The edX President Anant Agarwal gives a talk about edX’s vision for the “future of education.”

A few weeks ago, the MOOC company edX announced yet another of its long line of pivots. Its patrons, Harvard and MIT, were selling off their edX stake to the for-profit online program management (OPM) provider 2U. In effect, edX, which had always touted its non-profit status as an asset — in stark contrast to its archrival, the venture-funded for-profit Coursera — was now to be a for-profit company, a subsidiary of 2U, though under the special status of “public benefit company.” To compensate for the fact that edX was no longer a non-profit, MIT and Harvard stipulated that they…

Mind control! CC-BY-2.0.
Mind control! CC-BY-2.0.
Mind control! CC-BY-2.0

The release of the documentary The Social Dilemma has understandably irritated scholars who study the social dimensions of science and technology. Lisa Messeri’s Twitter thread has an excellent summary of all that’s wrong with the documentary (all of which I agree with).

But the documentary’s starting point — that the technical mechanisms these companies have created to direct user attention (a.k.a. algorithms that make you doom-scroll) have deleterious consequences and are our biggest problem today— is something that at least some scholars agree with. I want to highlight one problem with this account (that keeps recurring in technology criticism…


I am an interpretive social scientist who studies platforms, algorithms, data, and expertise. Lecturer at UC-Berkeley. See for more.

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