Net Neutrality is the principle that makes the internet a level playing field concerning users’ worldwide access to information. To abandon it puts all that power in the hands of internet providers, mostly telecommunications corporations like AT&T and Comcast. Here’s a few articles about the FCC’s efforts this week to destroy net neutrality and widen the digital divide.
Jaron Lanier has worked on the cutting edge of computer programming since the 70s. His books, You Are Not a Gadget (2010), and Who Owns the Future (2015) are incisive, readable critiques of the most dominant digital networks. He’s not just talking about Uber and Facebook, but the architecture that underlies modern banks, news outlets, manufacturers, and just about everything else our standard of living depends on.
“A sufficiently copious flood of data creates an illusion of omniscience,
and that illusion can make you stupid.”
His 2010 Atlantic article, The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy, considers the case of Wikileaks and networks like Anonymous that claim to leak private information of individuals and institutions in the name of transparency. Lanier provides history on the evolution of some of the most influential cyber actors of our time and notes that most of them cultivate the kind of privacy protection they suggest the general population should learn to live without.
“Totally aside from whether Wikileaks has hurt the USA or anyone else, we should ask the question, “What has it done to us?” The hacker idea has gotten meaner, less sensitive, more combative, and more reactive. This is what I mean by the problem of nerd supremacy.”
Lanier is not a pundit or a guru. He’s a scientist who understands how computers work and how they’re profited from. He’s also a thoughtful person who doesn’t see profits and stability as mutually exclusive. His article is a much needed alarm for a public that insists that wealth created by apparent technological innovation is the only solution to society’s problems. The idea that political engagement and coalition building are viable tactics is at an all time low, creating fertile ground for cyber vigilantism and violence in real time.
I can’t recommend his books enough, even if you only skim a few chapters. There is plenty of jargon and abstraction to confront, but Lanier’s humor and insight boost the reader through. Even for a layman like me, the path tech giants are taking to economic hegemony becomes clear.
The refrain running through both works is that none of this is inevitable. It is the result of structural decisions that date back before the birth of the internet. Today we have the perspective to see what those early decisions by programmers locked us into. This can teach us what kind of structures we should avoid today, if we take the long view. Doesn’t sound much like markets/people, though, does it?
“Isn’t it clear that we tend to become
like what we mock and fear?”
All quotes from The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy: the case of Wikileaks. Jaron Lanier. The Atlantic. Dec 20, 2010. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/the-hazards-of-nerd-supremacy-the-case-of-wikileaks/68217/ Accessed Jan 19, 1017.
All Images from jaronlanier.com
I discovered Douglas Rushkoff through Disinformation, a short-lived show referred to as “the punk rock 60 minutes.” The DVD includes a number of speeches from the Disinfo.con at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in 2000. Rushkoff pushed back against the idea of necessary duality, Grant Morrison explained basic sigil magic, and Joe Coleman detonated himself in protest of humanity. Pretty inspiring.
Rushkoff writes both fiction and nonfiction. He teaches at several schools and works as a consultant with organizations large and small, fringe and corporate. He is most often described as a media theorist, a cyberpunk, or a technologist, but a cursory look at his work reveals a thinker primarily concerned with how people create. Rushkoff writes about media and its effects on everything from the human brain to the global community. His latest 2 books focus largely on the digital economy.
Present Shock -2013
Table of Contents:
- Narrative Collapse
Narrative Collapse speaks to the loss of basic foundation. The story, the plan, the beginning, middle, and end. Numeracy overtakes literacy. The distance and perspective of the reader is replaced by the immersion and interaction of the player.
Digiphrenia is the condition real people develop as we try to adapt to a world of digitized, automated, “always on” information. Our business, financial, and media networks are automated into 24-7 cycles that we compete to keep up with. Capitalist propaganda finds new life in our digital age. More choice = greater freedom. But are we free to stop choosing?
Overwinding deals with how our digital architects overlook the effect of their systems on the end-user in favor of instant feedback from every aspect of our lives.
Fractalnoia is another condition humans develop once they’re unmoored from reliable narratives, time tables, and information scarcity. Conspiracies abound, statistics overwhelm, all theories, fears, and prophecies seem to find supporting evidence somewhere just under the waves of the digital ocean. The sheer volume of information makes it impossible for even the richest, most entrenched organizations to control the narrative.
