Author Topic: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future  (Read 302 times)

Brad

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Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« on: October 02, 2018, 11:16:32 AM »
https://nextconf.eu/2018/09/andrew-keen-how-to-fix-the-future/

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It became clear to me that something was wrong with the beginning of the Web 2.0 era, and Google. It was all about doing away with curation, and bringing in everyone’s voice - but in the Cult of the Amateur I warned that this might do away with the idea of a fixed truth.


ergophobe

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2018, 04:34:11 PM »
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Business model of surveillance capitalism

I think I've heard that phrase before, but I had forgotten it. I plan to start using it whenever I can now.

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Anyone who says that this “is the first time it has happened” should be struck down immediately. It shows a profound ignorance, a lack of knowledge of history. They've never read about the past.

As a (formerly) professional historian, I both agree and disagree with that. Both errors are a problem: the error of believing something is unique and without precedent and the error of believing we've seen this before. History, it turns out, is messy. As the great historian George Mosse once said in an interview when being asked to predict where a trend was going: "I'm a scholar of the past, not a prognosticator."

History is a handy tool, but variation is infinite and small variations can lead to large differences.

And one problem with history as a tool...

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The uncertainties of his age were captured in the great debate between Protestants and Catholics. The Lutherans believed in predestination, in a infinite God making us powerless. More reminded us that we have agency, and his tract was written against predestination.

This is just odd. More wrote Utopia in 1515 and published it in 1516. Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517. In the city I study, it took 9 years before Luther is known to have been mentioned in Geneva. The disruption that concerns More was the enclosure movement, where communal lands were being fenced off. He was also concerned with other social ills and argued for penal reform and something akin to a welfare state.

More did stand in opposition to Luther and refused to recognize Henry as head of the Church after he left the Roman Church, but that was 20 years later. What Keen is doing here is like reading something I wrote in 1980 and citing it as part of the excitement about the World Wide Web.

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Without regulation in the Industrial Revolution, we’d be poisoned every time we went outside, and 11 year olds would still be working in factories.

This, on the other hand, is in keeping with the spirit of More's Utopia and, as he says, so often forgotten in the US. A historian friend studied responses to the dying rivers and the propaganda from the industries polluting them. As a result of their toxic effluent, some rivers were devoid of life at a time when people were learning that microbes caused disease. The polluters would tout the fact that they were making the rivers safer and healthier with their effluent because, see, all the microbes in the river are dying. It's much safer to drink now.

It wasn't until the Cuyahoga River caught fire that people at large started to think maybe something had gone wrong and we needed regulation and Nixon created the EPA. That is to say, it took a century.

Brad

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2018, 07:43:22 PM »
But despite those quibbles I think his main argument that the Internet has gone wrong and here are 5 points to help fix it are useful.

The problem is paying for it as the end user.  As we discussed in some other thread, paying $5 a month here, $10 a month there, $4 per month here and here and here, to avoid "surveillance capitalism", starts adding up real darn quick.

ergophobe

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2018, 08:09:04 PM »
5 points to help fix it are useful.

Sorry. Yes, absolutely. I really liked the article in general.

I was for a while keeping a file I called "unhacking the American mind" and just having the phrase "surveillance capitalism" in my vocabulary makes it much easier to articulate the problem to people who are completely clued out (like the person who insisted "there are no ads in the Google search results when *I* do searches").

People complain about "political correctness" and the obsession with vocabulary, but it was in fact conservatives who really first recognized the importance of vocabulary and labels (Peacekeeper missiles, death panels, pro-life, etc). George Lakoff (author of "Don't Think of an Elephant") has written about that a lot. The people who control the labels, have incredible power.

If you label something a "social network" then it sounds so warm and fuzzy and undeniably good. If the same thing becomes a "major player in the surveillance capitalism economy," it suddenly takes on a completely different feel.

Brad

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2018, 08:43:02 PM »
Quite so. 

I don't know that vocabulary and labels are either liberal or conservative, its the bureaucrats that love them. Churchill once sung in Parliament, "Be it ever so humble there is no place like Accommodation Unit."  And the Pentagon is famous  for mucking about renaming "mess hall" to "dining facility" etc.

