How the young Tech Savvy Generation is Changing the World

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I’ve been writing about how Internet has been affecting society for a couple of years now. One angle I have not touched on is that it is affecting younger generations way more than older generations.

Kids raised on the internet are now in their 20’s and early 30’s and their understanding of the world is radically different than generations before.

Social scientists in the US like to artificially divide Americans into “generations”. There are three dominant ones today: The Boomers (those that grew up in the 50’s and 60’s), Generation X (those that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s), and the Millennials (those that grew up in the 90’s and 00’s).  I am part of Generation X, the smallest and least powerful of the three.

All three generations have their technical savvy and non technical members, so what I am about to say is a generalization and not true of everybody:

Boomers are generally conservative and Christian. They love the suburbs, and beer, big houses, and driving trucks or SUVs, and watching cable TV.

The “average” Boomer is online but rarely use the internet. They do email and Facebook and Wikipedia and a few select sites.  It is a small part of their lives, and a lot more of their time is listening to the radio and watching TV, because that is what they have done all their lives.

Millennials are generally liberal and never go to church. They prefer city life, living within walking or biking distance of everything. If they have to drive, its economy cars or hybrids. They drink fancy coffee and box wine, and get all their media via streaming services.

The “average” Millennial is online practically all the time, thanks to smart phones and tablets. They are very internet savvy, and practically live online.  It’s where they work, its where they go to school, it’s where they play, it’s where they meet people. The internet is their world view.

In between is Generation X, the “average” is hard to pin down because it is so widespread.  It is somewhere between.  Gen X grew up before the internet like the Boomers, but has a stronger adoption rate than they do. Most of the big names involved in creating the Internet are Gen X, but this recent video of celebrities that are clueless about the internet contain mostly Gen X celebrities.

Some Gen Xers like myself think and live like Millennials, and some think and live like Boomers, and as a result our generation really has not developed its own identity other than our affection for console gaming.

The internet savvy Millennials are 100% in control of pop culture today, while politics is controlled by the former hippies now ultra conservative Boomer generation.  The fact that the Millennials do not seem to care about race, religion, sexual orientation, and are socially liberal on issues regarding sex, drugs, and punishment is hopeful, but their near universal apathy towards politics is worrisome.

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Shifting Demographics: What Election 2016 is REALLY All About!

As I write this, the status of election 2016 is that Donald Trump is, barring a party coup, going to be the GOP nominee, while Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the Democratic nominee, but Bernie Sanders continues to be a thorn in her side.

The next President of the United States is going to be a “Boomer”, and it is safe to say they will be the last “Boomer” President (Bill Clinton and George W Bush were both Boomers, too, Barack Obama is Generation X)

Conventional wisdom says that generations are always liberal when they are young, and get more conservative as they age, and that is a true trend in history, but there has never been a generation quite like the Millennials:

 Only 21% of Millennials are married, while 42% of Boomers were married at their age;

Almost 1 in 4 (23% to be exact) have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, making them the most educated generation (more demographic breakdowns of college graduates can be found here);

Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation, with 19% being Hispanic, 14% African-American and 5% Asian;

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Millennials are the most diverse, highest educated, and least likely to have a traditional family.  The odds are pretty good they are going to be the most socially liberal generation ever.  It also does not help that Boomers are driving Millennials to embrace democratic socialism.

Donald Trump’s main appeal is to those mostly white males who are afraid of systemic change as a result of demographic change.  White Christian males have been the dominant force in America for generations and they are losing ground demographically every year.

Hillary Clinton is an “old school” Democrat, who often leans Conservative (most troubling even Neo-conservative) on many issues.  Her lack of appeal to Millennials could prove her biggest weakness.  Fortunately for her, Millennials don’t vote.

Bernie Sanders is a proven Liberal, who has run his campaign towards appealing to Millennials, and has succeeded. Many of the media wonder why he stays in the race even though his chances of a nomination are quickly approaching 0%.  The answer is he is grabbing the youth and exciting them into politics.  Sanders knows that Millennials are the future of this country, and it is time they take an interest in their own future.

Regardless of the outcome, Sanders’ message is going to win in the long run. Sanders is too old to run again, so this is his one shot. Ideally, some young Sanders supporters will start running for office and start challenging the Boomer status quo.

