How the modern Internet is crippling global innovation


Owen Biniecki, Writer

Dr. Lynda Ulrich came to BFA to share her life experiences and those of the thought leaders she’s met throughout her journey with Ever Widening Circles. Ulrich started her website’s biggest project, the Internet campaign #ConspiracyofGoodness on April 22.

“Ever Widening Circles has published over a thousand articles that are changing the negative dialogue about our times, and we do it with the promise of no politics and no commercial agenda. Most importantly, in the course of our work, we have uncovered a wave of progress that’s well underway but most people don’t know about it! Turns out, there are countless ingenious people and projects solving the world’s most vexing problems, wonders of nature and examples of soaring creativity all around us, and most of it is getting lost in the chaos of the web.  And here’s the thing: I’m convinced that before we can take advantage of all that good intention and genius, we’ve got to build relationships and talk about things that we agree upon,” Ulrich said.

Anyone who spends time knows, there seems to be so much more division than agreement.

“At Ever Widening Circles, we’ve found so much of that! What’s missing from the negative dialogue about our times, is that no one’s talking about all the good that’s happening, the ingenious thought leaders and the progress that we can all agree upon. Ever Widening Circles is on a mission to give people an alternative to the downward spiral conversations. #ConspiracyofGoodness is a new initiative on the web that reminds us all to use the power of our clicks to support the things we want to see in the world, and withhold our clicks from content that ratchets up the drama and fear. We can do this, person by person and actually change the web. Most importantly, we’re into keeping people under the tent together by focusing on efforts that make the world a better place for everyone. There’s just so much of that! These are exciting times,” Ulrich said.

The #ConspiracyofGoodness campaign is a project that propagates the stories of progress to other parts of the Internet that have not discovered Ulrich’s website.

“I talk quite often to global thought leaders who we’re writing about…. They are doing really meaningful stuff that’s going uncelebrated. And in the process, we’ve learned a lot about how the web works and it’s pretty surprising. The content we see on the web is based almost entirely on what I call an “attention economy;” whatever we click on, we get more of, both as an individual and as a collective. So anything that gets our clicks – good or bad – is what gets propagated. It’s that simple. I don’t think of it as some diabolical plan, it’s just the way the Internet evolved and now no one creates anything without measuring the attention it gets. Even you and I put up a social media post and immediately start checking to see if it’s getting clicked on. Right? Unfortunately, there are people who use this system to a bad end because there’s a lot of money, power and influence associated with ratcheting up fear and drama. And here’s the thing: the people we write about – people making the world a better place – don’t often start out with any influence or power, and most don’t have the money to compete on the same playing field with people who will do anything to get our attention. All that most thought leaders have is an amazingly ingenious idea that can change the world. Unfortunately, the way the Internet works now, their projects are living and dying not on their merit, but on just whether they can play the game to get our attention. But here’s the good news: the attention economy can work both ways!” Ulrich said.

The first step toward making change is understanding the factors that create or attribute to that change. It takes a real shift in mindset.

“With #ConspiracyofGoodness we are encouraging people to click on, share and otherwise celebrate the people and organizations making the world a better place, and then, consciously ignore things that are not helpful. Ignore the folks ratcheting up fear, divisiveness and drama. The easiest way to do that is to step away from our impulses on the Internet. Even when we click on things out of curiosity, boredom, or outrage, it’s still a vote for more of that kind of content. Remember that someone is counting every click we make, and it is a vote for more of that.  But if we all become multipliers for #ConspiracyofGoodness and start shouting out  businesses, organizations, friends, relatives and neighbors, who are doing good things to make the world a better place… if we start consciously giving our clicks to that stuff, that gets all the  momentum! Then content creators (both professionals and you and I) will start pumping out more of that! It’s just a voting system, and we vote for a different future if we start making sure everybody knows about all the possibility out there,” Ulrich said.

As Ulrich explained in detail, her goal is to turn the Internet’s environment from one of attention mongering to a place where meaningful and world changing projects can take relevance and find support. In the perfect world, Ulrich wishes to see these changes not only for the Internet, but for the globe as well.

“In the perfect future, people with ingenious ideas and a great generosity of spirit, are the people who get our attention, and we can grow what I call a “gratitude economy” where the things that we have to be grateful for get propagated. Everybody gets to participate in gratitude. Influence and money will have far less power there.  If you’re doing the right thing to make the world a better place for everyone, people can see that for themselves, then everyone’s going to be grateful… maybe not everyone, but a large portion of people are going to say “Oh my gosh, this is such a better future, I want to be a part of that!” So our goal is to grow the notions, the ideas, the projects that will make the world a better place for everyone, and that’s entirely possible,” Ulrich said.

