a call for voting on WordPress features. This is a call for having responsible governance of the largest open source project on the web.

Morten: 00:46:30 So that we don’t make colossal errors. And so we don’t guide the web into the row in the wrong direction because the, because of the personal morals or ideologies of individuals with very loud voices, and I count myself as one of those people. I mean I have very strong opinions about politics and how WordPress should do things and I’m extremely careful about making it clear to people that I have an ideology that I follow and that I have strong opinions about this and these are my opinions. And when I say something I can be very compelling, but that doesn’t mean that I a solution. It’s a right one. It is Ona opera is an opinion and then other people have opinions and we have to come together and find resolutions to any type of disagreement and then agree upon like this is the path that we’re going to follow forward the next year or two or five or whatever.

Morten: 00:47:28 And these are the we can agree upon and these are the policies that we believe in, right? Yeah. Yeah. The playbook because you need to be able to point to the rule set that then anyone can look at and arrive at the same conclusion. Basically [inaudible] to whoever’s in charge at whatever they say is gold. You need to be able to like, well how was that decision determined and is it consistent with what we all agreed on? So when people come to WordPress, they should be able to understand what they are, what they are adopting, right? Cause when you, when you start working with WordPress, you’re not just using software. It’s not like other software. When you, when you start working with WordPress, you automatically become part of this community and you become, you become a part of what WordPress will turn into. Every WordPress user has an impact on how WordPress moves forward and you need, we need to make sure that the people who sign up to that understand what that is, what the ideology is, what, where we want to go with this.

Morten: 00:48:34 And it can’t just be democratizing publishing, which no one has defined in any meaningful way. Right. What do you ask Matt? What democratizing publishing is? You don’t get a meaningful answer beyond like allowing everyone to publish whatever they want. They’re there. It’s not fleshed out to the point where it’s meaningful to people who don’t understand open source. When you talk about the four freedoms, the four freedoms, I’m not unique to WordPress, the four freedoms of just open source, but even, and even the four freedoms, when he started reading the opensource if you read the open source manifests and you start reading about like what is, what is the ideology behind open source? And you look at it in the, through the lens of what has happened in the last 20 years since open source was introduced, you’ll realize that the ideology that originally existed for open sores is part of the reason why we’re having so much trouble with the web today.

Morten: 00:49:29 Because the ideology assumes a bunch of things about how people behave and how the world works that isn’t accurate. And we need to kinda re condense that stuff and look at it through a modern lens and say, so we started here, now we’re here. These are our policies. This is what you become. Part of when you take this stuff and when people come to this, they need to be able to know who’s in charge, who do they talk to, when something goes wrong, where do they bring up their new ideas and their requests and their wants and needs and desires and goals and everything in such a way that they can have a constructive conversation about it and move the platform in the way they need. What are the four freedoms that you were just referencing? So the four freedoms are, what is it the freedom to create? I said, look this up. It’s like the, I want to make sure that I’m quoting this correctly. Forgive me one second.

Morten: 00:50:23 We have a page on the WordPress site.

Morten: 00:50:28 This very good. Let’s see if I can find it. Some WordPress philosophies. Google. It’s a wordpress.org/about/. Philosophy. and then you have the four freedoms which are enshrined in anything that’s licensed under GPL or the general public license is the freedom to run the program for any purpose. The freedom to study how the program works and change it to make it do what you wish. The freedom to redistribute the program and the freedom to distribute copies of your modified version to others. So that’s just GPS sent. So that’s GPL. Right? And that’s, that’s the, that’s the core of like when you, when you ask what does WordPress stand for? That’s what, that’s the answer you get. It’s the four freedoms. And then when you read the WordPress policy, if the WordPress policy is very much based on the software, like how the software works, it’s lean, it makes decisions on options.

Morten: 00:51:26 It’s about like how the application works and it’s, it’s not talking about the applications role in society and what, what people, what people use it for and how it is very much focused on this is just the code, right? But as you’ve seen and endless conversations on the web from a myriad of different community communities is there is no such thing as just code. We’re not just code. Software is politics. Right? If you, if you have one too, like I have this argument with people all the time on social media. I say design is political and software is designed there for it’s political and people are like, no, it’s not. And don’t drag politics into this. Just think about this for one second. The entire reason why the open source movement exists is because a guy decided that he should be able to open his copy machine and change how it worked and repair it himself.