Finally, Apocalypto. The mass media disconnects us from the past and the future, locking us in an eternal present of fight or flight. We’re left to hoard and prep for the endgame. Many are seduced by a cult of human obsolescence that unleashes a cultural backlash against not only religion and politics, but humanism and free will as well.
These are the elements of Present Shock- a phenomenon wherein technology speeds up the rate of change in society, causing institutions- government, business, education, culture, media- to lose their foundations, leaving individuals in a desperate race to regain understanding, advantage, meaning, and a vision for the future.
Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus -2016
Table of Contents:
- Removing Humans from the Equation
- The Growth Trap
- The Speed of Money
- Investing Without Exiting
The underlying shift is away from Hours Served
and towards Value Created
This book examines our current economic moment and gives a brief history of how authorities devised debt-based tools to profit off the work and creation of poorer communities.
On corporate welfare:
“It would be much simpler, more sustainable, and less expensive to get that region to work without putting it into debt or the service of a remote entity. Instead of installing industry, equip regions with the tools and information they need to develop a means of value exchange. After all, if people have skills and needs, then they have the basis of an economy.”
Google Bus distinguishes itself from other books on the subject by reminding us that it doesn’t have to be this way. Rushkoff submits numerous examples of alternative corporate charters, local currencies, and new labor paradigms. Rushkoff’s worldview is optimistic, but it challenges the reader to take action. Not all the people at the top are unreasonable, but they are not going to change course until someone shows them how it will benefit them.
“The beauty of such possibilities from the perspective of charting a 21st century career, is that they offer a glimpse of an employment path structured around the needs of real people today rather than the priorities of 13th century factory owners who have long since left this realm. In nearly all these strategies, the underlying shift is away from Hours Served and towards Value Created. It’s less symbolic and more real, less based in legacy systems and more grounded in productivity. Instead of tying workers and our current entire economy to the industrial age machine, we reprogram our economy from the ground up.”
Donald Trump is a corrupt businessman who poses a real threat to the security of our nation. His history of not paying the people who work for him, and suing people, businesses, and municipalities that do business with him, is well known. How long will it be before he’s suing private citizens for dissent? His move to embed his children into the government with full security clearance displays his nepotism. Filling his cabinet with his campaign donors is textbook crony capitalism and shouldn’t surprise anyone. He bragged about having paid off the same politicians he ran against in order to discredit them, while claiming that he himself was not corrupt, just smart.
Richard Painter, a Republican, and former ethics czar for President Bush, has made this case most forcefully. Trump cannot keep assets that create an ongoing risk of influence peddling by foreign governments or foreign nationals. He especially should not be liable in debt to foreign banks or governments—as his companies reportedly are to Deutsche Bank for more than $300 million. We need a president who is independent of personal interests that might affect his presidential judgment—for the same reasons Trump was right early in the campaign to complain that super PACs compromised the independence of his opponents. Trump’s refusal to comply with the Constitution’s restrictions is plainly reason enough to reject him.
I don’t believe we should or can rely on moral arguments to shape our politics. Government should be about what works in material terms. And yet there is a moral call to vote against Trump. It is not partisan, or ideological, it is simply intelligent.
Mr. Trump has been found corrupt and unaccountable throughout his entire career. 65,444,673 popular votes (over 2.5 million more than Trump) should prove Hillary Clinton a qualified alternative, but the partisan stalemate of the past decade is sure proof that won’t happen.
Sadly, the threat to our country should compel us to negotiate with republicans to substitute another member of their party to the presidency. If you are an elector, please read about the Hamilton Electors, the reasons they reject Trump, and the mechanisms they seek to invoke. If you are an elected official, please let these people know that they will be supported for voting as the Constitution intended. Please put the people of the United States before your parties.
I’ve voted third party every election since 2000 when I was 18. I don’t believe the Democratic Party will even veer left unless there’s a vocal and active progressive movement pushing them that way. It’s not idealism, it’s pragmatism.
