All the things I don’t write about (because the internet is shit these days)

The internet is shit these days. A cesspit of ads, social media trolling on Twitter,  Instagram harassment, mass-manipulation and hollowing out of our democracy.

I’ve long stopped using it to socialise or have fun, find like-minded people, or anything like that. 20 years ago I met a young guy called Hank on IRC, he was Dutch, I didn’t know anything  about him or ever saw a photo, all I knew was we were into the same music, and chatting to him made my heart quicken. I didn’t want to meet him in real life – the internet was an escape from real life, it was anonymous and free. It was wonderful.

IRC chat
CC image courtesy of schid7864 on Deviant Art

Today the internet is shit, and dead to me. I don’t use it that much, other than for functional stuff like banking, booking flights, and so on. It’s quite cool in a way because most of the nonsense that comes with it these days (such as the aforementioned harassment, trolling, being manipulated, developing mental health problems etc.) passes me by, and I’m able to just choose its useful parts, which perhaps isn’t as easy for people who grew up with it and know no different.

The one downside is that I’m no longer able to connect, reach out, and find like-minded people online, to exchange ideas about things I truly care about or have an opinion on (believe me, I have MANY opinions!). I used to love healthy, democratic debate – yes, largely anonymously, but mostly honest and respectful. I still to this day love anonymous text and discussion such as on reddit, although I stopped participating a long, long time ago (two of my favourite subs are Foreveralone and Deadbedrooms.).

The things I don’t write about (because the internet is shit):

In no particular order, here are some of the topics that you will never see me talk about, or share an opinion on:

  • What I think about safe spaces
  • What I think about LGBTQQIA (or LGBTQQIA+)
  • What I think about inclusivity
  • What I think about feelings and offending feelings
  • What I think about incels / the black pill / red pillers / PUAs
  • What I think about the Tories
  • What I think about the rich and privileged
  • What I think about Brexit voters
  • What I think about the alt-right
  • What I think about social media
  • What I think about surveillance capitalism
  • What I think about porn
  • What I think about drugs
  • What I think about Ed Sheeran

Yes, Ed Sheeran. I don’t even want to talk about  Ed fucking Sheeran. That’s how bad it is.

Ed Sheeran

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I’ve leveled up!

Recently, I leveled up in the game called life. That is, I suddenly felt I’d achieved an enhanced or higher understanding of something that, previously, had been beyond my grasp.

Medium has a good article of what it feels like – 13 things that will happen when you ‘level up’ as a person – although it’s nowhere near as dramatic or all-encompassing as described in there.

If the game of life has 10 levels, then I’d say I’ve reached level 6, although there are still a couple of boss fights and missions left on level 5 😛 .

I then thought about what a person on level 1 or 2 might look like, and the Underground Man in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground came to mind.

He is very spiteful and self-obsessed, and ‘continuously concentrates on his spitefulness instead of on actions that would help him avoid the problems that torment him’.

Level 3 would possibly be someone like Donald Trump – not quite as narcissistic as Underground Man, but still largely an arsehole with little care for other people. While Donald Trump is strange and creepy, unlike Underground Man, he doesn’t seem to hate himself. This makes him a higher level than Dostoevsky’s flawed protagonist – you’ve got to love yourself, even if you’re a dick.

Who could be a level 4? I don’t know. But a level 10 is someone like the Dalai Lama.  Although I’d prefer it if he wasn’t on social media (I get it – he’s a ‘brand’). His interview on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was very good though.

How far can I / you go?

If I’m level 6 now, I wonder how long it’ll take to level up again. I was on level 5 for quite some time, I think (10 years?). This life game I’m talking about is not just about professional and personal advancement by the way, but also your mindset, and getting a deeper understanding of what life is all about. Spirituality without religion.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach level 10 – I think I’m too flawed for that. But it’s satisfying to know that there is still more to do, and MUCH more to learn (I’m currently on a side-quest).

How far can you go?

 

 

 

The Machines are here already

I came across a critical analysis of the modern internet recently, specifically how its algorithms today already shape and influence human behaviour, society, and the way the world is going.

It confirms my suspicion that we already are in the matrix in some way. It’s not that computers / robots / AI have ‘taken over’ as a discrete, external entity from us (as e.g. in Terminator) but instead the influence is much more subtle and insidious.

terminator
This is NOT the enemy – if only it were this easy.

Three ways in which the machines are in control

1. The smartphone reduces your Real Life (RL) experience

A smartphone just sucks someone into a small screen, where all their attention is focused. Have you seen people at a bus stop or on public transport recently? They just look into the palm of their hand.

If all that time is now spent on screens, it is not spent in the real (3-dimensional) world involving all of your senses.

I don’t know if the increase in mental health issues amongst young people is correlated with that, but arguably if you spend less time practising ‘being yourself’ in the real world you may find it more difficult. For that reason alone you should reduce your screen time and

drastically

so.

Don’t let the machines reduce your RL experience. The real (3D) world is messy but it involves ALL your senses!

2. The algorithms reduce your understanding that other views exist

One of the beauties of the algorithms running the internet is that they’re so subtle. While most people are aware of some degree of personalisation (e.g. you see content similar to what you’ve previously liked / bought), on a meta-level they still think everyone roughly shares the same reality (e.g. 62% of people in the UK don’t realise their social networks can affect the news they see – more on that later). This is the so-called filter bubble, according to Wikipedia

a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history.

In addition, confirmation bias means we favour information which confirms previously existing beliefs or biases, and filter out the rest. Our existing beliefs also affect how we process and interpret new information (i.e. we slant it towards what we already believe).