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The Cyberpunk Age is already upon us

Back in the 80’s before the internet, many of us Gen Xers would read books. One of the big fiction trends was “cyberpunk”, books often set in  dystopian but connected worlds. Neuromancer by William Gibson in 1984 was considered the first.  Later prominent novels were Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

These books took the early networking tech that was already developing at the time and expanded on it, thrilling our imaginations with future worlds we could only dream about.

Today we no longer have to imagine, the “cyberpunk” world has become our reality. These authors got a surprisingly lot of ideas right.  They also got many parts wrong, so reading these books today feels anachronistic.

One thing these books got wrong is that their heroes had unusually good prowess with digital information, and that prowess usually saves the day in the end. Prowess with digital information is proving not to be unusual at all, in the Millennial generation and whatever we are calling the generation after it (why not call it the cyberpunk generation?) prowess with digital information is the norm.

I saw my 2 year old nephew sit at a computer with a mouse and point and click away on a game as easily as a fish takes to swimming.  I didn’t even see my first computer mouse until high school.

Kids today are creating a new digital society and have little interest in preserving traditional ways. This is a world wide and nearly universal trend among the younger generation vs the “cold war” world view of their parents and grandparents.

The “fears” of the older generations are driving politics right now, but personally I’m excited about the changes.

The digital age is not a perfect one, but that’s another story. No age has ever been perfect.

Why Playboy’s New “No More Nudes” Change is a Bad Sign For America

Since Hugh Hefner started publishing in the 1950’s Playboy Magazine has featured nude pictures of the worlds most beautiful women. The tradition is ending in March 2016 with a new updated style. There will still be pictures of beautiful women, but no longer fully nude.

In other words, Playboy is moving away from competing with Hustler and Penthouse, which has been getting more and more X-rated porn oriented, while Playboy sticks to tasteful artistic nudity, and has pushed its way into competing with Maxim, Esquire, and GQ which often get “A-list” celebrities to get nearly undressed but leave their “bits” covered.

I am not saying the move doesn’t make financial sense. They probably will get a bigger audience for their magazine, so I’m not actually against it.

What is worth talking about is the reasons behind the move and what it says about today’s society.

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Blame the Internet

There are two reasons why this needed to happen, and the first is obvious. If you want to look at naked pictures there are plenty of sources online. The demand for professionally photographed, and perfectly airbrushed nude pictures has pretty much dried up due to online competition.

Playboy.com has taken down their nude picture library, with the accompanying pay-wall, and offered their article archive free, and has seen visits go up four fold.

For now, at least, that is the economic reality of the internet. (it will probably be changing soon but that is a whole different essay)

Welcome to puritanical America, where nudity = sex = evil

The other reason is “puritanical” America. Without nudity, Playboy can be sold on the iPad and Kindle, and in every grocery store magazine rack instead of behind the counter of a small number of convenience stores, thus becoming much more widely available.

Playboy is an international magazine, and in most parts of the world, it is not sold among the porn magazines.  That is because, most of the planet understands there is a difference between nudity and sex.  Here in America, we do not seem to understand this, somehow we have developed a unique mindset where nudity = sex.

And it is not just the prudish people who don’t get this. The reason why there are practically no public clothing optional beaches and pools in America is because too may people think that public sex is also OK in these places. (it’s not, get a room)

But it is also the prudish people, and the pervasive anti-feminist culture that believes that sexy outfits are a sign of consent.  I keep having to remind people, if a naked woman says “NO”, it means “NO”!

Then there is the even more dangerous belief that sex = evil.  This seems to be a belief shared only by around half of America, and it is almost exclusively the social conservative half.

The key difference between “social conservative” and “social liberal” is that social conservatives are pro violence and anti sex, and social liberals are anti violence and pro sex.

Social conservatives, tend to be pro guns, pro military, pro war, pro death penalty, pro police militarization, pro tough punishment for law breakers, etc. = pro violence.

Social Liberals tend to be pro-choice, pro gay rights, pro legalization of drugs and prostitution, pro birth control availability, pro women’s rights, etc = pro sex.

It is the social conservatives who censor sex from media, and because “nudity = sex”, nudity also gets censored as well.

Because the mainstream media has to appease the social conservatives, magazines with non-sexual artistic nudity gets sent behind the counter, and off of Facebook and Instagram, and off the app store.

