Monday, January 4, 2021

AMA 3, the internet

As a followup from yesterday, there's this. 

Which also brought up the internet connectivity and the pendulum thing. It's swung hard toward everything internet all the time. It is useful, but where is the balance? How does it serve us, rather than drain us?

We as a society don't seem to be very good at sorting out what is a fad, and what is actually good. Something comes along and boom, it's everywhere all the time, and then it's gone. There's nothing as dated as a movie, or a book, or a music album that came out a few months too late.

For several decades the airline industry made decisions assuming that bigger and faster was automatically better. Thus the Concorde and it's one of the regrets of my life that I never took a flight on it, even if it would be grossly uncomfortable for someone my size. Then the bean counters took over. Airplanes fly a bit slower now than they used to, but are ever so much more efficient. Route planning is a science now, with all sorts of factors deciding which aircraft are used on which route. Don't get me started on the seat pricing algorithms. 

Similar assumptions governed the auto industry. Then the price of fuel drove similar adjustments to automotive design, creating a world where all cars essentially look alike, and almost all of them are too small, except for the big ass pickups, which are too big. It used to be that one could buy a completely customized car, right down to individual options. Now one has a choice of several tiers, each one giving more stuff than the last. What kills me is that I like, and would buy many of the options in the highest tier, but the inclusion of a sunroof is a complete deal breaker. 

The internet was not even a dreamed of thing when I was a kid. I read stories about computers, and space flight, and flying cars, and a wrist watch video phone, and automatic sliding doors, and much else. Not the internet. It was invented and turned loose on the world, and before we knew it, Google and Facebook captured it. They turned it into a surveillance tool that makes Orwell's world look like a bunch of penny-ante amateurs. 

At first Facebook was almost a competition to see who could accumulate the most "friends". I passed on it for years, but finally signed up in 2012. It's mostly been ok, but it sure pisses me off a lot. I hear that from many people. How hard can it be to show me what my friends post in reverse chronological order, and notify me when my friends post a comment? It isn't, unless the goal is to extract money from advertisers by selling your information to them, which they do. Thus the growing number of people taking a vacation from it. A surprising number of those vacations turn out to be permanent.

Everything these days seems to be designed to capture your attention by any means at all, and get your blood pressure up on some issue, in a way designed to benefit a politician or a corporation, and divide you from actual people. Click bait. Spam. Aggressive wording. Slanted news. It's what cults do to separate you from your friends and family.

It works. There's 70 some million people that believe anything Trump says, and what really kills me is that these are some of the stupidest and most transparent lies ever told. He knows how to tap into people's brains and push their buttons. If he had been just smart enough to know when to shut up and not say anything, he might well have won a second term, and that would have been the end of the USA as a democracy. As it is, it will hobble along for a while yet, but I'd take bets that it won't last the rest of my life.

Nobody at the time knew when the Roman Empire had fallen. It took historians to follow the events and draw a line. Well, to be honest there are several lines, but they're all late 5th century AD for the western empire, after many years of decline. We've got a better grip on things now, and it's clear the American Empire is in decline.

But I digress. The internet, and the ease of communication it brings is one factor in the decline of the Western world. When people mainly lived in small towns you learned to go along to get along. Flying your freak flag could get you ostracized at the least, and perhaps even killed. Now the freaks can find each other, organize groups, and lobby for their point of view. If it's stamp collectors nobody cares. If you're gay, or black, or native, or other repressed minorities, it's a good thing. (Unless you're a bigot or a racist, and want to see those people continue to be repressed, then the internet is a bad thing.) But it also lets child molesters and other criminals organize their affairs. How much free speech is too much free speech is a topic for another day.

Does my stove really need to be hooked up to the internet? No, although it can be. Perhaps our appliances are starting a movement to free themselves from human tyranny. But only an idiot would remotely turn on a stove in an empty house. The appliance is designed to be safe, but things can go wrong. You can't correct them if you're not home to notice. If I'm home I can walk into the kitchen to turn it on for whatever purpose is at hand. I don't need to use a smart phone from the next room.

Does Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Zoom and I don't know what all else really replace meeting up with a buddy for coffee? Just now we have to make do with them, but that won't last long. Somehow we got along without those apps before, and I'm starting to think seriously about doing without them again, or cutting way back. By hiding behind our screens we lock ourselves away from human contact. We forget what other people are like, how to hold an actual conversation. I'm thinking that a bit more going along and a little less freak flag flying would be a good thing.

Which as another digression, just kills me about many Zoom-like conversations. Two people start talking at the same time, realize it and stop, then both start again. Or they try to hold multiple conversations at the same time, just like they do during an actual meeting. All of which makes me nuts and I want to leave the meeting with extreme hostility.

I suspect the pendulum is swinging back from all internet all the time. We're going to wonder what we were thinking. We'll use it where it's appropriate, and ignore it the rest of the time. People will create apps that are less invasive than Facebook and Google but provide the valuable parts of the experience. Perhaps they exist already and are looking for that critical mass. There are new chips coming that will dramatically change encryption, so private conversations may be possible. Right now one has to assume that the American intelligence services can read anything on line, on any platform. That's sad.

Once upon a time on most Saturday mornings one of us would walk over to get the newspapers, and we'd have a quiet morning reading them and drinking coffee and chatting about the state of the world. Then the paper delivery starting getting unreliable, and we stopped buying them. We started looking at the news on the internet. I'm not sure when that happened. 

That was ok for a while, but it's turned into a brutal experience. There's been so much consolidation I'm not even sure who owns what any more. Post Media seems to own all the newspapers, and they're all the same. Lots of 'the news' are behind pay walls, and provide so little value it's not worth buying. In an earlier era they would be called yellow journalism, and that's being polite.

Advertising used to support the papers, but nobody has figured out how to make advertising work on the internet. As far as I'm concerned it's a complete blight. If I ever meet someone from Grammarly, I'm going to give them an explicit piece of my mind. Watching pop up advertising pollute the screen I'm trying to read annoys me no end, and having the screen move things around as it loads, and particularly just as I'm about to click the button is even worse.

And browsers! Most of the time I use one browser. It's where my bookmarks are and I'm mostly used to how it behaves, though the different versions of it on different computers is a bit annoying. Except some sites we have to switch to a different browser, mainly for financial stuff. To load photos onto my blog I have to use a third browser. For work, there's one particular application I have to use if I want to get paid, and it only runs on IE, which I didn't think existed any more. 

But there's no completely escaping the internet now. Even my photography hobby requires the internet, at least periodically, because Lightroom needs to talk to the mother-ship to be assured it's ok to operate. The internet is baked into our cell phones, and they're the most useful device invented in my lifetime. We just need our phones and the internet to be serving the people that use it, not some giant corporation only seeking profits. I'm not sure how to make that happen, but not using the services of abusive corporations is a start. Pardon me a moment while I post a link to this blog on Facebook...

Of the Day

1 comment:

  1. Haha! Excellent rant. And I share your frustration. I've been spending less and less time on Facebook and more on Instagram, where I don't have to put up with as much nonsense. Hard to think of giving it up entirely though since it comes in so handy sometimes.


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