My generation of Americans(USA-icans) is often referred to as a new Lost Generation because roughly ten years of graduates were told between 2001 and 2011 that we could not enter society due to economic ‘downturns’ and ‘instability’ allegedly caused by an absolutely necessary war on fear itself that could only be seen, by us, on cable news. (not like that has really changed but we were the first group of young people to experience this, a drastic change after the somewhat booming 90’s we had grown up in)
As much as I dislike generation-talk, it is significant that we were the first to experience what mass media is now trying to explain to the entire catch-all “Millennial” generation(who will for some reason always be associated with a superficial calendar rollover). The Millennials are somehow all three(?) generations to graduate high school following the Lost Generation, and are used by the mass media as a sort of hobby horse for what cranky people notice about people who still have their youth and need to be convinced to waste it, and with a Buck Rogers-esque twist. One day they are too ambitious but don’t want to work for it, the next they are noticing that they are being preyed upon with slave labor internships and trick entry-level positions. They are living alone and with their parents in record numbers, have record debt, aren’t having sex, are on my lawn, etc.
The ever growing ranks of new millennials are puzzled about this when they graduate high school in 2012, 2013, 2014 etc, at least somewhat, because my generation was not really allowed to warn them in culture. Neither our experiences, new historical revelations, technological background or basic good advice have been incorporated into high school curriculum or the shows they have been watching. The best they could get their hands on if they tried is The Chappelle Show or shows like the less well known Party Down, or maybe some of the best standup comedy, which still stand out exactly because those viewpoints hardly ever make it through to mass media channels. At what age might a recent high school graduate first hear George Carlin’s line, ‘It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it’?
I think this is one of the big reasons my generation(or plainly, people in their 40’s) have been largely silenced, marginalized and told that the whole class mobility and/or middle class aspirations were off the table for us. I don’t think it is coincidence or the result of market forces, at all. It is systemic and ideological, prejudice and economics only convenient arguments of people preserving their power and using it to control a very tight narrative, one in which a lot of our viewpoints have no place whatsoever.
People running The New Thing absolutely know that people who were 13 when the Berlin Wall came down are not going to want to build Trumps tragic Wall of fail or hop on board with their New Nationalism and New Racial Identity movements, or cheer on the military and police and banks as they finally complete their long term plan to run the entire country like a prison.
I think they(and if you’re having trouble imagining who they is, just imagine the facebook executives who are also on the board of a private prison company, and have emergency property in New Zealand…Orange is the New Black depicts their lower ranks well) also don’t want to hear much from the people who were first exposed to primitive digital technology as children and remember how it was before, at the beginning, the promises that were made, for instance that Thinking Differently was to be encouraged and enabled and celebrated, even, not categorized and studied as a threat or harvested by parasites.
I think, for instance, that children born in the sixties or seventies, especially those who have worked directly with the technology and immersed themselves in the science fiction culture around it, are not quite ready to work on autonomous murder drones and mind-reading nanobots. We are seeing some of this with google and microsoft employees’ refusal to help china build their Ultimate Final Freedom Eradicator or whatever they are calling their dystopian mutant internet. This viewpoint, my viewpoint, also in my opinion informs Edward Snowden
Some people, like myself and Mr. Snowden, have been watching where this is going for a long time and have grave concerns. People have told us not to worry about a slippery slope so many times not worrying about the slippery slope sounds to us like a religious mantra people use to simply make money and silence uncomfortable moral critiques of themselves.
Why does a comedian write about such serious things? Without freedom there is no comedy only propaganda, so at some point I stand up for freedom not just because tyranny sucks in so very many ways, but because it also is a threat to the art that I love and have in large part dedicated my life.
There is no way for me to be a comedian without also making fun of the worst tyranny, and at the moment this is the worst tyranny. The emporor is not wearing any clothes, the companies running the tech world are selling you out. I can say it in a hundred ways and tell a hundred jokes at their expense, but since comedians are allowed to write essays even with run on sentences and because there is a lot of humor in this essay too, I think at least, and since I can do whatever I want here at my own website, here we are.