This and other psychological research explains why Trump got elected.

The algorithms (especially on social media) fuel our (very human) confirmation biases, so we think everyone thinks like us / agrees with us. All we see every day is confirmation of our own views. We do NOT really understand any more in a deep way that other views and realities exist.

This absence of a shared reality, some argue, is a threat to democracy.

3. The algorithms harm your child’s development by feeding it bad content

‘Suggested videos’ / ‘watch next’ is NOT a good thing, if the algorithm is optimising for horrific Peppa the Pig parody videos. Your baby could see the following:

 A dentist with a huge syringe appears. Peppa’s teeth get pulled out. Distressed crying can be heard on the soundtrack.

(From: The disturbing YouTube videos that are tricking children).

And that apparently is only a harmless example. This kind of stuff imprints on your baby’s memory. Thanks to algorithms and machine learning,  baby will get served up more of the same stuff. You, on the other hand, don’t even know it’s going on in the first place.

The article on Medium that inspired this blog post – Something is wrong on the internet – explains quite well how it all works.

Peppa the Pig goes wild and scary

Do you control your machines?

I believe we can and should live with our machines, peacefully, but that it is us who calls the shots. I’d like to see some kind of digital enlightenment where we’re much more aware (enlightened) about some of the stuff that really goes on underneath!

It is shocking to think that, in 2018 in the UK, according to new research:

  • 62% don’t realise their social networks can affect the news they see
  • 45% of people are unaware that information they enter on
    websites and social media can help target ads
  • 83% are unaware information can be collected about them that other people have shared

The full research, the aptly subtitled ‘2018 Digital Understanding Report’, was commissioned by Martha Lane Fox’ doteveryone think tank.

If it is true that the machines are here already, then digital education – and I don’t mean programming –  is the only way to ensure we learn to keep them in their places.

 

 

 

 

What is a 56k modem?

When filling in my tax return this week, I noticed HMRC provided download times for slow connections including 56k modem speed (download time 3.4 minutes for a 1340 KB file!).

56k modem speedWhile this made sense to me (I used a 56k modem to connect to the Internet in the 90s), I wondered what younger self-employed (or otherwise tax returners) would make of it – do they know what a 56k modem is? Would they google it?

I thought I’d provide some answers all in one place 🙂 .

What is a 56k modem?

A 56k modem was a tool to connect to the Internet in the late 90s. The biggest modem maker in the world at the time was US Robotics. Below is a photo of a 56k modem – it’s the one I had in fact.

56k modem US Robotics
CC image courtesy of Frédéric BISSON on Flickr

How fast is 56k dial up Internet?

56k dial-up Internet was quite slow. It took AGES to even view images.

I’ve tried finding an example – here’s a simulator that shows you an image being loaded on a 56k connection. I’d say it’s pretty accurate (although images tended to not be that big back then!).

When did the 56k modem come out?

The Internet says that the 56k modem came out in 1998; I’ve found a  story on the Independent from 1997 announcing the imminent arrival of 56k modems:

These new modems certainly sound tempting. They can download data from the Internet at a rate of 56,000 bits per second (56Kbps).

I got mine in 98. I think I had a 33.6k modem for a little while before that (with a 486 computer).

Below is what the Windows 95 operating system looked like – you had to set up your modem and dial-up network connection manually.

windows 95 operating system
CC image courtesy of TORLEY on Flickr

Is dial-up still used?

In the UK – in small numbers if at all (I haven’t found any concrete stats). BT turned off dial-up internet on 1 September 2013 which left 1,000 people unable to move to broadband.

There was supposedly still a PlusNet service (a BT subsidiary), however the Internet says that PlusNet dial-up internet stopped on 7th January 2015.

Should HMRC remove their reference to 56k modems?

Yes. Although it resulted in this post – so no.

Also, it might make someone else smile 🙂 .

 

How I came back

I stumbled across someone’s old school online community blog a few months back – a guy that worked at the BBC in the early 00s and who has been blogging since 2005. It reminded me of my own blog, as I had discussed things like Facebook in 2007 (when they launched brand pages), in 2009 (when they started advertising), and in 2011 (when they tried to get me to set my homepage to Facebook).

Set Facebook as your homepage

Zero Intention:

I had no intention of restarting this blog but two reasons caused me to do so:

  1. Seeing a young YouTuber’s YT channel (19-year-old)
  2. Thinking I have a role to play (I am part of an older online culture, web 1.0 if you will)

When reading back some of my old blog posts, I used to approach and interpret the Internet largely through a media angle. Partially because I originally had a cultural studies / media background (rather than a business and management one), but partially also because ‘in those days’ it wasn’t as commercialised as it is today (this blog didn’t use to have ads when I wrote my first post on  21 July 2006.)

Now I see everything through the ‘Marketing’ angle, even the draft title for this blog post was a click-baity SEO headline! So. I always wear my marketing / brand / blah blah head. I can’t look at digital media neutrally any more – I existing in the matrix so to speak (as a personal brand).

I need to take a meta–angle. It is quite difficult to have a ‘voice’.

Archive publication:

I also thought it would be useful to make the site available again to be crawled by the search engines (this means they’ll be shown in the Google search results pages).

There is some useful content e.g. in relation to the time when I did my PhD (this blog originally documented my PhD journey, see e.g. the PhD Viva (= oral examination) category. The category list on the right admittedly is rather chaotic!

I may have even have time to do some more tidying over the summer 😀