Fixing The Internet

So, what’s wrong with the world?

Setting aside people who begin sentences with, “so”, it’s the internet. It’s really very badly designed. Very.

(See also people who think a single adverb to be a sentence.)

What’s wrong with the internet?

Lots.

You could argue that the real root causes are the flaws in people.

We can fix the internet.

Good luck with fixing people.

So (I really am past caring about grammar, I’m going to literally split an infinitive in a minute. In fact even less than that) what is wrong with the internet?

Actually not many things, at least, not many things that matter.

While it doesn’t really matter if I start sentences with, “so”, or I casually split the odd infinitive, the few flaws in the internet are devastating. Devastating is one of those words we over use and apply casually when we should be more sparing. A bit like awesome.

So what is actually wrong with the internet?

It wrecks a few concepts that are the foundations of humanity and of civilisation. (Blimey, he’s off one this time…)

Ownership of digital assets so I benefit and control things I create. Even if that control is exercised so as to be delegated to a trusted third party. Like I put my money in a bank.

In particular ownership of identity, which is mine and controlled by me. Which, yes, extends to all my data but with my identity at the centre.

Accountability for our actions, set in the context of our transparent identity.

The containment of anonymity so it’s not a right but a closely controlled privilege, used in rare circumstances and for limited periods, usually overseen by trusted institutions. For whistle blowing, bearing witness in safety, voting in elections and referendums.

Privacy the thing that protects our identities and so makes them valuable to trade while ensuring we remain accountable. The extent to which we do that depends on what part of our identity, and the numerous data points that go to make it up, we have to trade to do something. Share a news story, buy a widget, post a photo of your lunch, challenge the parentage of a class mate, organise a riot, assert that just one of five completely different approaches to leaving the EU represent the single unambiguous will of the people, encourage people to follow the gourd / shoe etc.

Empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another. Broadly this is what makes us socially successful as individuals and collectively. Remove it and we start to behave destructively. This seems to be greatly diminished when we interact digitally. In part because we can be anonymous and unaccountable. In part simply because we are not co present. In part because we interact with people we do not know at all or well enough to trust, so we feel able to behave badly.

But why are these flaws so bad that I feel able to wheel out the word, “devastating”?

Put briefly.

If I do not own my identity I become the product, I am arguably enslaved, in the jargon, a digital serf. Then I get told what I like, what to read, watch and ultimately what to believe.

If the things I create cannot be traced to me, if they are not hard linked to my identity, I can be anonymous.

If I am anonymous I am more tempted to misbehave because I am then not accountable. So I troll, I tell lies, I steal, I manipulate. My empathy drains away. Then so does my humanity. And if I’m a psychopath, I’m no longer a rare 1%, diluted by good people to whom I am known and accountable. I’m devastating because the internet means I scale, globally.

If I have no privacy I am both vulnerable yet also denied the powerful currency of trading that privacy, by choice, for a whole range of things from online search to building trust and even love. To put that another way, I’m not incentivised to be empathetic and socially successful.

That’s all quite bad.

Can the internet be fixed?

Well for a start we’d better try. I doubt very much there is an appetite for turning it off. Ask O2 users.

To some degeee yes it can be fixed.

Implementing identity we own and control is perfectly possible. Arguably it’s been done but messily. Probably best to agree standards but then allow countries, organisations and people to implement on top of those standards. I’ll leave the four layers for another day, and until I’ve thought about it properly. But basically I’d hate every country, community and person to be the same.

Another layer of standards would be needed to embed and secure identity in all things digital. Think JPEG of your lunch with a stamp on it that can’t be deleted that says that you took it and defines a set of rules as to how it may be used, what that costs (which can be zero) and who gets to see who you really are (which can be no one, although I’d think most countries would block that kind of traffic).

Privacy, well, we are lurching that way.

We’d need protected services for the rare occasions we need to be anonymous.

We should thoroughly dump end to end encrypted services. That was a really very very bad idea. And yes, I briefly advocated them.

All doable. Destroys the business models of various companies. Probably means we’d have to pay for some things we get for “free”, though not a lot. Worth every penny.

Designing in full empathy? No chance. But the above workarounds will help and dampen the worst effects and I doubt we will turn it off.

Why do I care? A lot of what is going wrong with civilisation goes back to these design flaws in the internet. Not totally, it still takes people to be bad, uninformed or simply stupid, but having damaged crucial components of what makes us successful social animals, the tipping points are closer and easier to trip for those minded to nudge us into chaos.

What worries me, is that while all this is written and spoken of more over the last few years since I bored for Britain in 2013-2015, we don’t appear to have done anything about it.

What do think? More importantly, do you care?

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Can I Unsunscribe From Black Friday ?

You’d think that some data scientist somewhere would have worked out that I have a strong prejudice against being herded and that for the few organisations that survived my GDPR purge, Black Friday represents another moment of great peril for our remaining already shakey relationships.