That said, I’ve spent the last 8 days viscerally regretting not voting for Clinton and spending the last 18 months petitioning others. I regret avoiding the conversations with my family for 18 months and allowing myself to assume enough people would recognize the danger in Trump. I don’t think voting for Clinton would have changed the election (she won the popular vote handily), but it would have mitigated this nausea in my gut, steaming up into my throat. I would know that I did every conceivable thing to try and prevent—this.
This is not a republican presidency.
This is not a republican revolution.
This is not a Tea Party insurgency.
This isn’t an efficient business-like approach.
This is high stupidity and old-fashioned fascism. New millennium white supremacy courtesy of American entitlement. And no one knows how or why it happened. Least of all the people who are telling us how and why it happened.
Because America is racist.
Because of lost jobs and the forgotten rust belt.
Because of the free market and globalism.
Third party spoilers.
The craven media’s disproportionate coverage.
I am already sick of hearing everyone’s explanation of why the Democrats couldn’t pull it off. We did this. All of us. And we don’t have time to waste hunting for scapegoats. That’s Bannon’s job; to provide us with the “long sought after” evidence of political corruption so that we’ll rationalize negotiating with white supremacists who want to throw out the establishment so that they can have the privilege of fleecing us. They know Americans are easily placated.
We’re going to hear it all and they’ll make it sound sophisticated and inevitable but there is nothing sophisticated or inevitable about fascism.
I’ll never advocate violence. I’ll never advocate secession. But I understand people who do. We should all be afraid. And we should not normalize this. People are already talking about the next four years. I’m worried about the first hundred days. I’ll work with Democrats to resist this, but I have no faith they’ll do that unless they’re forced. It’s down to citizens taking the time and the risk to push back every day.
We are not dealing with someone who cares about changing the government, but eviscerating it. That may only take months considering the numbers in the senate and congress. It only takes a second to make a mess the rest of us will be cleaning up for decades. Trump has fed the hate, harassment, racism, and violence of his followers with a wink and a nod since day one.
That is how he was elected. On abject sex appeal. By being a human trainwreck. His win shocked the people who voted for him were more than those who didn’t. They probably don’t regret it, but they weren’t thinking about what would happen if he was president. Now we all get to find out and pass the charge on to the black, brown, and poor. To the kids with no future.
After, whoever’s left will have the privilege of regret.
As a white man who’s easily mistaken for Native American, Latino, and Arab, to name a few, I’ve had a curious experience with my whiteness. Due to being raised by an unambiguously white family in a mostly middle-class environment, I’ve benefited as much as most Caucasians from white privilege. The instances of racism I’ve encountered have been few and haven’t seemed impactful, an experience I think of as sharply distinct from that of most non-white people .
I grew up in the early 90s. Blue-collar republican politics and small town Catholicism laid the foundations of my world view. I grew up with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Magic Johnson on the Wheaties box. A white culture that espoused a post-racial society decades before the term was coined.
Even as I developed a leftist, “counterculture” identity, I developed it within the yolk of whiteness. American television was my country. That was my language. As a socially awkward introvert in a small town, most of the racial insults spit at me from other white kids went over my head. Moving to suburban Virginia Beach when I was 11, it may as well have been Miami. For the first time I was interacting with Blacks, Asians, Latinos, all with their own narratives of race and history that conflicted with or disregarded my own. Hearing many of them extol racist and homophobic views was a shock. Eventually, it dawned on me how much I had seen other races as less than people, as victims or objects.
I developed the kind of racism a lot of white men do. Looking back, it seems obvious how much of it was the burgeoning aggression that accrues among any group of adolescents. We create irrational beliefs and convictions based on events governed by hormones. Why do so many of us carry them into adulthood? Certainly more white guys messed with me than black guys, but internally, I use those memories of confrontation with Blacks as a pretext to profile. To this day, a black person my age or younger will put me on edge sooner than a white person in the same clothes. It doesn’t matter that I know this is a prejudice, there’s a gut reaction I still live with that leaves my perception flawed. Of course I do this with all races. But this perception is constantly reinforced by the American propaganda of black inferiority.
White people often ask: “what can we do to fight racism?”
Black people have always said, “talk to your people,”
to which we’ve replied, “is there anything else?.”
