Giving Up Social Media & The Feudal Internet

Quitting social media is an ongoing theme of this blog with posts discussing various aspects: 

  1. Arguing against particular social media services, e.g., Be Seeing You, Facebook.
  2. Describing new technologies major Internet companies employ for surveillance, e.g., Facebook & Facial Recognition.
  3. Describing how third parties use these platforms in the service of both advertising product and manipulating public opinion, e.g., Information Operations & Facebook.

    There are some people who believe that the solution is a matter of individuals understanding the problem, transforming the design of social platforms, and changing the business incentives. In other words, the solution is either government regulation or a major company of the feudal internet — Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft — redefining the landscape to put user’s interests first.

    I think a better solution is to redecentralize the Internet. But, these efforts will need support in their early stages, and they will take time to mature. In the meantime, the best solution is to avoid the feudal Internet as much as possible and seek out other, decentralized options that can serve your needs. 

    But, decentralized options come with costs. Users pay for the service themselves rather than advertisers paying the cost in exchange for targeted advertising based on information about users.

    What options are there? Here are some suggestions to get you started. 

      So, people with minimum space requirements can substitute these alternatives for the feudal internet services for less than $100 / year. For $200 / year, most people can get enough space for their needs. Further, alternative services often have additional functionality “free” feudal services do not provide. 

      By making the choice to get away from feudal internet services, we are investing in an economic and software development environment that puts the user back in control because the user is the client, not the product. It may be that government intervention can fix some of the problems of social media and reign in the power of the feudal internet companies in the public interest. A company like Apple might do the right thing for the people using their services. But, the best option is for more people to seek out alternatives, which will give those options the opportunity to develop into viable competitors to the major Internet players.

      Masculinity and ‘The Man’

      “I got gas in the tank / I got money in the bank / I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man.

      I got skin in the game / I don’t feel no pain / I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man.”

      —The Killers, “The Man.”

      Catchy single. While there is a sense of poking fun at defining masculinity in terms of strength, power, fame, money, or even a slight association of divinity, i.e, “[r]ight hand to God”, these ideas are often central to “male culture” in the United States (and elsewhere). Feminism, despite its many faults, does offer men the possibility of transcending the limitations imposed by popular notions of masculinity, which is no small thing.

      Redecentralize the Internet

      “Every new medium (read: technology) has four sets of effects, he said, which can be best discovered in answers to four questions:

      1. What does the medium enhance
      2. What does the medium make obsolete?
      3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier? 
      4. What does the medium reverse, or flip into, when pushed to extremes?”

      —McLuhan, Marshall quoted in Searls, Doc. “The Actually Distributed Web.” Linux Journal. August 8, 2017.

      Interesting argument that decentralized protocols integrated with blockchains are more efficient than centralized systems and have the potential to undermine the platforms of the major Internet fiefdoms of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. I am not sure I believe that this is likely to happen, but it is a refreshing change from the doom and gloom of many technology discussions these days.

      Crimes Against English: Adulting

      Every new generation contends with the no longer relevant advice of the previous generation. After World War II, a booming economy made lifetime jobs with pensions the norm. But, by the time Generation X was born, corporate downsizing, off-shoring and the creation of the 401(k) in 1978, made many of the beliefs of the Boomer generation irrelevant to the contempory workplace. Still, Generation X were called “slackers” both because the environment was different and seeing the materialism of their parents did not bring them happiness, they brought in different values.

      I think a similar dynamic is in play with the term: “adulting”, which implies the “[husband/w]ife; children; house; everything. The full catastrophe.” Notions of needing to work 9-to-5, car payments, home ownership and so forth are as out of step with the modern work environment as believing in lifetime employment and pensions. Yet, this standard, which is just as bad as the materialist and consumer values of the Boomer generation, is how younger people — albeit in a seemingly joking manner — are encouraged to think of themselves, a social gaslighting designed to birth an imposter syndrome in the young. So, the use of the term is a bit of a crime against the language — being an adult has nothing to do with mortgages, but it’s really an example of the bad ideas mass culture propagates that harm everyone that comes into contact with them.

      Community: A Third Place

      “Home and work, I had read that morning, are our first and second places, respectively, and the third place is a sociable one we choose for ourselves as somewhere that helps root us in our communities, and promotes social equality. Or at least that’s the ideal, according to sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who coined the phrase in 1989 in his book, The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. ‘Nothing contributes as much to one’s sense of belonging as much as ‘membership’ in a third place,’ he wrote.”

      —Brown, Jessica. “Searching London for My ‘Third Place’.” Longreads.com. July 2017.

      Adding Oldenberg’s book to my queue. I am curious what qualities make for good First, Second and Third Places. I suspect they differ and could be classified, perhaps Oldenberg has already explored this in detail.

      Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

      What is a VPN? Should you use one?

      “…in a nutshell VPNs rely on specialized software that you download and install on your computer. Some VPN providers will supply customers with their own custom brand of VPN software, while others may simply assign customers a set user credentials and allow users to connect to the service via open-source VPN software like OpenVPN.

      Either way, the software creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN provider, effectively blocking your ISP or anyone else on the network (aside from you and the VPN provider) from being able to tell which sites you are visiting or viewing the contents of your communications. A VPN service allows a customer in, say, New York City, to tunnel his traffic through one of several servers around the world, making it appear to any Web sites that his connection is coming from those servers, not from his ISP in New York.

      If you just want a VPN provider that will keep your ISP from snooping on your everyday browsing, virtually any provider can do that for you. But if you care about choosing from among VPN providers with integrity and those that provide reliable, comprehensive, trustworthy and affordable offerings, you’re going to want to do your homework before making a selection. And there are plenty of factors to consider.”

      —Krebs, Brian. “Post-FCC Privacy Rules, Should You VPN?KrebsonSecurity.com. March 17, 2017.

      Luckily, there is a website that provides side-by-side comparisons that can help you choose a VPN provider according to factors that matter to you.

      A VPN can help you present less of a target to criminals online, and it is an especially important piece of security for people that use open WiFi networks. Everyone should use one. You can expect to pay somewhere in the range of US$50-100 a year for a good VPN provider.