Many believed the World Wide Web would lead to worldwide peace. Everyone would talk and understand each other, or so we thought. But it hasn’t turned out that way: even one of the inventors of the Internet says its design is creating outrage and polarization. The Web as we know it now, thirty years later, makes us more addicted, tribal, and afraid. But hope endures to restore some of the potential the Internet once had for understanding and meaningful connection.
We know from long-standing research that human decision making is very sensitive to the environment in which it happens. We also know that, as a result, even the subtlest design changes can influence human behavior. Therefore, it’s not a leap to believe—as the Prosocial Design Network does—that, through better design, we could change the Internet to be a better place. We can even imagine a future in which online interaction between strangers might evoke the same genuine empathy as if they met face-to-face.