Morten: 00:52:29 And a company shouldn’t be able to say, if you tamper with it, you destroyed his warranty. Right. That is a very strong political stance to say that I bought a thing, the company put a license on it and I want to be able to break that license. Right. That’s a strong individualist libertarian policy to say like once it’s mine, it’s mine. Yeah. Right. And a lot of the world is based around this. Like if you go and look at Europe, which is considered by Americans to be socialist, Europe has much stronger use or rights than Americans do. So if I buy a thing in Europe, the law literally says, I don’t know the exact text of it, but like if you buy a cell phone in Europe and a dies in a year, the company has to replace it because the thing is meant to last more than a year.

Morten: 00:53:22 And when I say men too, I don’t mean what the company, I mean the user has an expectation of the thing less than Garland a year. And it’s the user’s expectation that is the baseline for the law. So if you can save, if you sell like this phone to 10,000 people, the majority of those people say that the things should last more than two years and it doesn’t then, then the company has to replace it. And if someone buy something off a company that should be used, it should be able to be used in a different device than it has to be. Like when Apple was selling music that could only be used on Apple devices, Europe was like, you can’t do that because they’re buying music. They’re not buying music that was for their device to just buying the music.

Morten: 00:54:05 So the music has to be playable elsewhere. Right? The users rights is enshrined in this ideology, but it hasn’t been what that means for the user hasn’t been properly defined and how we make sure that those rights are properly protected, have not been defined. Because when politicians sate see that list, what they see is this is a community of people who are actively abdicating their responsibility of what they create. They’re saying, I made a thing. Anyone can take it and do whatever they want with it, so I don’t have a responsibility for it. And then the politicians goal, that’s not how the world works. You can’t build a building and then say anyone can tamper with it any way they want. If a false down is not my fault. Right. The reason why we’re getting away with it or have gotten away with it so far is because software seems innocuous.

Morten: 00:55:01 It seems like a thing that people can’t do something but, but even guns have regulations in place specifically because of these reasons. Right? There, there are the reasons why, like you can just three D print a gun, even in the United States, the, there are limitations to everything. And we are in a situation now where those limitations, like the other industries have figured out a way of putting limitations on themselves to take the responsibility on, in an effort to prevent governments from doing the work for them. Because if the governments do it, they do it wrong because they’re not properly informed. Right? So the industry steps forward and says, we’re going to start doing this work and then we will ask you the people we elect to be our representatives in government to implement the things that we want so that we self-regulate through law. Right. And, but when you don’t, the government just says, okay, we’re just going to make laws and that’s where we are.

Sean: 00:55:56 Okay. So the things that I’m hearing in terms of like desired outcomes, obviously the governance project is you’re, you’re involved in that. And I see now what the role is in terms of internal as well as external and how that fits in there. But in terms of just speaking to anyone, forget WordPress for a second. You, you know, these talks that you’re doing have ramifications for anyone. Whatever they’re doing. Like you’re basically asking that people think this database that I’m designing and full know full well knowing that perhaps you know, its, its intended use is to categorize people in some way that you don’t agree with. Well the fact that you’re enabling that capability, you’re saying don’t do that. Like you’re, you can’t just abdicate and say, Oh this is my job, this is what I’m doing. You’re, you’re basically asking people to like start owning the outcome of their labor and what it’s, what it’s going to be used for. I guess where I start to get unclear is when you develop a platform that is open ended as something like WordPress for expression

Morten: 00:56:54 And what did w

Sean: 00:56:57 What is your obligation to put safeguards to make it so that a terrorist can radicalize someone with it? I mean like how do you even go about doing that?

Morten: 00:57:06 It’s so, in my opinion, that’s very much my opinion. Of course you can’t say, here’s Photoshop. If you make offensive content with Photoshop, Photoshops could detect that and then turn your computer off. Like that’s not how the world works at all. Right? but what you can say is we’re going to allow for someone to write software that in its license says this cannot be used to harm other people,

Morten: 00:57:46 Right? We can build software in such a way that we actively look for ways to software can be harmful and we do our job to prevent as much as possible that suffer from being used for those harmful purposes. We can think about when we build our software, how it’s, how we can make it in such a way that it isn’t accidentally harmful to other people. WordPress has done a really good job at those other softwares, have nods, done a good job at this. I think Mo, a lot of this has to do with how diverse the WordPress community is. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed or thought about it, but you know, when you set up a user profile in WordPress, you can, you have a first name and a last name. And then you have that drop down where you can choose how you want to display your name and it has all these different permutations as like first name, first and last name, the last name, first and first name. And then like just the nickname or whatever. That is an example of considering users beyond your immediate surroundings, right? Because Europeans and North Americans will not put their last name first and then their first name, but Asians do in some countries, right? So it allows for a larger population to be using this. And like that type of thinking requires some introspection on what is it I need and what does it other people need. And then you have to go out into the real world and say, what is it people actually need? Yeah.

