A Connected Life And Its Downfall On Society

internet downToday it finally sunk into me just how much of my life is online these days. My router went on the blink, and my wife needed the internet connection for work with no instability, so she ended up hardwired into the modem. It then sunk into me that there was almost nothing I could do without the internet.

I couldn’t watch TV.
We have a WiFi-enabled ‘smart’ TV, which we use almost exclusively to watch Netflix on. No internet = no TV, so there was a 52” object that was functionally useless sitting in my lounge.

I couldn’t work.
A lot of what I do is based upon online things, so I need that connection to spark a connection, a conversation. What’s more, with my engineering background, I’m a detail and data-driven writer, so I am constantly referencing things. Being unable to reference really stifles my creative juices, and stymies my ability to bash out almost anything (something like this being the exception)

I felt disconnected.
For the last year, I (and indeed my whole family) have lived without cellphones (a post about that will be coming up soon[ish]) so I’ve already felt a little disconnected when I’ve been out and about. I had kept a tablet (a Samsung Galaxy tab3 7.0) and my wife had her Galaxy S3, but they were WiFi-only. Without WiFi they were essentially turned into ‘not the best eBook reader’, mostly because they were limited to titles I already had on there – mostly finished because I had known I could grab more on-demand until then.

As I sat down at my desktop, I kept going to my usual activities – all of which required internet access. I’d tab to Thunderbird to check my mails, I’d realize there was no net connection and chide myself, then switch to Twitter. Catch myself again and tab over to IRC. In fact during the 15 minutes it’s taken to write to this point, I’ve done it twice more.

I then take a look at my installed programs on my desktop, and I’m similarly stuck. With the exception of my audio/video editing software, libreoffice, and winamp, pretty much every other piece of software requires an internet connection. From puTTy ro Star Trek Online, a net connection is essential. Now I could edit some video, but I’ve got nothing to work on. WinAmp’s great, if you have music on your system, which I don’t (I had to dig out some CD’s from an old folder book, where they were nestled between copies of Encarta and magazine cover CD‘s, then hope my optical drive is connected and works (not having used it in so long) as I mainly listen to Pandora for music (often on the smart TV). As it is, I’m now listening to the electronic vibes of Hawkwind’s Xenon Codex as I write this.

Just did the tabs thing again too.

I’m not alone in this torment either. My three teen-aged (or thereabouts) kids are all rattling around lost too. They’ve already done the chores they’d had planned for today, my eldest has even already prepared dinner (at 1pm). This is a house that now spins on its internet connection, and indeed, when we moved was second only to the water/power in priority.

Last month was the McFly date, and their vision of the future was all flashy electronics, flying cars and shiny plastic. It’s as far off as 2001 was, and for the same reason. The period from the 50s-80s showed a great profusion in technological progress. Everything from calculators to portable telephones were invented, and the idea was that the pace on new invention, and of the ostentatious designs of them – ownership boasts if you will – would continue with them. Yet in the late 80s/early 90s it faced two countervailing forces.

The first was the rise in ‘software’ as a focus. Now there’s a hardware/software divide in a lot of things and so designs haven’t changed much now, because the change is internal. So with the focus now being on software (especially internet-based software) there’s less hardware development going on (comparatively). It’s all about social media, sharing, ‘apps’, and less thought and effort into pushing the hardware side (with some exceptions, like Elon Musk)

The second is a rise in tech-Luddite-ism. Email’s been around for 20+ years, and become one of the de-facto means for communication, and yet many government officials proudly boast that they do not use it at all, as if it’s some sort of badge of honour or Amish-lite. Other government officials attack technology and science in other ways, using Schneier’s 4 horsemen of the Information Apocalypse, while law enforcement and intelligence communities attempt to destroy encryption (which underpins the majority of non-cat-related internet content) or legislate things back to Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanical 17th century.

45 years ago, the US sent men to the moon, today they can’t even send them into Low-Earth Orbit without Russian assistance (STS-135 4 years ago was the last time that happened) any more [NASA nowadays has a budget of $17B, let than half in real terms as it did in the days leading up to Apollo – Walmart gets about $7.8B in tax breaks, imagine what NASA could do with that money? Probably more than the Walton family does which is pretty much nothing, taking it out of the economy (slowing it) and certainly not adding to civilization the way space research has.]. Global climate change is settled in every country except the US, where politicians claim the farcical to funnel money from science to their pet companies to encourage campaign donations [such as from the coal/oil based Koch brothers]

Regardless, we’ve now become a vastly interconnected society. On September 11 2001 I found it hard but not impossible to keep track of what was going on and the reports worldwide, because I was in IRC with a hundred other people from all over the world (in the distributed.net irc channel, back before the project went down the toilet) and we posted what we overheard on the TV, on radio, or from various news websites we were checking. It was hard to coordinate, but worthwhile, as information flow was slow worldwide at the time.

By contrast Friday was bedlam. Every site threw whatever they had, when they had it, TV’s rambled on in mindless speculation, ignorant ‘experts’ (who may not be experts at all), and endless supposition. Every place was saying something slightly different, like a giant lottery of news, with everyone picking their own combination of ‘what happened’, and hoping to be the jackpot winner of ‘actually being right’. Worse, news stations were actively competing with every other one, worldwide, trying to be the first to say something, Parisian stations competing with those in Bumfuck Kansas and Ichikrotsh in Thailand to be the first to ‘break the news’, with everyone on social media weighing in too.

It was not a news feed, it was the opposite of that. It was a news projectile-vomit, or diarrhoea, with partly-digested nuggets of information mixed in like carrots or corn. It turned a focus that was on educating people on the facts, into pandering to prejudices and entertaining people. 20 years ago, I could get the national papers in the morning, the Liverpool Echo in the afternoon. On the hour I could listen to the radio, and in between I could go look at Ceefax or Oracle on the TV. I had limited news sources, and those sources had limited audiences – get a reputation for being crap news and you lost your audience (ask The Sun how its circulation figures have been in Merseyside since Hillsboro for instance – down from 55,000/day to under 12,000 if you can find somewhere that stocks it). These days, websites can be hosted for pennies, and there’s a lot of money made from crap news, because with a global audience, and an audience with a global choice, you no longer have a handful of news organisations arguing for your trust based on their competence, you’ve got thousands of global news sites jocking for your eyeballs by attempting to pander to your prejudices.

It’s amazing how 1300 words ago, this started about how the internet turned out to be central to my day, and now it’s lamenting on how the rise of that self-same internet has permitted people to actively elect to become stupider, because they’re afraid (dare I say a coward) of actually confronting themselves honestly and admitting they might be wrong.

So when you wonder “where’s my flying car?” or “weren’t there supposed to be cities on the moon by now?” something to ask yourself is this – do you actively confront your prejudices, or do you pamper them with noxious garbage, invective that manages to spout shite while it is busy shouting spite? If so then the reason is you, and those like you. You’re so busy making noise about how glad you are to be ignorant, that you are actively harming the ability of civilization to progress, albeit by a tiny amount but across so many people it’s a tidal wave – nay a tsunami – of ignorance-worship that will seek to bury us when we need to have moved on. After all, if Yellowstone erupts or a dino-killer is on a colision course, won’t you be glad that you managed to potentially stop any hope of survival so you could keep your bigotry or line your pockets?

But that would require introspection, and in this connected world, who has time for that when there’s candy crush to play, and selfies to take, all while bitching about how you don’t like ‘political correctness‘?

And for those curious, I got my net connection back just as I was getting to the ISS/Walmart stuff, you can tell because everything there is written with references/links in mind.