No one wants to call up the folks and start a conversation about race. No one wants to roll over in bed and say, “honey, let’s talk about you saying ‘nigger’ all the time.” But conversations about race will inevitably come up. What is required of us is a greater will to take those opportunities instead of letting it pass because we don’t want to appear confrontational or naive, or we don’t want to lose our cool and sound off. And of course, we don’t want to deal with the typical reaction that merely asking why a white friend said something related to race will illicit. “I’m no racist!” As if the only reason to talk about race could be to shame someone. But that’s one of the main things race relations in America actually need, more honest conversations.
The activism in Ferguson and across the country since Michael Brown’s death have put police brutality, and the institutional racism that enables it, front and center in the mainstream media. And kept it there, forcing us to examine how power and abuse is perpetuated every day, often by white people simply “not being racist.” Emily Pothast expounds on this theme in her article, True Confessions of a White Supremacist.
What is especially insidious about racism is that it’s so easy to argue that it’s natural, a necessary evil. That it can’t be remedied, only ignored or apologized for. To be sure, we all develop persistent prejudices and reflexes, but to pretend that they are unchangeable or innate is fatalistic and lazy. In Race Matters, Professor Cornel West artfully challenged much of the prevailing notions about blackness and progress in America.
“Hence, any claim to black authenticity- beyond that of being a potential object of racial abuse and an heir to a grand tradition of black struggle- is contingent on one’s political definition of black interest and one’s ethical understanding of how this interest relates to individuals and communities in and outside black America. In short, blackness is a political and ethical construct. Appeals to black authenticity ignore this fact; such appeals hide and conceal the political and ethical dimension of blackness.”
In 2016 it remains an open question if we as white people will show the same rigor in examining the political and ethical dimensions of whiteness.
Thursday, I attended a reading by Juan Thompson, son of journalist Hunter S. Thompson, at Powell’s City of Books. His memoir, Stories I Tell Myself, spans his life growing up in Aspen, Colorado, up to his father’s suicide in 2005. While not a biography, it is very much the story of the elder Thompson told through the life of his son, a proposition the author admits is wildly subjective, steeped in the fog of memory.
He read a series of letters between him and his father, who he has always called Hunter, from
1982, when he traveled to Boston for college. Juan was soft spoken and reserved. He looked like a well dressed professor (he works in IT in Denver). He began writing the book soon after the death of his father. Why? To complexify the myth of the renegade drug addict journalist chasing the wildest true stories, adrenaline, and his own weird sense of justice. To tell the story of a man of extremes beyond the cartoonish specter that delights and horrifies our American psyche. A major theme, of course, is relationships between fathers and sons, how they move and change from childhood, through adolescence, into the Fall of middle age. He writes about attempts to relate closely in adulthood, the brief successes, the resignation to gaps unbridged.
It is also the story of a man suffering the results of a lifetime of excess, a story he believes his father would want him to tell as honestly as possible, but only now that he’s gone. Deterioration into immobility, dependence, and most painful of all, the loss of the ability to write.
Afterward, he took questions from the small audience.
“From the letter, it sounded like he really believed in your ability to write. You said you resisted that. Did you feel like you bonded with him in some way by writing this book?”
He described gaining new insight into his father’s life by writing. How he could finally understand the way he would procrastinate for days, weeks, before finally setting down to write, and how seriously he would take it. This was Hunter’s purpose, Juan maintains. More than being a father or a journalist, or a an object of fame, he wanted to be a great writer.
“Did you use an editor?”
“I was surprised to discover what editors have become. A combination of recruiter and project manager. The just don’t have the time anymore, to edit. I hired someone myself to do that because at a certain point, I couldn’t quite see it clearly.”
“Did he ever meet Garry Trudeau?”
“No. Not to my knowledge. It would not have been good. Hunter hated him, he tried to sue him, and sent many very threatening letters.”
Those familiar with HST’s letters, collected in The Gonzo Papers and other books, will recall the venomous invective he was prone to hurl at enemies who’d never spoken his name, much less caricatured him. Along these lines, Juan recommended his father’s obituary of Richard Nixon, He Was a Crook. Nixon features heavily in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, along with Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and George Wallace. A stark and readable book if you’ve got election fever.