Sean: 00:59:11 Ad infinitum. It’s just like the entrepreneur in me says, yeah, that’s a noble goal and I want to be able to accommodate any scenario and be very cognizant of cultural differences and whatnot. But the entrepreneur is like, that’s all pre optimization. Like, I’m also worried about just making a product good enough to get it out there and solving the 20 other challenges that I’m facing immediately. You know, like so what is that balance?

Morten: 00:59:32 So, so that’s where the ethics methodology comes in, right? That a lot of this has to just to with what kind of ethos you base your decision making on the web or the tech industry in general have so far based or their ethos is the whole and move fast and break things. Right? And that just resulted in us breaking down democracy. That was like, Oh K maybe the breaking things got a little too far. Right? So then we have to go, okay, what else? What kind of other ethos can be base things on? And then you can say, what if we, instead of saying move fast and break things, we say modify people not modify people’s capabilities in such a way that they can do and be what they have reason to value, right? Cause design in a very real sense is modifying what people can and cannot do through their capabilities.

Morten: 01:00:30 So you give them new capabilities or you present them with capabilities they can choose to use or you limit their capabilities in some way or you remove their capabilities completely in though in an effort to somehow change their life so that they can meet their goals. And if we direct our focus of our design towards trying to give people or modify people’s capabilities in such a way that they can do and be what they want to be, well they have reason to value that we’re not making value judgments about what they can or cannot do. But we’re carefully considering what we are, what tools we provide them, and what, what capabilities we provide them. And from there you can then say the, our goal in almost all design is to somehow carve a path into the future for the user that improves their life in some way.

Morten: 01:01:24 And when we have these cases of people using our designs for harm, it’s usually because we’re not considering what people S like what these tools really are. We’re more concerned about like trying to solve specific needs for people and then not thinking, but what is the tool that we’re creating in the process? Right? So to say that you can’t design word presentation the way they’ve word brisk can only be used to publish good content, but you can’t allow developers of WordPress to in their license say this cannot be used for criminal behavior or this cannot be used for terrorism or this cannot be used to distribute child pornography or whatever. That in itself is not going to stop that from happening, but that shows that you’ve considered the possible harmful uses of this and you’ve out loud what those possible, however harmful new uses are.

Morten: 01:02:22 So it’s at least something that is a consideration for you. Right. And that consideration in itself then makes you think more carefully about how these things work, right? So in the near future when we’re going to start talking about moving WordPress into the distributed web, right? Cause of WordPress is a good example of how you can do that. Where the web is decentralized and the data is distributed. So the data isn’t like sitting on one service, but it’s instead of distributed all over the place. All of a sudden this personal responsibility of what lives on your server becomes a very real thing because the onus of like this thing that happens now where FBI or whatever, it can go to an ISP or a host and say, we want access to this person’s data. What happens when that data is distributed across a million different servers and maybe you have a copy of someone’s data on your node because you use that data in some way.

Morten: 01:03:27 So you have a cache copy of that. And within that cash data is some sort of problematic piece of content, Ryan. And then they can come to you and say, actually, we want your data now. And unlike a big ass company that has millions of dollars and 800 lawyers in the back room, you don’t, and that or that government that’s coming after you is like no third Terra and new regime, they’ll just wants to destroy the world and you have no recourse to, you know, challenged on, in court. So there, there are all these, there are all these bigger pieces that come into play where we have to start thinking about what type of future are we building by allowing this particular behavior, enabling these capabilities and how do we ensure that we first of all know what future we want to build. And then also think about what are the consequences of that future existing and what are the possible things that could go wrong here and how do we as much as possible prepare ourselves for those negative consequences so that we have mechanisms in place to deal with them when they arrive.

Morten: 01:04:27 So we’re not sitting in a situation where we have to re retroactively try to solve problems we’ve introduced. So it’s a much more mindful way of think robotic design. But it’s not a, it’s not a thing where it says you can’t do this because it could possibly cause harm. It is more, you can document what type of harm you think it might cause and then try to design ways of dealing with that or limit that type of harm. So that it’s not blatant. Right? It’s the whole, once you know that putting metal beams in the door of a car can prevent people from being killed. Not putting a metal beam in the door of a car is irresponsible. Right. if you know that putting proper accessibility into your website allows people to access the content, not providing proper accessibility is actively harmful because you’re now making a deliberate choice to exclude people from access to that content. It’s, it’s the same kind of thinking. You have to take responsibility for your work.