Artistic nudity has always been a sign of a freer and open society.  Is our society getting more open with the internet? Or more closed off due to mainstream censorship?

Cocks Not Glocks

There is a lot to say about sex vs. violence in America. A lot of it is sad and pitiful, like how social conservatives keep lifting important restrictions on guns, but put as many restrictions as they can get away with on abortions, even though both are constitutionally protected.

But I at least got some relief on this front when a group from University of Texas Austin decided to protest a law allowing open carry of guns on campus by openly carrying dildos on campus.  If that is not the perfect symbol for sex vs violence, I don’t know what is.  If “ammosexuals” can display their signs of manhood openly, why can’t normal people?

The Bigger Problem

I have had a few misrepresent what I am saying here (not in the comments but elsewhere) so I thought I would add some clarification.

Now that Playboy has gotten rid of the nude pictures, it CAN NOW be sold openly in grocery stores and in major app stores, etc. where it couldn’t before. Available in more places will probably mean more sales.

This is just a symbol of a bigger problem.

Society allows certain stuff as MAINSTREAM and relegates everything else to HIDDEN status. Of course the internet has made accessing the hidden stuff much easier, but mainstream is still where the bigger audience is that is willing to spend money.

What we hide and what we make mainstream is a measure of openness in society. Quoting from the Guardian piece I cited earlier:

This hatred for the body, enunciated by key Christian thinkers including St Paul, expresses itself in art as a contempt for women, a portrayal of the supposed poisonous truth behind the lie of beauty.

When you realise this is what they were rebelling against, it is impossible to keep up the unhistorical, hackneyed view that sees artists like Titian and Rubens as old sexist masters slavering voyeuristically over naked women.

Not only do medieval images exclude or demonise the nude, but late medieval portraits in northern Europe cover as much of women’s flesh as they can with tightly fitting headresses. The bodies of women are dangerous, they can bewitch you.

By contrast the loving, luscious nudes of the Italian Renaissance can be properly understood not as 500-year-old icons of the patriarchal gaze but liberating, even empowering images of women set free from religious hatred. […]

Surveying art history, it just does not seem that nude images have ever been the best way to oppress anyone. Societies that praise naked beauty tend to be democratic – the nude was invented in ancient Athens and revived by Italian republics – and forward looking.

Cultures that fear and suppress naked art are more likely to be religiously hidebound and to control and fear women.

So what do we hide today? Where do we draw the line dividing MAINSTREAM and HIDDEN?

The line is drawn at female nipples.

Hide nipples and you can be mainstream, show nipples and you are relegated to the hidden pile.

Historically, women are better off during eras where nudity is not a big deal. Unfortunately, in America today it is a big deal, otherwise prime time broadcast TV and Facebook wouldn’t be so scared of it.

And it shows in today’s society: Abortion restrictions, lack of equal pay, lack of women in the growing tech sector, crap like gamergate still going on with the goal to suppress women, rape culture, etc.

I’m not saying that allowing nipples on TV will suddenly solve all our gender issues, I’m saying that we need to move the line to change social attitudes towards women that will make gender issues easier to deal with.

Because also in the HIDDEN pile is more explicit stuff that objectifies women, sending the wrong message. Lumping positive images of female sexuality in with the negative makes it equal in societies eyes leading to the oppression of ALL female sexuality.

An open society, would have allowed Playboy level nudity to become mainstream, instead Playboy has to drop the nudity to become mainstream, that is my bigger point.

#FreeTheNipple

Unplanned Obsolescence and “Lost” Art

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The above picture is the oldest picture from the oldest version of Date Ariane. The modified date is listed as August 6, 2004.

As I was finishing the Renpy version of Date Ariane, I decided to dive into my archives and attempt to play the oldest version I could find.

It wouldn’t run on any browser, not the way it is supposed to anyways. The game was written for Internet Explorer 4 using some HTML coding that only worked on IE4. Over the years I updated the code to run on as many browsers as I could, but the first version is now completely obsolete.

It gets worse: Date Ariane was written using Microsoft FrontPage which basically has ceased to exist. This week I upgraded to Windows 10, and FrontPage loads on Windows 10 but it is unstable. I have been forced to switch to KompoZer, a nice open source HTML editor, but I can’t mass edit a thousand web pages at a time which makes further upgrades to Date Ariane Online version way more difficult. Besides that browser security issue is already a reason to throw in the towel and stick with Renpy version from now on.