I started debating on forums and email groups in 1999. I was still at it during Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and didn’t give up until 2017. I was there at the height of myspace with some awkward profiles as I tried to find a way to present myself online, at all. Early versions of this website. Then all the dating websites, 3 rounds at least at OK Cupid. I probably wrote a million words on reddit and argued probably with a million shills and trolls. I was dragged into facebork kicking and screaming, gave it a real try and it turned out to be way worse than expected. I thought twitter might be neat, and I had even myself envisioned such a thing in 2001, but I also knew that if it were to be implemented with manipulated algorithms, it would be a extremely bad.
I say all this to report that I, for one, was very social on the media. I gave a lot. I was very giving. I was, and am still, generous. I shared of my actual heart and soul, or whatever you want to call it. My essence. I wasn’t hiding. I wasn’t pretending. I wasn’t a shill. I tried to help other people and I think I did.
I do not think it is out of place to think for all of this I should have gotten some energy back. I wanted to make some actual real life friends, in a very traditional sense (which I don’t think should require explicit definition), and I wanted to make connections with people I could collaborate with. I thought when I put my interests and ideas online, I would find similar people and we would become best buds.
What a fool I was, amirite? I made no friends, some acquaintances. I made some connections with other comedians. But although it looks like everybody and their dog has a crew to shoot videos, that has still never worked for me. As an artist, I now believe it is worse when people can read your life story and know your politics and how famous you are not, before they experience your work and your personality. People look for reasons not to consider your art and your social media gives everyone and their dog a reason, excuse, pretense to exclude someone. In a bizarro society in total denial about class and ideological division, this is an impenetrable wall of mirrors for all but a very few certain types of people, resulting in a catastrophic tightening of every constriction of every art community on earth. And someone creating a false community nexus that seems to demand a mix of personal and public information, is going to be a hurdle or invisible containment field for almost all artists.
You think you may be more easily discovered, but what you are is easily scrutinized and what they are looking at first is not your art.
“When you’re climbing to get power, you have to use whatever methods are necessary, and you have to conceal your aims. Because if people knew your aims, it might make them not want to give you power.” – Robert Caro
And this is just the censorship that is implicit, not even counting the hidden manipulation via algorithms and actual covert human intervention to make some people inevitably popular, and others inevitably unpopular. This type of granular control of invidivuals, and thus society, driven by ideological predelections of those holding the reigns could allow a very small number of people to control the entire idea space of humanity, and potentially for a very long time, with very little trace of interference. If we let them.
And on all fronts with the future of the web, this worst case scenario is what we are left with and it doesn’t just suck, it isn’t just asocial. The lack of means to rationally discuss coupled and the ease with which these poorly thought out software platforms enable tyrants, is threatening World War and preventing a concerted reaction to a chaotic environmental catastrophe beyond all reckoning. If a true madman were to take control, a Global ideological, religious, or race based class structure could be established through use of precision genocide. And if the Chinese are able to make the world forget Tiananmen, who knows what else about us future regimes will be able to erase.
The most common use case scenarios of the internet, what we consider the backbone of the internet, the major allegedly social media companies, were implemented by a snarky group of bright outsiders, sold out to venture capitalists in stages to milk them like cows, generating lots of money for investing classes to reap in with little effort. The processors were doing most of the work, easy money.
Then once Control was taken from the creators, toxic yet profitable values were gradually introduced. Then, surprise, scandal, then infiltration by fake accounts, then algorithms take control, then spam, then outright censorship, then bots, then lost passwords, then sold data, then leaked data, then shills, then actual paid militaries of the world spreading chaos. Now as I write this the people responsible for all this, who claim to be the heroes of the internet and have reaped the most value from it with precious little actual effort or contribution to its actual construction, want to now be the ones to establish Truth Committees of various sorts.
(oath network, honor network, are there any words left they haven’t shredded? a place for friends…don’t be evil….we’ll call our well-funded organization or initiative ‘INSERT WORD YOU WISH DESTROYED HERE’ and then Do The Exact Opposite Of ‘INSERT WORD YOU WISH DESTROYED HERE’….)
The need for such an organization, a Virtual Debate Society is what I envisioned, is what I predicted in my 2002 book “Foundations for an Internet Mediated Argument Network” which was actually laughed at. It is funny when people laugh at you when you are standing on the shoulder of a giant like Arthur C. Clark who had envisioned the necessity for such a virtual mediation system on interstellar passenger vessels. And maybe I would not be including mention of it in this essay if people had not laughed at me quite so hard, or even a single person taken me seriously.
