“The urban village. A Jane Austen vision of pastoral Britain complete with farmers’ markets and bunting projected on to high streets up and down the country. Oblivious to the green beacon of the job centre; impervious to the homeless man asleep in the shop doorway; pro-bike, anti-lorry; in short, a regression. A total refusal on behalf of those involved to accept the functional requirements of cities under the duress of population growth. I could go on, citing the relationship between this and our present housing crisis, yet that very fact – that all I can think to do in reaction to a system that is severely stifling all of our future prospects – is more relevant to my purposes in writing this.”—Somesuch » Twee Advertising and the Infernal Urban Village by Nathalie Olah
Then, a funny thing happened. One night, a couple of years ago, I was in an Uber SUV in NYC, headed to Penn Station to catch the train to Washington DC when I got a text message from a tech socialite of sorts (I’ll spare her name because Gawker has already parodied her enough), but she’s someone I hardly know, asking me if I was in an Uber car at 33th and 5th (or, something like that). I replied that I was indeed, thinking that she must be in an adjacent car. Looking around, she continued to text with updates of my car’s whereabouts, so much so that I asked the driver if others could see my Uber location profile? “No,” he replied, “that’s not possible.”
At that point, it all just started to feel weird, until finally she revealed that she was in Chicago at the launch of Uber Chicago, and that the party featured a screen that showed where in NYC certain “known people” (whatever that means) were currently riding in Uber cabs. After learning this, I expressed my outrage to her that the company would use my information and identity to promote its services without my permission. She told me to calm down, and that it was all a “cool” event and as if I should be honored to have been one of the chosen.
Ello, there’s a lot coming your way, if you do well. The big social networks will compete with you, try to crush you. Users will badger and blame you. Press will misquote, villainize, and oversell you. Governments will threaten and pressure you. Mysterious forces will DDoS you and hunt your users’ data. Well-meaning(ish) assholes will announce your security flaws in public. Enraged people will publicly claim you’re a CIA, NSA, or an FBI front company. Moles will try to work for you. Downtime will threaten you. Actual mentally ill people will threaten you. Toxic communities will blame you for their problems. Media will blame you for your toxic communities. The code won’t scale. The revenue model won’t be quite right. The hosting will be problematic. People will blame you for bigotry, hate, and even aiding human rights abusers and criminals.
In fact, for at least a decade, physical underground music has been shadowed online by mp3 rips on blogs and file-sharing out of convenience, even with lo-fi and analogue warmth being as popular as ever.
The analogue retroism of recent years, which may once have been a bulwark against the oncoming digital technocracy, is now buckling under the sheer pressure of the ease and ubiquity offered by the latter. It can no longer be fought through countercultural romanticism—not using the internet is as good as not breathing—and now artists are going with the flow, especially those who have no nostalgia for the older ways.
“One of the reason I am fascinated by Google Maps and apps like Foursquare is not because they solve a very real problem, but instead, for me they are a living test bed of an Internet that is shape-shifting in real-time, is data rich and hyper-personalized to such an extreme that it can predict what comes next almost automagically. It is a network that uses connectivity to its extreme and offers the impossible.”—40 Kilometers | @Om
“If Westminster is locked into a paralysing neoliberal consensus it is partly because the corporate media, owned and staffed by its beneficiaries, demands it. Any party that challenges this worldview is ruthlessly disciplined. Any party that more noisily promotes corporate power is lauded and championed. Ukip, though it claims to be kicking against the establishment, owes much of its success to the corporate press.”—How the media shafted the people of Scotland | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian
In the context of cloud computing at least, corporate authority is limited to the extent that online operators like Amazon, Google, or Facebook must abide to the basic tenets of law. In the case of Ethereum, the authority of the code cannot be questioned, nor can it be repealed by the law. In that sense these challenges are actually more similar to the issues emerging with the advent of autonomous agents – such as evolutionary software viruses or (though perhaps limited to the realm of science-fiction for now) intelligent robots with an autonomy on their own — than they are to traditional P2P applications.
Ethereum and other blockchain-based applications might well liberate us from the tyranny of large online operators. We just need to make sure that we don’t exchange that for the “tyranny of code”: rules dictated and automatically enforced by the underlying code of an online platform that only exists in the “ether”…
The widespread hatred of what’s happened with Facebook, in particular, is a constant gripe not just for users (I finally deleted my personal Facebook account, and kept only the fan page) but also marketers, who have developed huge followings that they now have to pay to reach. But as was pointed out by a speaker at the conference, this is all the fault of myself and my colleagues:
"We’re the problem! We broke Facebook. They had to switch to promoted content because we were spamming people with garbage. ‘Here’s a picture of the sun! Do you YOU like the sun? ‘Like’ this picture of you like the sun!’ WE ARE THE PROBLEM."