Sean: 01:05:35 Yup. Cool. Well you know what, we’re just over the one hour Mark so I mean I’m sure we could keep talking for another couple of hours cause this is super interesting. I do have a set of questions that I ask all my guests. I want to ask you what is one book that has profoundly affected you in some way?

Morten: 01:05:50 Oh man. Kind of a question. Is that just, just give me one, I’m just looking for one. In this context I would say read Don the Daniel Kahneman’s book called thinking fast and slow. It’ll probably take you a year cause it’s like super dense. But understanding implicit bias is an enormous is very important for human beings and is also really informative for people who work with design. Just understanding how people make decisions and how much of our decision making is not conscious and how much of it is based on different types of bias. So he, he, the whole book is about cognitive bias and it’s really interesting.

Sean: 01:06:34 So I, I have not, I have that book on my Kindle. I have not read it up, although I just finished one called super thinking that references a lot of it. And the same thing, a lot of just cognitive biases and just a, what do they call those things, the mental models basically for process. So

Morten: 01:06:51 Thinking fast as low as a heavy, heavy, heavy textbook, but it’s worth reading incrementally over time to get a better understanding of just how people think and how they make decisions. Yeah, I would next question, predictably irrational is another one that I’d throw out there that on that vein, that’s another one to check out. Okay.

Sean: 01:07:09 What about, what is one person who you’d love to have dinner with? Living or dead? Doesn’t matter.

Morten: 01:07:21 I would say Thomas Kuhn, he’s the philosopher that came up with this idea of a scientific revolutions and the paradigm shifts mainly because it’s an unfinished thought. Like he came up with this grand picture and then it’s an unfinished thought and you’re like, what the hell? Finish the thought. Why are you doing? But it’s in the, in the the expanse, the TV show, there’s a scene where Holden, the main character suddenly realizes something enormous. Like he’s like, Oh my God, I suddenly understand everything and I’m, he’s talking to this journalist and he goes, I need to go somewhere right now. And he’s like, what the hell? Your brain just exploded. I have brain matter all over me. Why are you walking away? Right. That’s how I feel when I read Thomas skirt. I’m like, what can’t you get through this? And then just walk away from it.

Morten: 01:08:13 So that would be cool. But he passed away, unfortunately. All right, let’s do the ones I was like what about, what does one tool or hack that you use to save time, money or headaches? Ah, so there’s an app on my phone. It’s called pocket. Yeah. It’s a thing you use to tag tag articles, Frank. So I have quite severe dyslexia. So reading things takes a lot of time for me. And then what I do is I tag all the things I want to read on pocket in here. Yep. And then on pocket I can pick the article article shows up. And then you see up in the corner here, there’s a little your headphone button. And when you click the headphone button published by wired August 26, 2019, this story is part of a series on how we learn from [inaudible].

Morten: 01:09:10 It has all these really cool features. Like you can speed it up and slow it down. You can change the voice. And then what they’ve done is they’ve thought about how different people in different regions speak differently. So they have language settings. So you can choose to have like a person with a British accent or an English accent, but then you can also have a person with an Indian English accent and you can have like all these other ways of talking ring and if, and even like we’ll read in different languages, you can set it to read Norwegian in within our region accent. And it’s hilarious, but you’d like to send this up like read English with a Norwegian, it sounds to super absurd, but it’s a really useful app and it allows me to consume enormous quantities of content from the web without having to read it because reading it would take forever.

Morten: 01:09:58 So that like pocket I use all the time. Anytime I see anything I want to read, I just immediately tag it on my phone or on my computer. And then I’ll just, when I’m working out I’ll just start playing and it’ll just play through my whole reading list. So you just start the text to speech and then a little burned through however long you go. That’s awesome. Yeah, I use that app for a plane flight. So I’ll just be like kind of accumulating a set of stuff that I want to read and it caches it for offline reading. So then when you’re on the flight you can actually just burn through all the, all the stuff that you want to catch up on. But that’s very cool. Yeah. All right. Just a few more left. What about, what is one piece of music that speaks to you lately or a musical artist lately? The, I think the sudden emergence of, what’s her name? Billy