Something like faceboork could be cool, if it wasn’t subverted by ownership interests. Something like that one bird site or reddot or search engine could be cool, if it wasn’t subverted and gamed for marketing, surveillance, opinion management and eventually sold to China and censored into non-relevance. Nearly every concept for social networking fits the same pattern, gosh we could then get together over distances for actual social stuff, but only at a site that feels like the police interrogation room. Like Discord. Good technical solutions are subverted by management, sold out to marketing and arm-twisted into giving law enforcement global moderation, and any attempt at distribution is flooded with carefully designed, repulsive spam that floods any node that ever threatens to be popular.
Maybe these are all the same people even who are hellbent on preventing any actual social activity on the internet. At the very least we know the government, of the United States at least, is on the internet to crack up all consensus and from what I can tell they are spending a lot of money there at Eglin Air Force Base to scramble as many brains in as many directions as possible. How this is good or legal, unless you are some long term contingency planner determined to make the entire population predictable for your penny-counting spreadsheets and post-apocalyptic war game scenarios, is beyond me.
In nearly every case so far, the public interests on the internet are endlessly flooded with shennanigans to the point where the only thing that actually works well is mail order catalogs and propaganda. Even advertisers and credit card companies are beset with all manner of peril if that is any indication.
The proposed solution being handed down from high at the moment is a council of corporate types to determine what is true and we are allowed to see, and what is false and are not allowed to see. Sure, sounds great what could go wrong. Looks more to me like what they are trying to build with Truth Committee is The New Spanish Inquisition with copying information from one place to another without express written approval as the new witchcraft.
If only they had told us up front this is what they were building…
Well, fortunately their eyeball tower of bullshit is not quite finished so there is some hope yet for those of us who possess the capacity to think our way out of such paper bags.
I never thought Tron would turn out to be quite so prophetic but in this chaotic maze of moneyed interests playing power games building Rube Goldberg spy machines, not enough people are fighting for The User to the point that the moneyed interests themselves are trapped in the chaotic maze. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are excellent examples of people who can barely operate their own personal devices and thereby put the entire American system through untold chaos with their undue power. And maybe some days we cheer that this gives us a glimpse into the real world they otherwise hide from us.
I’m not talking here though about the pros and cons, I’m talking about the irony. Scrooge Mcduck has to put some really fancy locks on his money vault now and use 20 character passwords that he forgets sometimes, and all that because he himself endorses a system with privacy for nobody in order for his economic class to maintain control, so that the system functions at all. In order for his card to work when he swipes it, he has to admit his Windows 10 laptop sends the keystrokes with all of its passwords to several data storage locations and that his iphone microphone can be turned on remotely at any time and the battery can’t be removed.
To allow even himself privacy, he believes as hard as he can, he would have to give crazed maniacal mobs of poor criminals that power and he can find no simple way out of this manichean headlock.
The bigger the vault gets, the greater this paranoia, the greater the effort of the crackers, the more burdensome the countermeasures, and he has to stay ahead!
Some are probably going a bit mad at those heights and putting backdoors in the backdoors of the backdoors while burying gold in the backyard, and on it goes.
At the outset, this was not how digital technology and the internet was sold to us. And again, this is exactly why the people running the advertising campaigns for Web 10.0 and 5th Generation Wireless do not want to hear from people like me.
We were sold on a personal computer. These words have a distinct meaning that has not changed over time.
Along with this vision of freedom and authonomy did not come Extreme Ubiquitous Always On High Wattage Electromagetic Frequency Transmitters that would provide High Definition on comically small devices and direct connection to the home of numerous multinational corporations. And again that all the devices would have low level hardware and software backdoor vulnerabilities, and that there would be neither effective regulation or a way to ultimately audit closed source software.
Gradually we saw the personal computer become the Cloud Device. The personal computer was yours, for your ideas, under your control, that you understood, that gave you super powers to solve problems, produce intellectual work and communicate efficiently over long distances.
New versions of OS X and Microsoft are not these things. They are means to transmit ideas to you, to turn you into a consumer and audience and any ability of yours to create and broadcast your ideas is secondary. You are integrated with a control mechanism and are studied like a lab rat or a potential criminal.
Both of these companies are paradigms of technological capitalism and we should study them like they study us. A brilliant team of founders innovates and thirty years later both are vast oppressive corporations deeply integrated with state power, spending billions of dollars a year to stifle innovation while reinforcing a rigid, unjustifiable oligarchy.