But it is a little sad that a piece of my history, a “work of art” I created, is likely lost to the future.

I’m not the only one facing unplanned obsolescence

Obsolescence is becoming an issue on the web now.  Recently security flaws were found in Flash Player, one of the most used programs on the web. You Tube, once the biggest supporter of Flash has now basically stopped using it. Worse yet, Mozilla turned off Flash by default until Adobe released a secure version, which they have now done, but who knows how long it will last.

So now as the world scrambles to move to HTML5 or some other substitute to flash, what happens to the millions of flash based videos, and online games which someday soon may no longer run?

Preservation efforts for the internet?

We humans like to preserve the past.  There are whole industries devoted to film preservation thanks to the unstable nitrate most of the old films were originally filmed in. More than half of the movies made before 1950 no longer exist.

This is why film gurus get excited about discovering a lost reel to a classic movie thought lost.

Similarly we are slowly losing our musical heritage as most master tapes before 1990 or so are on a medium which also degrades over time. Most all of it has been digitized, but many music gurus will tell you music is better in the original analog, and the original analog sources are decaying.

We see it also in video games. Many of my old games will no longer run on my computer, and the ones that do run in a tiny 800 x 600 window, since that is how they were designed. Some classic games like Age of Empires II or Leisure Suit Larry, have gotten the HD treatment, but hundreds never will.

Will much of the internet content suffer the same fate?

Yes, I know about things like The Wayback Machine which archives lost text and picture content, but what will preserve online games?

The “medium” problem

When the medium by which we distribute content changes, it becomes necessary to find ways to bring old content to the new medium. Entire libraries are being digitized, although paper books have largely proven to be a resilient medium, sometimes finding that rare volume is a lot easier online.

Except that “mediums” themselves are radically changing every few years it seems, so we are constantly having to convert, especially as popularity wanes in the old medium.  Sometimes we lose some things in the conversion, even as recent as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons.

Communication mediums eventually get replaced, by better mediums that we all convert to.  But in so doing we lose some of the “art” of the old medium.

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For example: “Twitter”

Here is one I bet you didn’t see coming: Apparently Twitter is dying.  Yes, one of the most popular web sites on the planet is seeing a sharp decline in active users.

My solution to fixing it is pretty revolutionary: Drop the 140 character limit.  We can thank twitter for the abundance of short link generators. Those links leave Twitter and go to other web sites that allow long essays. Why can’t Twitter users write long essays on Twitter itself and have it show up as a title with a “read more” button, instead of a link to another site?

Yes, I know the 140 character limit was what made the site famous, but the novelty has worn off, and prevents people like me who can’t write in 140 characters to not even bother using the site.

If twitter dies then so does the hashtag. (Yes I am aware that other sites support hashtagging, but they also support other types of tagging, which are more useful except they can’t be printed on a t-shirt)

That’s a whole chunk of internet culture lost if it happens.

The Tech Apocalypses

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? Part 5
(read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)

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Between national news and recent personal experiences, I believe we are on the verge of one or more technical apocalypse. This could come two possible forms:

Either, technology advances to the point that it bypasses the need for humanity, or we grow more and more dependent on tech and internet connectivity and then a series of events causes the whole infrastructure to collapse.

We could also see first one and then the other.  I see both of these as very real possibilities, though I can’t say how likely.  I just want to briefly explain what we are up against.

The Vulnerability of Tech

On Christmas, my website vanished. The culprit seems to be a corrupt zone file which is used to tell the internet where my website is located. I got the site finally back up and then it vanished again due to extremely high traffic on the server. Not sure if that high traffic was directed at my site or the 30 other sites on the same server, but it took a move to a different server to get the site back up.

Two seemingly unrelated incidents in a week is suspicious, or just really bad luck. It is causing me to rethink my web strategies for the future, wondering if there is a better less vulnerable way to do what I do.

But that is just my sad story. How about the intentional takedown of both XBOX Live and PSN on Christmas Day causing much havoc in many households as many new games and consoles could not be played. Before that we all witnessed our first real cyber war between Sony and North Korea. Before that the very organization in charge of internet infrastructure was hacked. Before that was the #gamergate trolls and their malicious tricks directed against female gamers and their supporters. Before that hackers broke into private accounts of female celebrities posting private pictures.  These are just the headlines in the last 4 months.

