Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff (W.W. Norton, 2019, 256 p. hardbound), ISBN 987-0-393-65169-0, $23.95. Also available in eBook and audiobook formats.
The entities called computers were originally human beings, people like the accounts clerk Bob Cratchit in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In the mid-20th century, computers were (mostly) women who worked calculators and slide rules, tasked with tabulating data and solving numerical problems. Nowadays, says Douglas Rushkoff, computers run us as extensions of applications that abuse us for fun and profit. Rushkoff has had it with the soul-sucking “innovation economy”; to retrieve the human agency and dignity that technocracy has usurped, he proposes not a revolution but a renaissance of pre-industrial, even pre-enlightenment, societal values. Rushkoff emerged as an early member of the digerati, but has since been a longstanding critic of those who control digital media and manipulate its users, not to mention capitalism itself. Now a professor of media studies (CUNY Queens), public intellectual, and podcast host, he’s quietly assembling an army of change agents. Their mission is to “challenge the operating system that drives our society” by organizing the (better-educated) masses to throw off their (block) chains by imagining and building human-scale alternatives to giant financial institutions, public corporations, and their enablers. Given how overarching and well-wired global capitalism is, that’s a tall order, but Rushkoff asserts that the battle can be won if we stick together. Continue reading “Undoing Dystopia”
You know those little green-and-white USDA Organic labels you find on organic produce? What if someone told you that their adhesive transmits a powerful drug into the edible that over time can render humans sterile? It’s true, they say; they’ve seen the lab reports, and go on to assert that this is a plot by USDA and agribusiness interests to decimate nutritionally savvy people as a way boost sales of poison-laden GM food products.
Insidious beyond belief, you think. You’re pretty sure it’s a crock, but your doubt gene says “What if…?” and you decide to check it out. You email people to ask if they’ve heard it and some of them do the same. Someone finds a truther blog with a long discussion thread about it and lets you know. Alleging scientific credentials, certain discussants proceed to hypothesize about the chemistry and physiology of the attack vector and argue about that. Others point to connections between certain USDA political appointees and Big Food. The rumor has become a thing, and even if you post refutations that get shot down, you’re now part of it. Continue reading “Yes, Virginia, there are conspiracies—I think”
It’s only the second week of the month, but I feel we already have a winner for October’s spam contest. Not only is it semi-literate, its author kindly apologizes for the broken English, but then goes on to kindly request 850 euro be deposited in his or her bitcoin account. Even if I had euros I wouldn’t know how to do that. Should I go to my bank with cash, ask for it in euros and tell them to change them into bitcoins? I’ve never had any bitcoins; have no idea what they even look like.
The message ostensibly came from a user named Janine at a tax consultancy, but Janine’s address may have been spoofed. To preserve my privacy, I’ve changed my address to “whomever,” but the actual address my extortionist sent this to is a mailbox I dedicate to receiving mailings from adobe.com that has only been used by them, up until now. See, way back in 2013 hackers purloined data for some 8 million credit card and 30 million email addresses from Adobe. The info was most likely put up for auction on the Dark Web. It took five years for that s!*t to hit the fan, but that’s not unusual. Yet another reason not to do business with those price-gouging bloodsuckers, but I digress. Continue reading “Unsafe Sex with Your Webcam”
(Revised and expanded July 4th, 2018. Happy Independence from Consumerism Day!)
You probably sense as I do that normality isn’t what it used to be, even a few years ago. I’m talking not about Trump or politics but of the magnificent panoply of digital technologies we are immersed if not drowning in. The speed at which technologists are shoving stuff at us has bugged me for quite some time. Understanding innovation mania has caused me to spend years puzzling out what’s driving the complexification of nearly everything and how the new ways we are obliged to adopt might transform concepts of what human nature is.
Why, I wonder, is everything possible being digitized as quickly as possible? I hate to use the phrase, but might there be some “intelligent design” that drives humans to churn out technology, faster and faster? More importantly, whom or what are we serving with our clever innovations, especially those that render what once was tangible into bits? Continue reading “When Momma Ain’t Happy”
This article is an excerpt from a book in progress, titled The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants. Silica is the name I have given to the technosphere—the totality of human artifacts constructed over eons by human beings that allows us to survive and improve our lot. Except that things don’t necessarily get better in every way. To underscore how technology drives us as much as we drive it, I have personified Silica as sort of a demigod-in-waiting, a female force of nature I also call Stepmother Earth, who’s not quite sentient but quickly becoming so. Continue reading “Innovators, Mind Your Mother”
If you are upset that in behalf of Trump’s campaign, Cambridge Analytica siphoned personally identifying information on 50 million Americans from Facebook to microtarget voters, chances are that you may be missing the point about what they do and what it signifies. They are involved in psy-op electioneering on at least five continents similar to their efforts for Trump. Their data revelations are consulted in military and intelligence operations around the planet and their gluttony for personal data knows no bounds.
To get a handle on how these machinations play out, take a look at Roberto Gonzales’ (chair of the anthropology department at San José State University) recent article in CounterPunch, which shines a light on how CA and its parent company operate; by no means a complete accounting of the technologies or aims involved but enough to make you lose a few hours of sleep.
Read it, and let me know how happy you are now to expose yourself to social media. The task ahead for the citizenry, as I see it, is to immunize ourselves to behavioral manipulations, regardless of source or intent.
Watchbirds were those annoying little stick-figure birds who perched in some Munro Leaf children’s stories, always ready to instruct kids in proper protocols when they were misbehaving. Our current flock of watchbirds rarely have to instruct us because we mostly maintain civil decorum knowing they’re there. Talk about the nanny state.
Former Google EC Dr. Eric Schmidt has called for intelligence agencies to stop illegally prying into personal information and has been doing his best to convince the government to pay Google to do it legally instead. That said, in 2009 he was widely rebuked for telling CNBC:
If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities. ~ Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, 2009
Schmidt didn’t add that Google is obliged to turn over email content under court order and not tell users it did so. He didn’t have to. We all know about FISA and PATRIOT. Same goes for Hotmail, AOL, or any US email provider, only Google has much more to give. Continue reading “The Net’s Good Old Boys (3)”