Technology concentrates power.
In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it, no one designed it, it was just kind of assembling itself in an appealing, anarchic way. The companies that first tried to centralize the Internet, like AOL and Microsoft, failed risibly. And open source looked ready to slay any dragon.
But those days are gone. We’ve centralized the bejesus out of the Internet now. There’s one search engine (plus the one no one uses), one social network (plus the one no one uses), one Twitter. We use one ad network, one analytics suite. Anywhere you look online, one or two giant American companies utterly dominate the field.
And there’s the cloud. What a brilliant name! The cloud is the future of online computing, a friendly, fluffy abstraction that we will all ascend into, swaddled in light. But really the cloud is just a large mess of servers somewhere, the property of one American company (plus the clouds no one uses).
Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored. An Xbox One vision of dystopia.
But we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone here carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.
I know I sound like a conspiracy nut framing it like this. I’m not saying we live in an Orwellian nightmare. I love New Zealand! But we have the technology.
When I was in grade school, they used to scare us with something called the permanent record. If you threw a spitball at your friend, it would go in your permanent record, and prevent you getting a good job, or marrying well, until eventually you’d die young and friendless and be buried outside the churchyard wall.
What a relief when we found out that the permanent record was a fiction. Except now we’ve gone and implemented the damned thing. Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased and that we’re not even allowed to see.
The things we really care about seem to disappear from the Internet immediately, but post a stupid YouTube comment (now linked to your real identity) and it will live forever.
And we have to track all this stuff, because the economic basis of today’s web is advertising, or the promise of future advertising. The only way we can convince investors to keep the money flowing is by keeping the most detailed records possible, tied to people’s real identities. Apart from a few corners of anonymity, which not by accident are the most culturally vibrant parts of the Internet, everything is tracked and has to be tracked or the edifice collapses.
What upsets me isn’t that we created this centralized version of the Internet based on permanent surveillance.
What upsets me, what really gets my goat, is that we did it because it was the easiest thing to do. There was no design, forethought, or analysis involved. No one said “hey, this sounds like a great world to live in, let’s make it”. It happened because we couldn’t be bothered.
Making things ephemeral is hard.
Making things distributed is hard.
Making things anonymous is hard.
Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—I get tired just thinking about it.
So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing.
"High five, Chad!"
"High five, bro!"
That is the design process that went into building the Internet of 2014.
And of course now we are shocked—shocked!—when, for example, the Ukrainian government uses cell tower data to send scary text messages to protesters in Kiev, in order to try to keep them off the streets. Bad people are using the global surveillance system we built to do something mean! Holy crap! Who could have imagined this?
Or when we learn that the American government is reading the email that you send unencrypted to the ad-supported mail service in another country where it gets archived forever. Inconceivable!
I’m not saying these abuses aren’t serious. But they’re the opposite of surprising. People will always abuse power. That’s not a new insight. There are cuneiform tablets complaining about it. Yet here we are in 2014, startled because unscrupulous people have started to use the powerful tools we created for them.
We put so much care into making the Internet resilient from technical failures, but make no effort to make it resilient to political failure. We treat freedom and the rule of law like inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the fragile and precious treasures that they are.
And now, of course, it’s time to make the Internet of Things, where we will connect everything to everything else, and build cool apps on top, and nothing can possibly go wrong.
Warren Ellis has made a marvelous career of allowing his meandering interests and obsessions to reveal fascinating aspects of our world. In his book Gun Machine, the antique and contemporary life of New York City blend together, fueling a mad man’s murder spree.
Ellis shares his interest in how history, and in particular ancient history, continue to shape our everyday lives in an impromptu talk held at the first Barn Talk in Los Angeles in January.
He speaks off the cuff about the thoughts that are consuming him as he works on upcoming projects and tells a few entertaining anecdotes along the way. It’s always interesting to see where Warren’s mind is going. Cities, ancient history, dead bodies and growing up in the late 70s in England. Just another night with Warren Ellis.
Today’s news is very simple to understand. Netflix decided it made sense to pay Comcast for every port they use to connect to Comcast’s network, like many other content owners and network providers have done. This is how the Internet works, and it’s not about providing better access for one content owner over another, it simply comes down to Netflix making a business decision that it makes sense for them to deliver their content directly to Comcast, instead of through a third party. Tied into Netflix’s decision is the fact that Comcast guarantees a certain level of quality to Netflix, via their SLA, which could be much better than Netflix was getting from a transit provider. While I don’t know the price Comcast is charging Netflix, I can guarantee you it’s at the fair market price for transit in the market today and Comcast is not overcharging Netflix like some have implied. Many are quick to want to argue that Netflix should not have to pay Comcast anything, but they are missing the point that Netflix is already paying someone who connects with Comcast. It’s not a new cost to them.
While this may be a tempest-in-a-teapot situation, I assume most people are freaking out here because of this news mixed with the proposed Time Warner Cable acquisition. And I’m fine with that because people should be freaking out about the latter, even if not the former.
Stockholm-based illustrator Kilian Eng certainly loves the ’80s. With a special interest in sci-fi and surrealism, he wears his influence on his neon colored, crystallized illustrations. The Swedish graphic artist’s work is like an escape to an outer space fantasy world where vintage synthesizers provide the daily soundtrack.