The business world is full of this for advertising and job names (ie janitor > custodian > maintenance engineer.)

ergophobe

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2018, 09:23:09 PM »
I don't know that vocabulary and labels are either liberal or conservative

Of course. It's more a theory about how certain political battles from the 1970s until present were won and lost and how, early on, liberals often got outmaneuvered because they chose unwieldy, "academic" labels that didn't resonate and failed to recognize how terminology matters. Liberals have gotten much better at this, but sometimes are still just clueless (remember the Obama campaign to Win The Future, aka WTF? I mean, seriously!).

Anyway, my only point there was that the group that sets the terminology, sets the terms of the debate. I mean, how do you argue that you don't want Peacekeeper missiles? Are you against peace? How do you argue that Black Lives Don't Matter?

And similarly, remind me what it is about Surveillance Capitalism that you like? Andrew Keen FTW!

That phrase is gold. I just love it.

The five points are also interesting, but harder to grasp immediately and intuitively and, I feel, not necessarily compelling. That may be unfair - it's a short article based on a long book. So you can't expect him to flesh out his ideas.

Still, I feel like it's more the description of a problem than a blueprint for a solution.

These are just some off the cuff reactions. I am super interested in this topic and would love to have holes poked in my comments. Seriously, I think there are a few master issues that need to be solved as a precondition for solving other problems, and this is one of them.

So... with an invitation to criticize what follows...

1. Regulation
This has become a dirty word, but in a monopoly economy and, I think our bigger problem currently, a monopsony economy, only the government can go toe to toe with these giant organizations. There needs to be a balance of power. The problem right now is that our legislators "lean to the green." That is to say, in studies of legislation that is not "hot button" (i.e. not guns, abortion, etc), almost every legislative vote goes in favor of the party that donated the most money.

So regulation is a weapon that powerful interests use to manipulate the government in their favor. So the problem is how do we fix regulation?

There has been some pushback, saying the system isn't really broken
https://www.vox.com/2016/5/9/11502464/gilens-page-oligarchy-study

But then again
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-secret-to-leadership-in-congress-lean-to-the-green_us_592dc4dbe4b047e77e4c3efe


2. Better Innovation
Both the examples he gives here (food and autos) got better because of regulation and, when the government wouldn't act (as it often wouldn't), lawsuits. As he explains Better Innovation, it's a special case of regulation. I feel like that isn't correct. Surely there are other paths to better innovation.

3. Consumer articulation

Consumers are mute? I'm not sure about that. People complain about how awful air travel is, but when AA tried to get a competitive edge by increasing leg room on all flights, it failed. It turned out people bought entirely on sticker price. Are those consumers mute or just speaking loudly by their actions?

When I say "I'm not sure," by the way, I don't mean that rhetorically. I mean it's some sort of Gordian knot that I can't quite wrap my head around. Where is the chicken, where's the egg? How much of consumer action is the result of sophisticated manipulation and how much is business responding to consumer demands? It comes down to how you handle point #5 I think.

4. Citizen Power
He's asking us to support the musician and the cab driver. I agree with that, but to me, the problem is systemic. Individual action helps (patronizing places that treat workers well). But the key is that the US has seen the top 10% pull the ladder up after them over the last decades and it has resulted in great inequality and reduced social mobility.

A couple of examples
 - Universities have often become fancy (fancy health clubs, fancy dining options) that has raised prices even while state aid has plummeted. We have responded by creating tax-free college savings accounts. The 529 accounts only help families with income sufficient to put money aside and who, ultimately, will pay the price for the fancy college. This is a main driver behind US social mobility falling so far behind that of Denmark and Sweden.

 - Mortgage tax deduction. This is a massive subsidy to the propertied classes in America. I certainly benefited both directly on my own house and indirectly by my family getting the deduction when I was a kid). Every economist says it's stupid. George W. Bush tried to get rid of it, but it was a non-starter. The realtors and bankers lobbied immediately to kill his proposal. But Bush was right, it would have helped reduce inequality in America, but the classes who benefit from it fight tooth and nail to keep it.

Many such examples. So you can be super nice to your cab driver and tip and support companies that treat them well, but to really make a dent in the problem, you need to fix it systemically, which gets us back to #1 again.

5. Education
Sure... but having been employed in various types of education, I think that's a glib solution, that is very difficult to implement, especially when FANG is working hard in educating people in precisely the opposite direction.