To Ulrich, one of the most necessary changes that needs to happen in order to achieve her goal is to remove impulsive attentiveness from the minds of web consumers, as even one bored click gives negative content a vote.

“One of the things the renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan said right before he died was this: “The question is not whether we’re going to get to Mars, it’s whether we can become the people we need to become to make that journey.” If we can’t get along in a world where so much progress is being made, one where almost everyone has access to the insights of human history, where so many of us know where our next drink of clean water is coming from, all of that, then we can’t make the three year journey to Mars. He’s saying that evolution-wise, we’re going to have to move past the impulses we perfected in the Stone Age – like fear, anger, tribalism –  and we will need to become people who can master our impulses. The way the Internet works now, we are responsible for our own undoing. “I’m bored… click, click, click, click, click, click,” and I just voted for six things. If I click on the anaconda with a human form inside of it, or any other crazy thing, just out of curiosity… those are all “yes” votes, and that’s all that matters to the Internet. It doesn’t matter how good your idea is or how it can change the world, the way things get propagated and get funding, and get bigger, is whether a lot of people click on it. Unfortunately, a lot of content is just clickbait that takes our world further down the negative spiral,” Ulrich said.

Even though Ulrich knows negativity and the spread of fear is not necessarily good for the Internet as a community, she understands the importance of people getting some daily news; real news, not opinions. She encourages people to know the difference and says that if someone has the facts, they won’t be using fear to tell us the news of the day, and they won’t seem to have a sense of outsized emotions like astonishment or outrage.

“I get suspicious when people try to convince me of their opinion using fearful examples and anger. Usually, that indicates a lack of carefully sourced facts. Check it out next time someone is giving you “the facts.” Are they emotional, incredulous, outraged? Then they are in “opinion” land. And unfortunately, all that kind of acrimony causes people to tell me they have just completely turned off the news to stave off the sense of overwhelm. I get that’s a completely natural response, but it’s yet another impulse. It’s not following the logic. Logic tells us that we should all know about things happening out in the world each day, most importantly because the press is currently the only check we have on power. We don’t need to know about news broadcasters’ opinions about it. We just need to know what happened, so it expands our worldview. I encourage people to try to find the most unbiased source they can for news and information and watch it for ten minutes a day. But just tuning it all out is not safe. The ostrich with its head in the sand is the one that gets eaten by the jackal. Here’s the empowering thing: if you know more about the world of insights and innovations, then you can form your own opinions, be a thought leader in your circles, chart an informed path,” Ulrich said.

As Ulrich acknowledges the importance of an expanding worldview that includes both good and bad facts, she wants readers to know that is not just a place for sunshine and rainbows.

“We are not doing “puppies in mailboxes” sort of good news. That’s not what we do. We are not  another good news website. We are writing about science, innovation and wonders of nature that no one seems to knows about, meaningful things that are getting lost in the chaos of the Internet. People can take action from most of our articles, be inspired to share, be part of the Conspiracy of Goodness. They can support something that they discover, or share examples of real progress with their friends and help to get a following behind good things that are pointing to a better future for everyone. I believe we can change the world in that way. We know how the game of the attention economy works now and we can play it the opposite way; we can promote things that do good, and stop promoting things that are ratcheting up the drama,” Ulrich said.

After this, one may wonder what exactly Dr. Ulrich is talking about, or even what she wishes to accomplish. At her projects’ core is the idea that we have a conscious choice over what we give our attention to, and how powerful that is, especially when positive innovation continues to take a back seat in the Internet’s scene.

“We can choose two things in this world, one is our perspective, the second is what we give our attention to. Attention is so valuable right now, because people aren’t being cognisant of how they’re spreading their attention around. They’re spreading it so thin, and without realizing it, promoting things out of curiosity or boredom. Whereas, if we start thinking, “Is this what I want to  give my attention and my vote to, right now?” The answer will make us smarter, and better decision makers. Think about how that would change business decisions, or parenting, or teaching, or government, if people were very careful about the stories they tell themselves about the world, and what they listen to and pay attention to,” Ulrich said.

We did not evolve through the last 100,000 years on a steady diet of fear, hopelessness, and anger.

Human beings thrive on curiosity, challenge, and cooperation. We are at our very best when situations call for courage, compassion, creativity, and collaboration. And we persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Continuing to overcome in bleak places because of our ability to see beauty, humor, and wonder in the world around us, no matter the blight.

Perhaps it’s time to remember all that and begin a conscious effort to follow our strengths as we chart a new course for ourselves and the web.

The positive potential of the web is vast and yet unexplored. We can each find a place there.