“I asked one, an old friend I hadn’t seen for at least 10 years, why he’d be voting yes. “I changed my mind quite a while ago. For me it’s about the way Britain has gone - the extremes of wealth and poverty that people down south seem comfortable with, the dominance of the privately educated people in all walks of life, the rise of UKIP, the talk of leaving the EU and a Labour Party that I don’t really recognise any more”.”—Scotland’s Decision
“They herald a cultural movement among the young which may become part of the history of our time … For those with eyes to see it, something important and heartening is happening here. The young are rejecting some of the sloppy standards of their elders … they have discerned dimly that in a world of automation, declining craftsmanship and increased leisure, something of this kind is essential to restore the human instinct to excel at something and the human faculty of discrimination.”—New Statesman | From the archive: The Menace of Beatlism
The Web I want doesn’t have DRM in its standards, because the Web I want doesn’t believe it’s legitimate to design computers so that strangers over a network can give your computer orders that you aren’t allowed to know about or override.
Unfortunately, the W3C has caved to Netflix, the BBC and other big rightsholders who insisted that this become part of the HTML5 standard. Now that DRM is going to be in every browser as standard, any Web-capable computer will have software whose flaws are illegal to report (because disclosing information that can be used to break DRM is illegal all over the world), and will become reservoirs of long-lived vulnerabilities ripe for exploitation by voyeurs, identity thieves, creeps, spies, cops, and corrupt governments.
“We quickly realized that the tech-centric narrative of privacy just doesn’t fit with people’s understandings and experience of it. They don’t see privacy as simply being the control of information. They don’t see the “solution” to privacy being access-control lists or other technical mechanisms of limiting who has access to information. Instead, they try to achieve privacy by controlling the social situation. To do so, they struggle with their own power in that situation. For teens, it’s all about mom looking over their shoulder. No amount of privacy settings can solve for that one. While learning to read social contexts is hard, it’s especially hard online, where the contexts seem to be constantly destabilized by new technological interventions. As such, context becomes visible and significant in the effort to achieve privacy. Achieving privacy requires a whole slew of skills, not just in the technological sense, but in the social sense. Knowing how to read people, how to navigate interpersonal conflict, how to make trust stick. This is far more complex that people realize, and yet we do this every day in our efforts to control the social situations around us.”—danah boyd | apophenia » What is Privacy?
I’ve never quite got to grips with social networking. Sometimes I get Facebook friend requests from complete strangers, with no message attached, and I wonder if they have confused me with someone else. I usually decline.
I’m also similarly confused by Linkedin. Why would an executive in an oil company want to connect with an impoverished bookseller from Sussex, unless they needed to be reassured that they’ve made the right career choice. It would be good if people had to explain why they want to connect.
Another annoying trend is the tendency for social networking sites to try and pull all of our telephone and email contacts. I can’t see the sense of this, because it is only natural to compartmentalise the people we know into different groups. Most of us have a public and private persona and never the twain shall meet.
Paglen ended his lecture with an amazing anecdote worth repeating here. Expanding on this notion that humanity’s longest-lasting ruins will not be cities, cathedrals, or even mines, but rather geostationary satellites orbiting the Earth, surviving for literally billions of years beyond anything we build on the planet’s surface, Paglen tried to conjure up what this might look like for other species in the far future.
Billions of years from now, he began to narrate, long after city lights and the humans who made them have disappeared from the Earth, other intelligent species might eventually begin to see traces of humanity’s long-since erased presence on the planet.
Consider deep-sea squid, Paglen said, who would have billions of years to continue developing and perfecting their incredible eyesight, a sensory skill perfect for peering through the otherwise impenetrable darkness of the oceans—but also an eyesight that could let them gaze out at the stars in deep space.
Perhaps, Paglen speculated, these future deep-sea squid with their extraordinary powers of sight honed precisely for focusing on tiny points of light in the darkness might drift up to the surface of the ocean on calm nights to look upward at the stars, viewing a scene that will have rearranged into whole new constellations since the last time humans walked the Earth.
“Blaming a lack of technological positivity in fiction — especially when there is so much technological positivity in our daily lives — discounts the deep significance and increasing value of dystopian fiction and its ability to keep us on our toes in our day-to-day lives. It’s important to note that positivity happens a lot more often in dystopian fiction than Solana describes: take the cancer-defying medical equipment in Elysium, for example. Those stories are often more about how powerful people use tech to oppress others. To suggest that limiting the human imagination and intellect in order to improve a problem born of ignorance in the first place is absurd and, frankly, dangerous.”—Actually, society needs dystopian sci-fi more than ever (Wired UK)