We are looking at a new form of warfare / terrorism that is only going to get more common.  All tech is seemingly vulnerable. Even the supposedly anonymous and untouchable corners of the web have proven vulnerable in recent weeks.

Our dependence on internet connected tech is only going to get larger in the near future, which is going to make such actions more damaging.

The Vulnerability of Human Labor

We are at a point technologically where artificial intelligence, a sci-fi dream as long as I can remember, is becoming a reality.  This year we saw a chatbot pass the Turing Test, cars that can drive themselves are here as well. Those in the know say that the real innovation is machines learning themselves, which is becoming more real everyday.

From someone who studied this stuff for years this is all very exciting, but the big dark cloud behind the silver lining is what is motivating these developments:  companies want to replace human laborers with robots. When cars (and trucks and busses) that drive themselves prove to be cheaper and more reliable than human drivers, what happens to the 3 million people in the US that make a living as drivers?  Most likely their jobs disappear.

That’s just one example, hundreds of service occupations are vulnerable to automation in the near future. Because we have grown dependent on service jobs here in the US, what is the future of employment?

And where is this all going to go?  We have intelligent systems being developed to read through reams of legal documents to help lawyers with cases, we also have intelligent systems being developed to write reams of legal documents.  Eventually we are going to cut out the middleman and let all the intelligent systems handle all the legal decision making.

Then what?  A “small claims court” app where you can file a claim and have a judgement in minutes messaged to your phone?  So much for the need for lawyers.

Demand for doctors is likely to be in decline as well for similar reasons.  Neither will disappear completely, but job security will not be what it once was.

There will always be a demand for labor, but if these efforts to automate are successful, the demand is destined to go down, even while the human population continues to rise.  How do we create a society where an increasingly large segment of the population is unemployable. What kind of economy is possible if most of the population can’t afford anything?

Maybe we will build an intelligent system to micromanage a stable economy adjusting taxes and welfare automatically to keep the economy healthy for all.

Sounds like a good idea, until the the intelligent economic manager decides there are just too many damn humans to support (which is already true) and figures out a way to get rid of some.

It may sound implausible, but recognized geniuses like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are warning about this happening in the near future if we do not take precautions now.

The Clash of Two Futures

Foretelling the future is damn near impossible. I cannot say how much of either of these visions of apocalyptic futures are likely to be true, but I can guarantee both will happen to some degree.

The need for drivers will drop with driverless cars, that is inevitable.  It is also inevitable that some will try to prove their vulnerability by purposely causing automated cars to crash, possibly in retaliation for lost jobs.

Hacking intelligent systems is no doubt going to happen, and exploitation of vulnerabilities will result in an intelligent systems arms race.  Eventually hackers will build intelligent systems to ruin and destroy other intelligent systems, to what effect it is too abstract to see.

Part 6: Internet memes and fake news cause problems for democracy

The Conservative Case for Net Neutrality

UPDATE: In support of the July 12th Battle For The Net, I am rerunning this post from 3 years ago to remind people what Net Neutrality is really all about. For more info on the protest, go here: https://www.battleforthenet.com/july12/

To write the FCC: https://dearfcc.org/

I am completely baffled at the conservatives here in America’s ability to get the Net Neutrality debate ass backwards.  Every statement from both conservative and libertarian sources gets it completely wrong.

Without Net Neutrality, government sanctioned monopolies will have the right to levy their own taxes on successful private businesses.

That is the TRUTH, that is why many Conservatives are supporting Net Neutrality.

I have posted this question to any politicians who are opposed to net neutrality: “So you are in favor of government sanctioned monopolies levying new taxes on successful businesses?”  I have yet to hear back from any of them.

The anti-net neutral argument made in practically every article I posted is that “Netflix takes up 33% of the internet bandwidth, so it is only fair that they pay ISPs to help support their traffic.”

Any good Conservative should see the fallacy of that argument, and every tech savvy person should also. So what if Netflix uses 33% of the bandwidth? They are providing a service people like and are willing to pay for as an added feature of their internet service.  Not only that, they are spending millions to make it easier for ISPs to handle their traffic by reducing the load on long distance lines, but that has not stopped ISPs demand for additional fees.

If ISPs levy additional fees on Netflix, then Netflix will just pass it on down to the consumer, and that is why it is a consumer issue.

