Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Tech And The Hand That Feeds It

"1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

~ Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams wrote his set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies back in 1999 ... those halcyon days when the Internet and many of us were still relatively young - digital technology was incredibly exciting and creative and many of us made a career out of it. It seemed that this new stuff had the potential to disrupt the old order and facilitate new opportunities and freedoms. Access information anytime, anyplace, work, learn and play anytime, anyplace ... we could all be publishers ... everyone had a voice .... the Internet could solve the world's problems.

Digital technology was developing exponentially - Moore's law ruled the new cyberspace as if technology had a life of its own and determine its own outcomes and ours ... it was like a runaway train ... jump on board quick or be left behind. With digital tech the future was bright - science fiction utopia would become science fact. Digital tech was the new religion  ... the halo effect around digital entrepreneurs and their companies meant they could do no wrong - everything was binary you were either with us or against us.

During the Naughties the revolution reached the masses and the runaway train of digital tech picked up speed and people with developments in social media and mobile tech. We thought the world was flat, too big to know and as here comes everybody what got us here won't get us there - we talked about re-inventing and re-mixing everything.

At the end of the naughties Kevin Kelly articulated "What Technology Wants" ... the technium .. a deterministic "global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us,”. Likening technological development to biological evolution the technium was an emerging and evolving seventh kingdom of life on earth.

However, not everyone was entranced by the halo effect of technology. Jonathan Zittrain had a different view of the runaway train - he saw the future of the Internet - and how to stop it. Zittrain warned about the growing power tech capitalists to control, close and extract profit from the Internet. He uses the Apple II and teh iPhone to illustrate two different views of the Internet:

"Though these two inventions - iPhone and Apple II - were launched by the same man, the revolutions that they inaugurated are radically different ...  The Apple II was quintessentially generative technology ...  It invited people to tinker with it. The iPhone is the opposite. It is sterile. Rather than a platform that invites innovation, the iPhone comes preprogrammed... Whereas the world would innovate for the Apple II, only Apple would innovate for the iPhone."

In 2013 Anil Dash talked about "The Web We Lost"  ... how tech capitalists have "narrowed the possibilites of the web for an entire generation of users who don't realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be. The tech industry and its press have treated the rise of billion-scale social networks and ubiquitous smartphone apps as an unadulterated win for regular people, a triumph of usability and empowerment. They seldom talk about what we've lost along the way in this transition, and I find that younger folks may not even know how the web used to be."

In 2015 Google quietly dropped "don't be evil" from its code of conduct. Today ... the father of the Web Tim Berners-Lee warned about how the system is failing .. how an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators."

The halcyon days of digital tech are over ... the information revolution, like just about every revolution you can think of has gone full circle - the new boss is the same as the old boss ... we are back where we started but its even worse ... our weapons have been used against us and the digital spring is about to become a digital winter under algorithms of oppression:

"digital technology and its narratives are shaped by and infused with values that are not impartial, disembodied, or lacking positionality. Technologies consist of a set of social practices, situated within the dynamics of race, gender, class, and politics, and in the service of something — a position, a profit motive, a means to an end."

Despite what Kevin Kelly might think - digital technology is not some sort of neutral self determining good thing .. it's a product, a business run for loads of money. Scalability, efficiency and tax efficiency ... big tech companies  aren't charities - why on earth would we think digital tech is about anything other than business self-interest. Just look at the so called "gig economy" - people hoped the gig economy might be cool .. but .. its  just another cynical way to exploit people more than ever before to enrich the few & impoverish the many - its the information age equivalent of industrial age dark satanic mills ... and there is probably worse to come as people race machines to the bottom as the information age unfolds in the coming era of #AI automation.

The information revolution has become a grief cycle and many are in some form of denial ... the tech fanboys who for reasons and motivations of their own will "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" about tech - they believe in the old religion and the halo effects of its saints or worse ... are quite aware of what's going on but won't bite the hand that feeds them.

It's going to take sometime to work through the digital tech grief cycle ... many are angry and talk about anti-tech activism ... a form of neo luddism:

"The downsides of technology’s inexorable march are ​now becoming clear – and automation will only increase the anxiety. We should expect the ​growing interest in off-grid lifestyles to be accompanied by ​direct action and even anti-tech riots"

Some are attempting to bargain for a better future ... Tim Berners-Lee for example is working to reimagine the internet while others are passing through depression and approaching acceptance of the way things are and will be under the algorithms of oppression in a form of dehumanised totalitarian surveillance capitalism - either  trapped within the web or don't care as long as they can make a career out of it while others have woken up to what is and will happen and will hopefully #staywoke to game the system or work through alternatives and a new revolution for the benefit of the many rather than the few.

"What if this whole crusade's
A charade
And behind it all there's a price to be paid"
~ Nine Inch Nails - "The Hand That Feeds"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Inspiring story there. What happened after? Take care!