Gene Expression

Every Man A Media Mogul!

Portfolio & Wired have a one-two punch on the future of broadband up. I’ve read that it takes 3-4 months for a salary increase to be “discounted” so that individuals move up the consumption ladder and no longer feel flush. With internet speed the latency seems far more attenuated; there’s always a new application around the corner. The Portfolio piece notes:

Spurred by a new wave of Skype-linked families, Hulu-watching flash mobs, and HD-video downloaders, global internet traffic is likely to quadruple by 2012. That’s an internet 75 times larger than it was just five years ago. It will be generating 27 exabytes–nearly 7 billion DVDs worth–of data each month. Start stacking those DVDs on January 1, and you’d be at the moon by tax time.

Technology moves fast. Can you believe that it was as recently as 2003 that sales of DVDs surpassed VCRs? Remember VCRs? Yeah, vintage technology for antiquarians.

The Wired piece is more of a speculative think piece:

He calls the unlimited-bandwidth future the “participatory panopticon,” and describes a world where many will broadcast every move of their lives. Everything will be its own broadcast station, its own TV channel: Each subway train, each building, every lamp will be linked in, updating status reports and even live video to the net. The world will be defined by a cacophony of narrow-cast information, all of it begging for attention and analysis.

Omniscience will no longer be an exclusively god-like quality. We all will be “minutely and intimately aware,” predicts Greenfield, “of every Indian woman maimed by a spurned suitor in an acid attack, every Iranian kid stoned to death for having the temerity to be born gay, every destroyed textbook in the trashed cafeteria of an abandoned Detroit high school.”

Unfortunately for us, says Greenfield, quoting the Buddha, “awareness is suffering.”

This is standard Transparent Society stuff. As I’ve noted before it’s pretty easy, and free, to find out the age, where people have lived and who they are related to, within 15 seconds through internet services. More information if you want to pay $3-$100 dollars, depending on what you need (e.g., public records, etc.). I know that some tech entrepreneurs are trying to bring the transparency to the office environment first. The goal is to have everyone be able to snoop on everyone else, from the CEO down to the mail room employees. From what I’m to understand one of the rationales for this sort of transparency is to increase workplace productivity, and throw a light on the reality that many “40 hour work weeks” aren’t really 40 hour work weeks (it might be better for a company and an employee to have 25 hours a week in the office where the employee works 95% of the time, as opposed to 40 hours where they work 60% of the time, as leisure time is best spent at home and not at the office).

But does this mean that there will be no privacy aside from your own thoughts? The JournoList fiasco shows that “off the record” online communities are something of a contradiction.* The costs of cut & paste are minimal, and once a community gets large enough internal norms will be hard to enforce. New-fangled technology does not change the fact that we’re apes subject to Dunbar’s number. On the other hand that doesn’t mean that in a “Transparent Society” all sorts of “dark networks” won’t proliferate, existing at various levels of transparency and exclusivity and scale. If for example we humans begin to habitually record all of our activities no doubt others will invent scrambling technologies and what not. Though there might be various costs toward enforcing a bubble of informational opacity around oneself, no doubt it will still remain possible, and there will be service providers who emerge to fill that need in the market. In the workplace and on the street nearly perfect transparency might become the rule and not the exception, but I assume in other contexts privacy will still be a possibility if one has the will.

* The main controversy with JournoList has to do with mainstream reporters not employed by opinion magazines being active members. The idea of an off the record e-list is banal, many, including myself, are members of several such lists of like mind and various degrees of secrecy. Many times dissenters from an e-list which has grown too large form their own subsidiary e-list. This is not a function of the technology, but of human psychology. It’s simply stupid to imagine that people would and should say in public what they would say in private (Overcoming Bias readers are an exception, but they’re quite often not neurotypical).

Comments

  1. #1 John Emerson
    March 29, 2009

    What are DVDs?

  2. #2 agnostic
    March 29, 2009

    Compare where we are now with 15 years ago, when the internet was becoming mainstream. Are we snooping and peering into the lives of everyone now? No, and the reason is simple — most people’s lives are too boring to bother.

    Take the simplest case: looking at someone else’s pictures. The most targeted group here is cute girls. Most of their Facebook pictures are pictures of their ugly or mediocre friends, their doggies, their feet / shoes, etc. Who would waste so much time digging through everyone’s photo albums? A few maybe, but not a normal person.

    Rather, there are hubs that have culled all the bullshit and present only the good stuff, gotten from cute girls’ Facebook, MySpace, of Flickr accounts. The same is true for gossip. Normal people then plug into these middleman hubs, not into the raw content directly.

    Therefore, there will never be a participatory panopticon, but a continuation of the “info hub” model. The main difference with the internet is that these hubs aren’t limited to newspapers, TV, radio, and the local busybodies, but include blogs, online newspapers, and “cute girl pics” websites.

    Only autistic geeks who write for Wired would think a normal person would have the same reaction to freely available personal information. “Omigod, that’sh sho aweshome! I can shpy on anyone I want!” But really, who cares? We’ll just free ride off of those who go through the whole mess to find the good stuff (or support their advertisers).

  3. #3 jim
    March 29, 2009

    I’m skeptical of the “minutely and intimately aware” idea. I think we’ve pretty much hit the news cycle limit of human cognition. There are only a few outrage/disasters/news stories that can get noticed each day. The internet hasn’t changed that too much. The cycle has been accelerated … it’s harder to keep a story in the news. And there are more subgroups … but each subgroup competes to get its story/outrage/disaster to be the top story of the day.

    Rather than bring the world together, I think the cacophony and ocean of information means people have less and less in common. Transnational sub-groups are more common, but at the same time more localized groups are broken down.

    Ten years from now there’ll be orders of magnitude more info, but little increase in humans ability to absorb that info.