Morten: 01:10:59 Billie Eilish, Billie Eilish. She’s, I find it’s interesting, the building ILS, there’s an interesting artist. I’m not really into that style of music and I find her, her, the whole concept of her as an artist is really compelling to me because it’s saying something about our current the world and the social interactions we have cause her, her, her lyrics are very complex and deep and the way that her and her brother treat music is quite interesting. Like they’re, they’re kind of breaking all the rules. So you have somewhere between like Billie Eilish and animals as leaders, which is basically like jazz, heavy metal, somewhere a little bit different. But it, I find this, the edges of music are interesting to me. And there’s some, there’s a lot of strange things happening in music now and music is moving and new and very compelling directions because people can publish music online without having to have a record label behind them. And some of the stuff that’s coming out as really getting to the core of what music should be, which is this avocation of emotion and forced, like you’re forced into situation where you have to think about the world through the eyes of someone else because it’s imposed on you through their musical interpretation of the world.

Sean: 01:12:33 Very cool. Well, we’ll link to both of those and Eilish how do, how do you spell the last name? [inaudible]

Morten: 01:12:38 Yeah. Asking a dyslectic to spell something out loud. So it’s bill, Billy’s a, B. I. L. L. I. E. E. I. L. I. S. H. Billie Eilish. She’s like 17. Oh, very young. Very interesting. You have to look a little bit underneath the immediate surface of it. Like the music is catchy and compelling, but if you actually start like listening to the lyrics and try to look at what she’s trying to do, it’s very interesting.

Sean: 01:13:15 Cool. Well we, we’ll, we’ll we’ll link it up in the show notes for people. All right, two last questions here. What this one is, is heavy. So what important truth. Do very few people agree with you on

Morten: 01:13:30 That was the reaction I was expecting people agree with me on what important truth. I don’t think communication as possible.

Morten: 01:13:43 I think, I think we in most circumstances have the illusion of communication but I’m not sure communication actually happens on any meaningful level because language, especially English, but language in general is so heavily based on the individual interpretation of what words, phrases, sentences mean. And that is based on our, the totality of our experience, what society we grew up in. The inter personal relationships we’ve experienced and everything else that when we say things we are not, the interpretation of what we’re saying in the individuals who are taking part is so vastly different that there many times when our conversation between two people, it’s actually two separate conversations where both parties walk away thinking they’ve had a meaningful exchange. While in reality the, what they have had is two different experiences using the same language. And their, what they walk away with are two entirely different conclusions about what happened. So

Sean: 01:15:06 Interestingly, so I just interviewed a Heden shot, which is a, I don’t know if you know who that is, but really talented guy. His thing was that we’re basically saying similar, that we have a shared dream. It’s just a dream and it’s, we come away with our own kind of dream and it’s very ethereal and it evaporates. And as soon as this conversation ends, it’s over. But you’re saying that we, we had two different conversations. Interesting.

Morten: 01:15:33 Okay. You see it on social media all the time. People [inaudible] well, it’s so abstracted, right, because the, you jump into conversations with people who are U S in many cases have no shared context, right? You’re talking, there might be two people who are speaking a common language, but it’s not their primary language. They don’t know anything about each other’s social contexts. They don’t even know where they physically are in the world. And they have not shared a context coming into the conversation so they don’t know anything about what previous thing just happened to each individual. And then they’ll have a conversation together and the conversation will kind of just collapse on itself or turn into some sort of horrible miscommunication. And it’s very hard to pinpoint why the miscommunication happens and it’s because each person is imposing onto the other person their perspective without the other person having any way of, you know, mediating that. I found in some cases arguing with people on Twitter can only be resolved by getting on a video call with them because once they realize that, Oh, there’s a human being I’m talking to, then all of a sudden the conversation changes. Yeah. But even that is only effective in that you take away the edge, like you take away the impersonality of it, but the impersonality is just a small part of it.

Sean: 01:16:59 Yeah. Well this has interesting implications for WordPress itself. If you think about it, like if we, if, if we take that same, a phenomenon that’s occurring on Twitter where it’s kind of this disassociation, people feel kind of okay at a troll each other and say nasty stuff that you’d never say face to face, but now WordPress has like an opportunity. You might say that, okay, now we’re once, once we’re aware of this effect and we in theory as WordPress creators have the ability to bake into WordPress something maybe that makes it more human and more face to face. Then are we obligated to do that knowing that this is a big problem?

Morten: 01:17:34 I guess you could argue that we are,

Sean: 01:17:36 But that’s an [inaudible] conversation. All right, last question. What is, if you had a time machine to go back to your 20 year old self and give yourself any bit of advice, what would you say?

