We Are Living In The Future and It's Time To Start Acting Like It!
It’s January First, 2018. Another year is behind us, and it left us with a lot of problems to solve, and a lot of work to do. This is my summation of the chief problems facing us in the new year, and a road-map for the work I can do, we can do, to solve these problems, or at least mitigate them going forward.
Basically, it’s 2018. It’s the future. It’s time for us to start acting like it.
Defining the problems we’re facing
Lots of stuff is bad. Here’s a quick rundown of the battles I’m picking, and how/why they are bad. Don’t worry, though! These things may be bad, but they are fixable. I’ll get in to solutions in the next section.
Writing about this recently I said, with reference to the five media companies that currently control 90% of American media:
This media oligopoly is more dangerous than we often give it credit for. These five companies exert incredible power over our modern political landscape. (They are responsible for things like the DMCA, and the TPP, EME, and today’s Net Neutrality decision, in addition to our ever increasing copyright terms.)
They collectively control so much of our political and economic landscape that it’s difficult to effectively understand, or begin to trace, the breadth of their influence.
And that’s true! But it’s also a little obtuse. When I say that 5 companies control 90% of American media, what I mean is 90% of what is broadcast on Television, screened in Movie Theaters, played on the Radio, or sold in stores comes from one of these five companies.
The goals and views of these organizations shade everything they release, color our national discourse, and infect public opinion. Sometimes this is done in a benign or ever progressive fashion. Usually, it is not.
Think about how many things you’ve seen in which the protagonist is a hardboiled cop on the edge that takes the law in to his own hands. The first season of The Expanse does this, but in space! Almost Human does this, but with Robots! It’s Lethal Weapon, it’s Die Hard, it’s ubiquitous American media.
And sometimes these companies wield influence accidentally. It is impossible for me to believe that Trump’s presidential campaign wasn’t added by the massive amount of free news coverage he was given.
The modern Web is dangerous and unsafe
Parimal Satyal said it better than I can. Here, have some quotes:
Today, we are so far from that initial vision of linking documents to share knowledge that it’s hard to simply browse the web for information without constantly being asked to buy something, like something, follow someone, share the page on Facebook or sign up to some newsletter. All the while being tracked and profiled.
Almost every website you go to today reports your activities to third parties that you most likely neither know nor trust. They record where you come from, what pages you visit, how long you stay on each, where you click and where you go next. In fact, since so many websites report to the same third parties, these companies can essentially have your web history on file as you go from link-to-link, website to website.
And, in case you think that this is just about privacy:
The Leave campaign responsible for Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign both bought the services of a certain Cambridge Analytica, a company that boasts a gigantic database containing personal details amounting to “close to four or five thousand data points on every adult in the United States” (their own words). The goal? Craft hyper-personalized messages to change voting behavior based on your individual personalities, and by extension, your attitudes, opinions and fears. So if you are identified as a dad of three young kids in rural Texas, the message is nuanced to suggest that only a certain candidate will be able to protect your family against real or imagined threats. If you are identified as a patriot who’s previously posted comments about gun rights and the second amendment, it might be about crime rates and how the opposition is trying to take your constitutional rights away from you.
and my favorite quote from the piece:
You become a manipulable data point at the mercy of big corporations who sell their ability to manipulate you based on the data you volunteer.
So, the modern web is dangerous. But part of what makes the modern web dangerous is the same thing that makes modern American media dangerous. Namely, the modern web is being used to craft propaganda and manipulate individuals in to implementing secret agendas in the global political sphere.
It sounds like a nut-job conspiracy theory, until you start paying attention. If you actually pay attention, you’ll see that Facebook (and a dozen companies who’s names you don’t know) have detailed dossiers on all of us, and they are using them to manipulate us.
Beyond that, the modern web is also less open than ever. Facebook, specifically, is slowly eating the Open Web and replacing it with a walled garden where Facebook decides who sees what and when. Search engines are becoming less useful as a result. The web is pretty consistently in a bad state.