    Some people like to have an international flavor to their daily news. In the past they’d read the NYT story about India, now they can read a blog written by some dude in Mumbai — has anything really changed? Most people, of course, will ignore both.

    I also have the suspicion that the info glut is reducing people’s capacity for close relationships. People are simply spending less face-time with other people. So a modern social network is a spouse, kids, a very small # of close friends, and then a large, but shallow network of acquaintances and past friends tenuously maintained through social network tools. The middle layer of good, but not close friends. I’d bet the average American in, say, 1970 or 1980, had more people they could call and ask for help moving a couch or babysitting a kid. How many people can the average American ask a personal favor of today?

    I think humans crave dense social networks, and modern tech gives us the illusion of that dense network but the links are pretty weak. Facebook and MySpace are more like an extension of Christmas card culture (the yearly family brag many American Moms send out to their acquaintance network — used to be a big part of American culture).

  4. #4 DDeden
    March 29, 2009

    adolescence + obsolescence = key to technological evolution

    yet the most popular I/O interface remains the torah/bible/quran fairytale trilogy in black ink on macerated tree branch pulp.

    “so have you wrote a book yet?”

    is not going away anytime soon

    despite wax tablets, wax cylinders, vinyl discs, cassettes, 8-tracks, vcrs, cds, dvds, usb drives, chips, etc.

    “everybody follow along, on page xx, surah y, chapter x, blah blah blah”

    shepherds blind as a bat on the beach in the midday sun

    but highly effective tele-networkers despite their shortcomings

    transparency rarely equals honesty or accuracy, it just requires another layer of ‘invisible cloaking’

  5. #5 yogi-one
    March 29, 2009

    Agnostic is thinking in the right direction. The problem is that most people don’t have the time, or the desire. And criminals and spies have always had ways of getting info on targeted people, way before the internet became prevalent.

    For example, does the fact that I can dig up dirt on a billion people change what I am going to do tomorrow? No. Not to mention the time factor. Even if I devoted all my waking hours to digging up unflattering tidbits on everyone, it would be quite a long time before I made a dent in the exabytes of info that are out there and constantly growing. In fact, I would be constantly losing ground, given the speed at which the data is increasing.

    More to the point, however, is the basic fact that I, like 99.9999…% of the people, don’t care that much about the dirt on everyone else and don’t want to spend my time on such a sordid activity.

    But does this mean that there will be no privacy aside from your own thoughts?

    Actually, most people tend to think similar thoughts as they did the day before, and the day before that, etc. So if you browse someone’s blog posts or comments for a few months, you basically have a pretty good line on their viewpoints.

    Wired has never given up being a proponent of the ‘computers will revolutionize everything’ propaganda of the nineties. Computers have changed a lot of things, it’s true.

    But one thing that seems much more impervious to the computer revolution is human nature.

    Computers may change the way we do some things, but they are not going to change basic human instincts and drives.

  6. #6 razib
    March 29, 2009

    . “Omigod, that’sh sho aweshome! I can shpy on anyone I want!”

    “anyone” misses the point. this is like assuming that because google exists people will know more. no, not at all, but, they’ll know what they want to know and more quickly. e.g., you are dating someone, and want to double check their age, where they’ve lived, how many family members they have, and might be curious if there are public records of note (e.g., past marriages).

    Actually, most people tend to think similar thoughts as they did the day before, and the day before that, etc. So if you browse someone’s blog posts or comments for a few months, you basically have a pretty good line on their viewpoints.

    you don’t care what people think, you care what a specific person thinks. a stalker is weird because they go to great lengths, and probably have multiple people who they stalk. if a person has banal thoughts they’re still interesting if you are interested in them. people read the same plot-lines and celebrity gossip over & over even though there’s a lot of repetition in terms of structure.

    remember that most of these data have always been out there. marriage records, voting registration, etc. they were just hard to get to, so most people didn’t. similarly, pre-internet obscure facts required that you go to the library. now they require 1 minute of your time.

    consider that you’re at a party and meet someone interesting. if you can get their name, you take a bathroom break and look them up on your iphone.

  7. #7 agnostic
    March 30, 2009

    So you’re not disagreeing about the absurdity of the “participatory panopticon” idea. That’s what I was criticizing.

    Sure, it’s easier than before to get the info that you want. The panopticon idea makes the further, ridiculous assumption that “the info you want” is “what everyone is up to”: everyone is under a big magnifying glass that everyone else is looking into, info overload, etc.

    The sane view of how technology is changing things is that the world is pretty much like it was before, only more efficient and convenient. The insane view is that we’re on the brink of a dystopian (or not, depending on your POV) future where everyone knows our business.

  8. #8 razib
    March 30, 2009

    So you’re not disagreeing about the absurdity of the “participatory panopticon” idea. That’s what I was criticizing.

    yeah. that’s retarded. i guess that extreme view is so dumb that i don’t even take that as a starting point for the discussion ;-) kind of like i think it’s retarded to think that having 1,000 facebook friends ‘changes everything.’

  9. #9 Tom Bri
    March 30, 2009

    …e.g., you are dating someone, and want to double check their age, where they’ve lived, how many family members they have, and might be curious if there are public records of note (e.g., past marriages)…

    Great point. Reminds me of a girl I went out with for quite a while. So sweet, cute…then I realized her stories just didn’t add up. Turns out she was a serial liar. Just lucky for me she couldn’t keep them straight.

  10. #10 deadpost
    March 30, 2009

    “Overcoming Bias readers are an exception, but they’re quite often not neurotypical”

    But any less so than GNXP readers?

  11. #11 razib
    March 30, 2009

    But any less so than GNXP readers?

    yeah, somewhat. my exp. with meeting both sets….

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