I have been a fan of HST’s writing since I was 17 in the late 90s, and remember where I was when I heard that he had shot himself. I remember thinking “what will things be like now?”
His last book, Hey Rube, a collection of columns by the same name for ESPN, excoriated the Bush Administration and the rabid public that voted for him twice in between literary reverie and old school sports writing . It will hopefully gain more mainstream credibility with age as time catches up with his reportage.
“Have you forgiven your father for killing himself?”
“So many people have written to me and in the press that they felt angry. I can understand, but I didn’t and haven’t felt that way. I would have liked for him to have been around for a few more years for my son’s sake, so that they could have had that time.” He again mentioned the gloom of Hunter’s final days as he lost more and more control of his body.
“It just made sense if you knew him.” 3:19:16
I was initially nonplussed when my girlfriend suggested we drive from Portland to North Dakota to attend a lecture series put on by the North Dakota Humanities Council.
She wanted to see journalist Jon Ronson speak about his recently published book “So You’ve been Publicly Shamed”, an insightful investigation into the culture of social media and the growing consequence of digital reputation. It mirrored the theme of the Humanities Council’s Gamechanger event- How is Technology Changing Humanity?
Ronson is a consummate reporter who’s published several books exploring a number of fringe communities. His voice concisely documents the “destruction” of several individuals carried out in the 21st century pillory of the world wide web. I eventually read it and had to concur that it was superior writing. Ronson doesn’t just recount the stories of victims, pressing his subjects for their interpretation of the phenomenon as it replicates itself hour after hour on the web. He interviews judges, politicians, and academics, producing a brief history of shame and punishment.
At the moment, I was in the middle of “Who Owns the Future”, whose author’s name I was shocked to see below Ronson’s- Jaron Lanier.
The book is a surprisingly readable analysis about the effect of the modern web on our society, principally the many industries digital networks have disrupted and in some cases eviscerated– music, journalism, and publishing. Lanier warns of near future targets such as health care and customer service, not to stoke fears, but to urge engagement and recognition that nothing about the internet and technology is accidental, but the result of design- design that end users should be demanding place humans at center stage. Don’t take it for a luddite manifesto; Lanier has worked in computer science since the 70s, engineering some of the most groundbreaking virtual reality technologies in the world.
What were the odds of the authors of books we were both currently engrossed in speaking at a conference within driving distance? What else would we do but rent a car and plan a road trip to the middle of one of the most desolate states in the country?
Though he spoke in the middle of the roster, Richard Van Eck seemed make the most proximate delivery of the night given the venue and audience. His talk was billed The Power of Video Games to Reshape Learning.
His closing word to the wise? That, concerning education, we must decide the outcome we want students to have and work backward from this goal to create a structure that can produce it, because if we simply try to incorporate video games and other emerging technologies into our existing school systems, the result will likely be refurbished mediocrity at best.
I wondered what the audience really made of his presentation. It seemed comprised mostly of educators, many, one of the event’s hosts informed us, were sent on scholarships from their respective schools and colleges in efforts to keep them relevant to modern student bodies.
Van Eck’s stories of out-of-class computer obsession as a youth in the early 80s brought to mind some comments by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian Literature Professor and author of several famous books from the 60s and 70s dealing with the effects of different mediums on human behavior and perception on a mass scale. He claimed that television had created a new environment for all young people in the mass media societies. For the first time in centuries for anglo-americans wherein information, the substance of education, was more available and efficiently consumed outside of schools than in, creating historic shifts in cultures, industries, and social relationships. He reiterated his premise in The Medium is the Massage, War and Peace in the Global Village, and Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man”, as well as countless interviews, that electricity and mass media had retribalized western society, eliminating an ironclad foundation of the printed word, giving us “an ear for an eye”, with myriad destabilizing effects on our very psyches.
The crowd at Gamechanger was far from some of the myopic embittered conference scenes I’ve been privy to, but I couldn’t help but think that many were politely balking at the idea that their institutions were fundamentally unsuited to adopting the mediums most likely to engage their students, and may indeed require replacement rather than reform. Time will tell.