And then there’s the issue of what content your ISPs allow you to see, and how they respect you as a user. Yep, this is about Net Neutrality again! But it’s about more than that, too. It’s about us running out of IPv4 addresses, and still refusing to roll out IPv6.
Basically, the Internet is in danger. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to do neat stuff here, though.
The American Political landscape is terrifying
The NSA is spying on us. Corporations are spying on us. The governments and corporations that are spying on us use the information they gather to manipulate us in to supporting agendas that make us less free.
We’re super divided. Half of us do not trust evidence or fact as much as we trust emotions and feelings. The Midterm elections are going to be unimaginably important, and the half of the country that might actually want to do something is being pacified in to apathy by the elements discussed above.
It’s really bad, and we gotta fight against it.
So! Those are real bad problems!
Thankfully, there’s stuff we can do to make them all better!
Saving the Media
We gotta make our own media, and we gotta support the folks that do. That’s the bare minimum.
In my DIY media piece a few weeks ago, I said:
If we’re ever going to actually effect social change, we’re going to need to provide home grown, community alternatives to the media produced by the entrenched power structures represented by these mega-corporations. We need to hit them at their bottom line, which means creating (and consuming) compelling community TV, Film, Games, Prose, Music, and other art.
To that end, I’m working on some podcasts. I’m making DIY and public domain media reviews a regular feature on this blog, and I’m financially supporting creators whenever I can.
As the year progresses, I’m going to start putting together DIY media guides. Some guides I have planned:
- Podcast production and distribution
- Web hosting and website building for beginners
- Replacing Netflix and Youtube as a consumer
- Providing alternatives to Youtube as a creator
- Public Domain and CC fuel for remixes
- Zine production and distribution
I currently consider making media, consuming independent media, and helping other to do the same, to be the most important things most of us can currently do. I have some ideas on this front, that I’ll be talking about on Mastodon, and eventually in another blog post on this blog. If this is something that interests you, you may even want to Sign Up for my Newsletter so that you can follow along.
I am actively working on a group of Podcasts, which will be available from Analog Revolution sometime in the coming weeks.
I publish a quarterly scifi magazine available from Space Age Ideas. I am currently accepting submissions for the next issue.
Our monthly art/culture/politics zine will go back in to production after a ~year long hiatus this Februrary.
DIY Media School: Eventually, I want to start a series of blog posts/podcast episodes/videos highlighting production techniques, distribution methods, equipment, etc.
There’s a lot of secret knowledge in the world of media production. This stuff you’re just supposed to know, and that stuff you’re only supposed to be able to learn through very specific channels, and if we don’t teach both of those things, DIY media will continue to be out of reach.
If this sounds like something you want to participate in, Let Me Know! I can’t do this without a team.
Saving the Web
I love the web! I have said a lot of bad things about the web, and I will continue to do so, but I need you to understand that I critize the web because I love it. So here’s how we can save it:
Facebook is one of the biggest problems with the web. They track us, they wall content off from the Open Web and hide it in their walled garden, or in their app. They silo content, and only show it to your audiences in exchange for bribes. They serve as a distribution platform for corporate and governmental propaganda.
We gotta stop using Facebook whenever and wherever possible. It’s really that simple. I understand that you might use it for work, or to keep up with old friends, or distant relatives. I sympathize! I do the same thing.
But, at this point, that’s all I do. Facebook’s apps have been uninstalled from my phone and tablet. I visit the website no more than once a week. I am working towards removing the platform from my life entirely, and encouraging as many people as I can to do the same.
That means moving to Open social networks like Mastodon. It means publishing things through a Blog, instead of through posts or notes on facebook, and embracing the open Internet again as content creators and consumers.
Watch this website for a complete survey of alternatives to services facebook offers. I’ll be publishing a page with Open Social information as soon as I am able.
This is one of those problems that Facebook pretends to solve, but doesn’t actually solve.
When looking for new content, I’m checking:
- Creator run websites on the open web (with RSS feeds, so I can subscribe!)
