The problem with 'dots': questioning the role of rationality in the online environment

Leiser, Mark (2016) The problem with 'dots': questioning the role of rationality in the online environment. International Review of Law, Computers and Technology, 30 (3). ISSN 1360-0869

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    Regulatory theorists often use the ‘dot’ as a metaphor to help conceptualise their models of a given environment. Lessig famously used the ‘pathetic dot’ in his classic, ‘Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace’ and Murray’s ‘Regulation of Cyberspace’ used interconnected dots to help describe networked communitarianism and to discuss the effectiveness and implementation of symbiotic regulation. However in both models, the dot is seen as a rational actor. The rational ‘dot’ is presumed to have a complete set of preferences and the ability to gather all the necessary information in order to make an informed decision that optimally reflects their choices and preferences. However, research from psychology and, increasingly, economics has shown that humans are often prone to making errors in judgements. The paper argues that using the metaphor of dots to describe how rational actors behave in the digital environment is problematic. Actors deploy heuristics when making judgements, resulting in systematic errors and biases, often compromising the assumptions of the regulator. Accordingly, the way actors behave in the online environment is not rational at all; thus, models built on rationality start from a false premise.

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