Bioethicest and biotechnology expert Lori Andrews illustrated many of the real world consequences of the modern love affair with social media in her presentation I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy. Produced a jaw dropping laundry list of Americans fired over dubious quotes on Twitter, indicted by police from contextless photos on Facebook, and students spied on in their homes by school funded devices. Besides the stories that could be shrugged off as salacious outliers of a mostly benign digital landscape, Andrews went on to detail the new normal of internet recon major employers use to determine who is hired in the post-privacy world order. She also recounted her Social Network Constitution, available for perusal online.
Transhumanism, singularities, and the parameters of personhood were analyzed by religious scholar and computer scientist Noreen Herzfeld, who argued persuasively against the notion that uploading a human brain, no matter how sophisticated a procedure we may one day design, will genuinely achieve immortality, at least as most imagine the concept. A mind in a program run on a computer is not the same as a living person. Is it even still a real intelligence, exorcised from a body subject to chemical reactions and encounters with other beings in physical space? Immortality has throughout history been portrayed in all human cultures as a Faustian proposition. Herzfeld is dismayed at the credence many currently pay to the prospect of digitally procured life extension and eagerness to anthropomorphize emerging technologies.
It seemed oddly fitting that the closing speaker of a conference fraught with cautionary tales and invocations of insidious threats to come would be an advocate of virtual reality who claimed to use zero social media.
Jaron Lanier is a unique speaker, jumping from past to present seamlessly, interrupting himself on a regular basis without losing momentum, elucidating dense scientific theories without excessive jargon through stories of personal friends from Silicon Valley and intellectual ancestors from the near and distant past. One such was Alan Turing, the subject of several recent biographies and films, claimed by many to have put forth the scientific basis for artificial intelligence. Turing was a brilliant British mathematician who cracked an historic German code during World War 2 that some say was crucial to the Allies winning the war. He was also a gay man forced to live in denial and later hounded into quack medical treatments for his “mental illness” that likely led to his suicide. Lanier deftly connected some of the ideas Turing put forward near the end of his life concerning artificial intelligence to some of the bright new tropes of the day such as web 2.0, big data, and predictive algorithms. To be sure, there are innovations to be found in these ideas, but most are double-edged swords, equally capable of propelling us backwards into neurotic spirals of narcissism and self-fulfilling prophecy. Are the new platforms we pour our personal data into really superintelligent or are we retarding our expectations and perceptions to make them seem that way? Lanier remains optimistic, positing that technology can indeed save us, but only if we make conscious efforts to design it to do so. Not a given in our current race to the future.
When greeted with near silence at his question of who in the audience has experienced a virtual reality program such as Occulus Rift, Lanier marveled that this would probably be one of the last audiences he’d speak in front of that would answer as such. During the closing discussion when all the speakers returned to the stage, Lori Andrews expressed great trepidation at the effects mass virtual reality would have on people, and he conceded that it may be the worst thing that could happen, as well as the best. But far from being an escape from the pains and struggles of real life, Lanier says the most accurate description of VR working properly is a “consciousness-recognizing machine”. There is a moment, he claims, in every users’ experience exploring a computer generated environment when the brain “believes” in the virtual world and the human being experiences their own perception in a radically new light. 11:8:15
After 9/11 we snapped into paralysis. Americans from all walks of life acquiesced to a jingoist state of obedience with shocking speed. The journalists who were supposed to inform us did not. The leaders we elected to lead us looked to war profiteers for guidance. It was a dull, hard, pitiful 6 years to live through before people, much less the media, would tentatively return to openly criticizing the administration.
The worst part? I knew that history wouldn’t remember them as poachers and repo-men of liberty, but as its champions. Unlucky everymen who, in the face of terror, made some forgivable mistakes in the fight to defend us. Bush would be remembered as a foolish, but brave man who ushered America out of its cold dark night, instead of further into the void.
Our failure to restrain the war machine, and confront the exploitation of weaker states that is the true cause of terror, slyly excised from the record.
Only in the past few years have I begun to think that this won’t be the last word. I hear my friends scoffing, but it’s true. It won’t bring anyone back, or secure the future, but they will be remembered as failed imperialists and looters of the public. That’s not much, but I haven’t looked forward to that much in years. 7:31:15