I think his examples are naive. It may be that an AI can't deliver bad news as empathetically as the very best doctors, but I have no doubt that an AI can already deliver the news better than the worst of doctors.

------------

So what's wrong with my pessimism? What am I getting wrong?
« Last Edit: October 02, 2018, 10:16:45 PM by ergophobe »

Brad

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2018, 10:53:25 PM »
Regulation:  Currently, it's not going to come from the US Gov't.  I'm waiting for the Big Silo's to stumble or overreach so much that gov't has to act.  It could happen, but I'm not holding my breath.

Innovation: well it happens over time.  The cloud is replacing computer based software.  Windows isn't going to be a cash cow forever etc.  Somebody is going to come along with a search engine better than Google as G gets fat and lazy.

The Rest:

Honestly, when it comes to the Internet and Web, I can't control a lot of it, but the beauty of this tech is we can carve out our own chunk of the Web and build it as we want.  We can use GreaseMonkey to filter out the fake news.  We can use ad blockers to silence excessive adverts. We can refuse to visit surveillance capitalism websites.

Is that a good solution?  It's not all bad.  We turned over the keys to the web to those surveillance capitalists and got burnt.  I think it's time we put some fun, writing and innovation back into the web. A decentralized web.

ergophobe

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2018, 03:27:59 AM »
I think it's time we put some fun, writing and innovation back into the web. A decentralized web.

I think that's key. This kept going through my mind when he writes about "consumers." I was thinking that is the main part of the problem. We should be talking about creators.

Brad

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2018, 10:36:06 AM »
It's not that we should give up on all the Keen recommendations, but the problem with the Keen approaches is we (the public) are asking permission. While we are waiting for permission we can build.  We don't need to ask permission to build, we can build whatever we want.  It may not be all slick and glossy but it will work.

Decentralized:  I can spout off all day about the All Seeing Eye of Google, but people are stuck there until we build alternatives.  And they don't have to be expensive search engines (although that would be nice) it can be as simple as blogrolls, link pages for surfing, and yes little curated directories that map out the fun parts of the web.  The web we build because we need something fun to map out.

A thousand roads lead to Rome, but there are also ten thousand alleys, hiking trails, sidewalks, farmers tracks and goat paths too.  We don't have to stick to the highways all the time.

I feel like a hippie writing all this, but I think it's true.  I'm bored to death by the corporate web and the Silo's and the made for Adsense sites. We can do better.

ergophobe

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2018, 04:28:04 PM »
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the problem with the Keen approaches is we (the public) are asking permission. While we are waiting for permission we can build.  We don't need to ask permission to build, we can build whatever we want

That is brilliant.

I think the other problem is he frames most of it, aside from the regulation aspect, in terms of individual action. Your comment makes me think that part of what's missing from Keen's essay is that we also don't need to ask permission to "regulate." Some years ago, consumers forced Home Depot to stop carrying old growth lumber. Inidviduals alone couldn't have done. Government wasn't interested. Organized citizens, without anyone's permission but their own, "regulated" Home Depot.

We can do the same with FANG. To some extent, though, we all need to stop being addicted to free and cheap and easy.

It is completely Brace New World out there now. It's all free or cheap and easy, and in return for that, we give up so much agency and so much mental space. That's the reason I left Facebook some years ago. I was only spending an average of 20 minutes a day on it, but I found it filled the gaps in time that I would otherwise have used to let my mind wander and be creative.

The mantra of our age is "Never be bored."
« Last Edit: October 03, 2018, 07:18:01 PM by ergophobe »

Brad

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Re: Andrew Keen: How to fix the future
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2018, 06:59:02 PM »
Good point about citizen action, ergo.  Google ia backing away from the forced login on Chrome because of public outcry.  We need to keep it up and quit using their stuff.

>never be bored

Honestly, I get more out of Th3 Core, running on old fashioned forum script than I do FB and Twitter combined.  I still think forums are a great form of social networking and they are dirt cheap: I have about 10 forum scripts I can deploy from C-Panel with one button.   Any webmaster can gather friends together and start a forum.

Moreover, turnkey Mastodon hosting starts at 5 Euros per month.  It's just a matter of time before other open source social network scripts are offered under the same sort of arrangement.  Eventually, that is going to worry FB and the bird site.