So, what is a Web Social Impact Analyst / Designer?
To my knowledge there is no such job title. It is, however, work that I feel is very important for society and that I would very much like to do. Essentially such a job would involve analyzing the social impact of web applications and mobile applications in terms of loneliness, mental health, the authenticity of relationships, the strength of communities and determine where the application has a positive impact and where it has a negative impact. Then the application would be redesigned in such a way that it would optimize its positive social impact and minimize its negative social impact.
It may be paradoxical to use the World Wide Web to combat problems that some believe has been created by the World Wide Web, such as loneliness and the decline of communities. Perhaps, however, this is simply a realization that the Internet or Web is a technology, and like all technologies is neither good nor bad, but can have more positive or more negative impacts depending on how we use it. Nuclear energy can be used to power our cities, homes and factories, or it can be used to destroy. Cars can be great transportation devices, but if not managed properly they can lead to serious environmental problems.
The Internet has the potential to allow people around the world to understand each other better, to access information at their fingertips that would previously have been extremely difficult to find, to bring people together, to help identify and solve our social problems, and to allow us to be more authentic with each other. It also has the potential to allow fake media stories to circulate, to allow totalitarian states greater ability to monitor and control their populations, to separate people, to present people with only views they already agree with and thereby accentuate the differences between groups, and to weaken people's ability to concentrate and focus. It has the potential to turn people into commodities where their personal information is collected and sold to the highest bidder in order for heavily targeted ads to be presented. It has the potential to help people be more productive by allowing them to access greater stores of information, or to be less productive, by fragmenting their attention and lowering their ability to concentrate. It has the ability to foster friendships by allowing people to find those who share similar interests to themselves to participate in activities together, or indeed by helping them understand those with different interests better. It also has the ability to foster separation by creating the illusion of togetherness through purely virtual friendships.
The World Wide Web is a fairly young technology, being first developed by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN 1991 on August 6, making it only 27 years old. We may have greatly solved many of the technological problems it faced, but it seems we are only starting to address the social impact of the World Wide Web. Perhaps it is now time to investigate how to minimize the negative social potential of the Web and bring out its positive social potential.