It seems not.

Still, at least all these emails have a handy unsubscribe button…

 

 

Everything Is Awesome

I’m not sure what comes after awesome.

Sometimes it appears that Everything Is Awesome

My glass is typically half full (hooray!) and half empty (let’s fill the rest up, and order a bigger glass while we are about it).  I always think it a bit of a false choice.

As to what this glass is half full of, it is a mix of:

  • Ok
  • Nice
  • Good
  • Splendid
  • Fabulous
  • Fantastic
  • Brilliant
  • Marvellous
  • Wonderful
  • and a very small amount of very precious, Awesome.

In the last few days I have heard both a plate of biscuits (cookies) and a budget review described, without irony, as awesome.

Recently, I stood and watched (and felt) Niagara Falls, for several hours.

Earlier in the year I gasped when I first saw The Grand Canyon.

Last year I found myself in the middle of nowhere at 2am and saw the Milky Way properly for the first time. I had to sit down.

Each of these experiences inspired what I think may have been awe.

It’s quite hard to describe. It comes with a feeling of heightened sensation, a delicious sense of personal irrelevance, the inability to speak properly (if at all) and an unbearable dose of happiness. You don’t forget it.

The biscuits and budget really didn’t make this grade.

As a general rule, if you are experiencing awe, you won’t be able to say a word as long as awesome until much later.

Shall we limit the use of the word awesome to things that actually inspire awe?

I know, there are more important things to worry about.

Mindful Vinyl

 

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I dare say that vinyl is warmer, it’s analogue, it’s real sound. I know.
As far as I can tell, the primary advantage is really that it’s on the other side of the room and there isn’t a remote control.
Consequently I’ve just listened to the whole of The Dark Side Of The Moon and then Wish You Were Here.
I had to get up four times to put on and turn over discs.
Other than that I sat and listened.
I thought a lot (I do that) but a lot less chaotically than normal. I didn’t think about work.
I wrote several letters, they went by email, but they were letters.
I watched no tv, I missed the news (that never happens).
I may have ordered a few pretentious jazz albums. Ok, I did.
From my long time dormant, Tyranny of Choice theme.
(Picture from New Yorker, one of my favourites)

May Seriously Diminish Your Empathy

Having deleted my Facebook account earlier this year, I also deleted my Twitter account last week.

That first step was a long time intent, I had grudgingly kept FB for a year while I was involved in my cycling adventure last year. The Cambridge Analytica story gave me a reminder and my FB account was promptly deleted. I’ve not missed it.

I’ve watched the divisive and abusive fallout from Trump and Brexit on Twitter. That division was to some extent sown and those results influenced by the effects social media have on us. They are far from the sole cause, but in tight results, decisive ones.

Then I finally read Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier which has been on my silly pile of unread books for a few months.

It could be shorter, some elements are sloppy, but overall it is devastating.

To summarise, it is the objective of the business model to change our behaviour, as a by product we become irrational, isolated, rude and otherwise a lot less well connected, empathetic and human.

Social media are causing us to do stupid things and making us unhappy.

There are some positives, I have learned a lot and made a few new friends.

On balance there is no contest.

Hence I deleted my Twitter account. I am already more happy and suddenly my diary is full of social meetings with people I’d not quite got round to seeing for a few years.

Funny that.

Anyway, a reprise from early ramblings on this :

Joining The Dots

I mostly shut up about my thoughts on the internet a while ago.  In part because the idea that not all was well had gone main stream and in part because I began to bore myself!

For the nth time I should point out that I work in technology and consider the internet to be both wonderful but also something we need to look very hard at to ensure it serves us for good.

Our history is littered with our obsessions with new and interesting things which, encouraged by well meaning marketing people, we thought terribly cool, but which turned out to be rather bad for us.  When we look back it is easy to ridicule our forebears for embracing cigarettes, radium toothpaste, soda with cocaine in it and my favourite, radium cigarettes.

CamelToothpasteCoke

My favourite which I stumbled on while writing this and simply could not believe:

Cigarettes

Then there is this.  Shouldn’t…

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World Wide Weapons

2F1016B7-5F49-4133-9BF3-7C4A0065E91C.jpegSo the USA wrangles with whether they should allow the publication of blueprints for printable 3D gun templates.
We roll our eyes.
We remember how last time we were in a US Walmart we could buy ammunition with our groceries.
We forget what the first two Ws in www actually stand for.
I despair.

Social Media Nonsense

Social Media companies claim not to be responsible for the content posted through their services.
Here is a thing I learned from the outsourcing phase of my career:
You can outsource anything except accountability.
Not that you should. Just that you can. With that one exception.
If a newspaper outsourced everything (writing, printing, distribution, billing etc etc etc) it would still be accountable for the content.
The argument that social media companies offer a platform and can’t be held to account for content is invalid.
The fact that social media platforms outsourced content production from the outset does not alter their accountability for it.
End.