I am a comedian so reddoot, facebork and twooter appeared at first to me like true innovations that I could use to further my career. I thought, certainly someone would notice my original content and how I was asking intelligent questions, and I might meet other writers or maybe Be Discovered. I didn’t know, I put myself out there. I gave these companies the benefit of the doubt.
Isn’t it odd though that even giving something a try for 10 years, you will still be treated as a luddite or fanatic when you express anti-social-media views? Anti-social-media is perceived by alleged social media as asocial….
But what if that is backwards? What if we have had the entire thing backwards? What if typing on our computers in physical isolation is backwards and asocial? What if using facebork strategically to advance our careers is backwards and asocial? What if trusting megacorporations with absolutely opaque decision making structures to determine the algorithms that drive our entire society to the point of determining roommates, dates, job offers and used sofas, is utterly naive? What if it puts us all in danger?
I know it has put me in danger. I know after two decades of using these technologies that were supposed to enhance my social life and economic mobility, they did the exact opposite. I have fewer freinds, fewer economic opportunities, much, much, more harassment by undercover police and it did not start to get better until I stopped using these products completely and moved to a different continent.
I think this generation of social media is asocial, parasitic and toxic and I am not alone. As a comedian, writer, musician and technologist who is allegedly supposed to be most benefited by this stuff, it is a big disappointment and perhaps a surprise to some. And there are of course the .0001% of people who for whatever reason seem to flourish and thrive in this bizarre digital environment with so many hidden incentives and pitfalls, but I refuse to let these people define my life experience or be some authority when I run across them. I’ve learned these people are, if I am as polite as I can be, not people I want to emulate.
So here I am, a refugee from my country and from the technology that was advertised as something that would integrate me better with my country. First I was just lost, then I became an unwanted person on some new kind of blacklist. Now that the social media has revealed its true asocial stripes, non-shills flee in all directions and distrust skyrockets. Huge obstacles to someone like myself, an aspiring independent comedian and writer, ever existing in my professed career.
Shifting focus to the rest of the world, all the other crises happen to be driven by the same type of facebork executive. The nationalism, the wars, the nuclear proliferation, the environment, the paralysis, the nonsense media, and you know, the threat of extinction. These are the same class of people who borked up the internet and they want the rest of us to just hold on tight while they think up the next big thing that will give us our shot.
The question shouldn’t be how aspiring artists will be able to get to the next stage of their career in a market where even trust fund kids can hardly get by, the question really needs to be, given the state of affairs why the same people are still in power at all. The questions we should be asking are to the next round of innovators, how are you going to prevent your nanobots, 3d printers, robotics and artificial intelligence from being sold to interests that only use them to oppress humans? Or worse?
Further, even in asking, ‘what will be the next facebork?’, you are implying that you are hoping the same incompetent non-technical authoritarian hedge fund manager wannabees who brought you the first ten rounds of dumpster fires will finally get their act together and give you(through executive prowess learned in ‘business’ school, lol) some quality, ethical technology that doesn’t abuse and exploit you, The User.
I for one am done helping build prison technology or in any way contributing to the Master Database like I am a lab rat, and I would like you to join me.
One way you could do so is post this article to your facebork, redoot, or twootar(or gmale, hotmale, yohoo, etc etc) and free yourself from their bullshit forever by enthusiastically boycotting these platforms.
Myself and a lot of smart people are looking into alternatives. We’ll think of something and get where we’re going or die trying. There are ways for everyone to help and be a part of the solution, so I encourage you to do so.
One thing I can say for sure about these efforts is that the people building the internet into a prison are counting on your inaction, so the lazy should prepare themselves for the moral ramification that they are to blame for their limitations, should they find the walls are there to keep them in, rather than the other way around.
TLDR; Contemporary social media is parasitic and asocial; if the discoverers and creators of the next big things do not protect their work from the corporate class and their bizarro nightmarish control-mechanism algorithms, then we might as well just get it over with and lock ourselves up in sensory deprivation chambers and attach the cable to the back of our heads and do away with all the tacky hullaballoo between here and there.
(and the chamber will have leaks, the temperature and pressure sensor will have backdoors, the cable attachment will be comprimised, etc etc and on and on)