It comes as no surprise that Eng is quite prolific with artwork campaigns for like-minded alternative synth-pop musicians like M83, Caotico, Le Prix, Tesla Boy, Lazer Sword and more.
Full article: http://goo.gl/OmTl66
An Arabic net address ending has become the first to go live as part of the rollout of more than 1,000 new generic top-level domain (gTLD) name suffixes.The first websites ending in شبكة. - pronounced dot shabaka, and meaning web - went online a day ahead of schedule. […]
Other non-Latin script gTLDs expected to launch over the coming days include 游戏, Mandarin for game; сайт, Russian for site; and онлайн, Russian for online.
Can a music keyboard for your iPad be any good?
As musicians throw their real instruments in garbage bins all over the world in a rush to create Electronic Dance Music using nothing but the most minimal of computers, one piece of “legacy” equipment refuses to go away: good ol’ ebony and ivory (or a plastic imitation of it). Manufacturers from Akai to Numark to Korg have created portable MIDI keyboards in every imaginable iteration, but none of them have felt substantial enough to be interesting on their own merits. And then there’s the C.24, a Kickstarted piece of kit from San Francisco-based Miselu that doubles as an iPad cover.
"When I was young there were beatniks. Hippies. Punks. Gangsters. Now you’re a hacktivist. Which I would probably be if I was 20. Shuttin’ down MasterCard. But there’s no look to that lifestyle! Besides just wearing a bad outfit with bad posture. Has WikiLeaks caused a look? No! I’m mad about that. If your kid comes out of the bedroom and says he just shut down the government, it seems to me he should at least have an outfit for that."
- John Waters on the sorry style of today’s rebels (emphasis mine)
Filmmaker Frances Bodomo won FOUR GRANTS, count em up FOUR at Sundance yesterday, totaling what looks like $25,000 to pull together a full length production of her short film Afronauts which premiered in in the short film competition. The sponsoring companies and organizations were Kodak, Technicolor, the 2014 Women in Film/Calm Down Productions and Entertainment Partners. Afronauts is a 13 minute black and white film that:
Afronauts tells the alternative history of the 1960s Space Race. It’s the night of July 16th, 1969 and, as America prepares to send Apollo 11 to the moon, a group of exiles in the Zambian desert are rushing to launch their rocket first. There’s only one problem: their spacegirl, Matha, is five months pregnant. Afronauts follows characters that have not been able to find a home on earth and are therefore attracted to the promise of the space race.
Despite the valiant efforts of the motley opposition in Ukraine, the tame Ukrainian Parliament has passed a brutal law that slides the country into full-on dictatorship. Forbidden under the new law on penalty of high fines and imprisonment: driving cars in columns that are more than five vehicles long; setting up an unauthorized sound system; distribution of “extremist opinion”; “mass disruptions” (10-15 years imprisonment!); collecting information on police or judges; and more.
The new law also demolishes the trappings of democracy: you can be convicted in absentia based on unsubstantiated hearsay; MPs can be arrested during plenary sessions; the state can order arbitrary Internet censorship; and legal service of documents now consists of signatures or “any other data.”
Podcasters are always trying to get noticed and get more listeners and fans. For many podcast listeners, they tend not to stray too far away from the top podcasts listed on iTunes. When I saw The Guardian had posted a slideshow (ugh) of “Less popular podcasts”- I was hoping I would find a few gems.
Unfortunately the list is dominated by podcasts that, in my opinion are quite popular: The Moth, The Bugle, and even Welcome to Night Vale.
I wasn’t that surprised to see that these are still top tier/large and popular podcasts. But consider it in this light.
To many of the folks who are fans of podcasting, The Moth is a “big time” podcast- it is regularly featured on iTunes’s front page. The Bugle? That’s John Oliver of Daily Show fame! Night Vale has been the number one podcast on iTunes.
And those are comparatively “under the radar”. That’s how far podcasting is from anything approaching mainstream. It’s also why the top podcasts tend to be based on people or properties that have presence elsewhere in media, like NPR and the BBC.
At the moment, NPR has 4 out of the top 10 podcasts according to iTunes. This American Life, which is closely associated with NPR but which is actually owned by Chicago Public Media, holds the top spot. That’s a pretty solid lock on the top spots for public radio.
A pure podcast
Of those podcasts, only Night Vale is a “pure” podcast. A “pure” podcast means something that existed first and singularly as a podcast. It’s not a comedian or celebrity doing something to stay relevant(not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s not NPR repackaging their broadcast content; it was created just to be a podcast. I’d like to see more of that kind of content reach higher levels of success.
The earliest television programs were largely stage plays with cameras set up in place (or in addition to) an audience. Over time, the medium of television found its footing and the kinds of stories that were told through television became more unique to the medium and took advantage of its strengths.
For the time being we are still experiencing podcasts mainly as “time shifted radio”. Welcom to Night Vale seems to be one of the fairly early examples of showcasing the strengths of the medium. It is not locked to time, it parodies existing media and it seems to acknowledge that listeners generally encounter each episode on their own. The world only exists for that one listener at that time.
Hopefully more podcasts, built for the medium itself and not as a secondary channel, can grow larger audiences.