Morten: 01:17:47 I think about this all the time.

Morten: 01:17:54 I think my 20 year old self

Morten: 01:18:04 Should have stayed on his path because when I was 20, I was studying philosophy. And I got to a point where I, I ended up moving away from Norway in part because I needed to get away from my political involvement. I was very heavily involved with the labor party, which was currently in power. And I realized that like the path I was on was a path into national politics and I didn’t really want to do that. I still don’t, just the less clear when I talk about the path, I’m talking about the philosophy path. So in leaving I kind of left back academic career behind. And I’m, I’ve returned to it right in very real sense. Now because of all this ethics stuff cause I was studying ethics and I was going to go into the future ethics and all that kind of stuff and I’m kind of regretting not having gone down further down that path because I was onto something back then.

Morten: 01:19:07 That would’ve been really useful. Now, and I feel like it’s, it’s, this sounds really stupid and, and kind of megalomania ish, but I feel like the path I was on at that time around ethics was something that if I had pursued it, could have been, really, could in theory have been precedent setting for a lot of the conversations we have today because I was looking at the ethics of future technology and how we need to make decisions about how to like basically make ethical frameworks and decisions around how future technologies are developed before they are developed. So and the examples I was working on back then were things like the manipulation of the human genome and whether or not that should be done at all. Like if any research should be done on this. And now we have CRISPR, which is doing exactly that and we’re just talking about using CRISPR to genetically modify babies to eliminate diseases.

Morten: 01:20:09 But then you get into this whole thing about, but what if you start defining, you know, low muscle tone as a disease, or you can start just making designer babies. And that’s what I was thinking about back in the, when I was 20. And you see it too in things like a brain computer interface which I wish was also on my list of like, if we start thinking about putting brains computers into brains, what does that actually mean? And what kind of disparities in society that you create when you have people who can afford to do that. And people who can’t, or people who for whatever reason, cannot have that technology like due to medical reasons or whatever. And what does that mean for us as a species? And the path that I was going down at the time was this notion that in lieu of real natural selection, which we pretty much, we’ve pretty much removed because we now have medical science to prevent natural selects from happening in humans.

Morten: 01:21:09 Because we can keep, we can keep ourselves alive in a way that we couldn’t like three, 400 years ago. I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for medical science. Right? I wouldn’t have been born. So my son would’ve not been alive today. And what’s happening is we are now supplanting natural selection, which is a good thing. Like, no, sorry. We’re like, we’ve eliminated a lot of natural selection, which is a good thing because it allows a lot of people to contribute, like to come into the world and do things that we’ve, that previously wouldn’t have happened. And there are many of the great minds of our time that wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for medical technology. But then we’ve gotten this idea in our heads that we can use technology to advance human beings. But the difference between this idea of natural selection, which is that over time the species evolves based on its needs.

Morten: 01:22:01 Human beings, altering human beings is very much, we are trying to shape ourselves in our own vision and we know that the human vision of what the humans should be is quite problematic because it’s heavily biased towards people’s personal morals and all sorts of other craziness. So I’m, I’ve always been very uncomfortable with this idea of us manipulating ourselves. And what we’re seeing now is the thing that the medical science component of it, we’re praised most of doing the same thing in this, in the psychological space with the web as ever for reshaping the way humans think and behave through technology, through the web and develop and developing different ways of approaching reality in a very S on in a very not careful way. And I’ve kind of wish I had pursued that path further and gone more into the ethics of how technology shapes people than I did.

Morten: 01:23:01 I considered as bailing on it. I think it’s never too late to pick that up and start that working. Eventually do it. I just have to figure out a way of going back to school and still having a job and a kid and stuff.

Sean: 01:23:13 All right, well when you figure that one out, let me know. We’ll do a followup episode.

Morten: 01:23:18 So that cloning machine, I’m working on that well more than.

Sean: 01:23:22 I think it’s probably a good place to wrap up. How, if people want to connect with you on social media or what, where should we send them?

Morten: 01:23:31 Go to LinkedIn. Why not? [inaudible] My name is Martin run Hendricks, and you can find me there. I’m saying that because I’m kind of trying to get myself off Twitter. So yeah, that’s probably the easiest place. I have a website, [inaudible] dot com that’s M O R and under number ten one zero.com. You can find me where all the links are. Yeah, and you can go to LinkedIn learning and check out my courses. Cool. All right, well we’ll put those links in the show notes. Morton, thank you so much, man. Thank you for being on the show. Thank you. Cheers.

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