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I guess the question that occupies my mind a lot these days is:

Can we build a healthy, positive, life-affirming Internet?

I feel like large parts of our Internet infrastructure are toxic to mental health and social freedom and were designed that way on purpose, because the system seeks money, and you get more money by controlling people than by allowing them to flourish and reach their full potential. This has always been capitalism's big problem (and socialism's too).

@natecull I think nothing can be perfect that way until we have a replacement for both capitalism and socialism. Once there is no more scarcity. The (hopefully) benevolent robot overlord will feed and clothe us and give us time for endless ponderings. This will happen, but it takes time.

Which engine will get us there fastest? Capitalism or socialism.

The former might be fastest, as the system of competition ensures pressure for consistent improvement. However, it will subject the robot overlord to greed. The robot overlord may destroy itself with war before utopia can be realized(if humans don't wipe themselves out first).

Socialism would morph into dictatorship(those who control the resources make the rules)(power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely) and prevent the coming of the robot overlord in order to extend the dictators time of enjoyment while taking from the people (and pretending to give).

Both are broken systems. Can we just skip to the robot overlord utopia? Please?

But: apart from the problem of 'active engineering of our information and communication environment for short-term concentration of massive oligarchical wealth, leading to mental addiction and social collapse as unfortunate but mostly irrelevant side effects',

I think there are many other possible failure modes of networked personal computing. Many of them probably emergent effects.

I guess I want computing to be emotionally and mentally uplifting... and my frustrations come when it isn't.

In fact a lot of the things which I get constantly angry about in today's computing environments, which all seem to be 'tiny, trivial things'... like dialog boxes which steal your key focus, or laggy keystrokes, or system messages that don't give you time to read them...

All these things maybe aren't actually trivial. They're all signs that I am not the customer, that the experience is not being optimised for me.

I think that's what I worry about a lot. That computing is leading us, but where?

@natecull The real issue is technological change outpacing society's speed of adaptation.

As environments change, people develop etiquette, laws, religious traditions & stories to pass on what behaviours work & which values we need to remember.

Companies have just been responding to what's favoured by the social, legal and social context. So there's a feedback loop with both positive and negative consequences.

Maybe we need to increase the rate of social response.

I don't really buy this. Technological change has slowed down substantially since its peak in the 70s (to the point that most of what we, as individuals and even as early-adopters, run into as 'new' technology' is really 70s tech that finally became profitable), & smaller groups had bigger shifts in tech for decades.

We *are* seeing the effects of certain tech at a larger scale than before, but mostly, we're seeing the effects of capital-amplifiers.


There's no qualitative change happening in, say, ad targeting. Ad targeting works exactly the same way it did in 1995 (and exactly the same way folks were expecting it to eventually start working in the 70s, when computers & statistics were first being applied to the problem).

There's a quantitative change happening, which is that we reached the physics-theoretic peak of speed for integrated circuits 15 years ago, & we're working on getting everybody on the grid.



And that basically means that it's becoming harder to ignore the gap between theory and practice: you have enormous amounts of computing power and enormous amounts of data and you still can't make advertising work reliably.



And until that bubble collapses (which nobody really wants, because it'll take the global economy with it, because most of the economy is just gambling on futures of futures of futures of ad valuations for novelty t-shirts and other trash), the reaction is that everybody in that industry doubles-down and makes promises about how they'll get two tenths of one percent more likelihood of a sale from three gigs more targeting data per person.



This isn't a 'new' phenomenon at all. It's the inevitable result of following the original 1970s script. And, you'll find people -- not even necessarily terribly technical people, but essayists and science fiction authors -- writing in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, about this script and talking about its end-game (which we are living through) because all it takes to predict it is an unwillingness to buy into the hype.


@enkiv2 @natecull Some parts of the dystopian imagination of the 70s and so on were well conceived, like John Brunner's idea that the successful modern humans would be the ones best at adapting to hyper rapid change, or his prescient ideas about crowdsourcing knowledge.

But those visions are always lopsided, seeing one set of forces without anticipating the counterforces equally well.

@byron @enkiv2

The 1920s reference is something I've been thinking about too. It feels like we're in a very similar spot.

In some ways, the smartphone is just the final (or interim) delivery on what 'radio' promised in the 1920s. Took a while to get batteries, transmitters, aerials, small enough, and then layering computers over the top was something nobody quite imagined then. But the definite feeling was in the air. "what if... telecommunication?"

@byron @enkiv2

And now we're like a dog who caught the car and we're sitting there, a little dazed, entire back axle between our teeth.

We wired every human brain together. Now what comes next?

@byron @enkiv2



that is definitely what is going to happen next

@natecull @byron @enkiv2

< ( Did you know that in 2020, Dick Tracy really will have a radio watch? )

( Golly gee whillickers, far out, man! ) >

< ( It also tracks his every move, sending it to shady organizations he’s never heard of without his permission or knowledge, and neither he nor anyone he knows is allowed to know how his phone works or what it’s doing, with a jailable penalty for knowing too much. )

( Uhhh… ) >

< ( Also it’s too big for his wrist. We just force each other to all carry around a purse now. )

@natecull It’s a little emotionally uplifting to hear people like you wanting that sort of thing!

Nice not to be the only one.



I'm not sure how to read "people like you", since I'm just a random guy on the Internet. I don't have any levers I can pull to make anything happen.

It's just that I guess my first exposure to computing was Creative Computing Magazine in the 1980s as a kid so I sort of inhaled kind of that aspirational, late-hippie, educational idea of what computing could be, rather than the business view of a better way of doing accounting.

I think a lot of people maybe grew up with that too.


For perspective: when I was a kid/teenager in the 80s, lots of adults at the time were absolutely *scared* of computers. To them, computers were the tool of The Man or Government, they were something alien and dehumanising. I kept trying to explain that to me, they were like this neat Lego set that just buzzed with creative possibility. We didn't need to fear computers! We could use them!

But now that I'm an adult, I find myself worrying that those adults were right after all.