- My RSS subscriptions
- The Gopherholes I follow
- Mastodon (And specifically, personal recommendations from people I follow on Mastodon in addition to checking hashtags.)
Importantly, I’ll be running Privacy Badger when I look for new content on the web, and I encourage you to do the same. But more than that, when I come across pages that appear based on the scripts that they load not to respect the rights and privacy of me as a user, I will not use them.
If I can’t find the content I’m after on the open web, without anyone attempting to spy on me, I’ll do without it (or, if I can’t do without it, consider other options.) I will not be using Facebook or Tumblr for content discovery. I’ll find new stuff through Open and Independent networks that embrace user freedom. I’ll share my content through the same channels.
For me, in addition to doubling down on my personal blog, I’ll also be publishing some content through Neocities, and continuing to develop the community on my tilde site, Of Many Trades.
At most Facebook and Twitter will get links to these other platforms, along with a sentence asking people to subscribe somewhere other than facebook.
The Internet Without the Web
I’ve wrtten about this one recently. Put simply, Gopher was an alternative service to the modern Web that predates it by a few years. It still works, it’s still out there, and it’s more relevant than ever in the face of an increasingly user hostile web.
I am publishing content via gopher, and I will continue to do so, and expand my use of the platform.
Do you publish on Gopher?
The Web without The Internet
I’ve written about this one recently, too. One of my biggest projects for the next year is going to be making that concept a reality. The idea behind the web is a good one, and if it can be save, it should be.
DAT + Intranets appear to be one solid potential alternative that I will be exploring in an attempt to build a modern succesor to the BBS.
Do you want to take part?
Reclaiming American Politics
American politics is a mess! If we’re going to save it, we have to:
- Create and control our own media
- Get as many people as we can off of Facebook and Twitter
- Educate, Agitate, Organize.
In my piece on Net Neutrality I said:
Educate Become your own news source, or amplify a non-corporate one. Blog (somewhere that isn’t Medium or Facebook.) Film the police and the politicians. Publish a zine. (Reach out to me if you want some help.) Use whatever platform that is available to you to demonstrate to people that Rupert Murdoch owning a large chunk of Disney is real bad. Demonstrate how the Net Noot repeal hurts folks. Talk about the
Use those platforms to get them angry. Use those platforms to demonstrate how those platforms are harmful. (When I say “Those Platforms” I mean facebook, Medium, instagram, and other centralized services.)
Agitate Then it’s time to agitate. Help the people you have educated fight back. We are fighting back against the consolidation of power in media in general, and specifically the repeal of net neutrality (which was possible, mostly, by abuse of that power.)
We fight back by leaving centralized services. By refusing to pay Disney/Fox/Comcast for media. By providing community alternatives to traditional media, and centralized services like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Medium. By self publishing. By using mastodon.
Organize And then we organize. We coordinate our efforts. We acknowledge that the things that we are doing are intentionally radical. We start taking collective actions. That means boycotts. That means walkouts. That means days of silence.
Once there are enough of us, our agitations, our small actions, cascade. Our small individual actions, in aggregate, become as powerful (more powerful?) than the machinations of mega-corps.
Importantly, we cannot depend on Facebook or Twitter to organize. We must explicitly organize in decentralized spaces. That does not mean that we cannot USE Facebook, or Twitter, or Medium as tools of organizing and outreach. We must depend on these services to handle our organization.
When you spell it out like that, it either sounds really simple or completely impossible depending on your level of cynicism. Thankfully, it’s neither. It is attainable, but it will take hard work.
So consider this a step towards education. These are the battles I have chosen to fight, and the ways in which i will agitate. What’s left is to organize, and to Do The Work.
While all this is going on, while I am building new teams, creating media, blogging, and building new platforms for content distribution, I am also planning to buy a home and move ~575 miles, and I am working a full time job. Balancing The Work against my personal life against my professional life will take some juggling, some organization, and a good team. My goals for the new year are ambitious, but I think we can get it done.
What are the battles you’re fighting in 2018? Do our battles overlap? Can we work together? How should we best organize?