Is that not the same argument raised by every anti-tax conservative against raising taxes on businesses?

And what about the 30 or so other streaming services that show up on my Apple TV? If Netflix is forced out by exorbitant fees, then that 33% bandwidth will just be divided up by other services, and then will ISPs go after them for fees too, even though they use significantly lower bandwidth?

What percentage of bandwidth is too much? At what level is charging them fair?

Then there is the future. That 33% is destined to fall even if Netflix continues to grow. By 2020 Netflix may only represent 10% of the bandwidth. Should ISPs continue to charge a premium? What about the hundred or so Netflix like services that haven’t even started up yet but will eventually? Can they compete if they have to pay fees to all the ISPs like Netflix? So much for competition in the market place.

Eventually the internet will grow so big that it will be able to easily support hundreds of Netflixes, and then the “Netflix is too big” argument will go out the window, and yet like all good taxes, the high bandwidth fees will continue to levied costing consumers and internet based corporations billions which could have been paid to salaried employees.

For the future of the internet, and I have been working in the internet field for 20 years so I know what I am talking about, there are ONLY two options:

1. Get rid of the government sanctioned monopolies and force ISPs to open their lines to competitors.
2. Get rid of their right to levy their own taxes on internet based companies, aka make them title II utilities like telephone and electric companies.

1. is not going to happen any time soon, but 2 could happen tomorrow if the FCC decides to.

What about fears of government regulation of the internet? That is a completely separate issue apart from Net Neutrality, it is just as likely to happen if ISPs become utilities or not. It is a completely separate battle, and yet the GOP backed by ISP money is using the confusion to claim they are the same battle, which is why there is so much misinformation on the right.

Why can’t we just leave ISP’s alone at their word that they won’t violate Net Neutrality? Because they already have. Twice. And they did it by purposely slowing down traffic. Net Neutrality will regulate these kinds of actions.  Without net neutrality guarantees, ISPs could slow or completely block internet sites they don’t like, or ask consumers to pay for access to their favorite sites.  This has not happened, but it is perfectly legal for them to do so.  This is why Net Neutrality is also important to free speech.

ISP’s say Title II would lower their incentive to improve the internet, AT&T says they will not expand gigabit services until the issue has been decided. Is this true? AT&T would not stop expanding if the gigabit service was selling well in Austin, but it seems most consumers are happy with the service they got. I’m guessing AT&T has already decided to slow down expansion for fiscal reasons, but decided to make a political issue out of it.

The truth is their political issue seems to have backfired.  It only points out how the lack of competition is harming the availability of really fast internet in the US. It is why US is in 27th place in internet speed.

The conservative position should be: We need competition so we don’t need to implement Net Neutrality rules.  But, the GOP politicians don’t seem to even mention that option. Until we get real competition, Net Neutrality is our best bet as consumers to insure free speech and consumer protection.

Five Things That Could Destroy the Internet

arianestrike

Whatever Happened to the Internet Dream? Part 5

Part 1: Bored of the Internet  Part 2: Politics and Religion in the Internet Age  Part 3: Movies and Television since the Internet  Part 4: The Constant Changing Society

It was not that long ago that people did not think the internet mattered to the economy as a whole. Now it seems the internet IS the economy.  This has created a lot of interest in trying to control the internet from multiple different directions.  These attempts to control that which is at this stage uncontrollable now threaten the internet as a whole.

All of these threats come down to one thing: ignorance.  Ignorance of politicians, ignorance of judges, ignorance of corporations, and the ignorance of the users themselves.

Threat #1: The lack of Net Neutrality

The internet is the third most used utility in the US behind only electricity and water (occasionally 4th behind gas).  Former third place holders telephone and cable TV have been replaced by the internet.  This is inaccurate though, the truth is that the internet is not a utility, not yet anyway, and that is what the whole net neutrality debate is all about:  Should the internet be treated like the telephone, where you can call anyone and anyone can call you? Or, should it be treated like cable TV where you subscribe to bundled packages of websites that run faster and contain more features.

Anyone who knows what they are talking about will tell you telephone.  The entire reason the internet is growing the economy is because access to the internet is an even playing field.  The major internet service providers want to charge websites more money to get to their customers faster.  They want to charge for traffic going both ways.  If the internet service providers get away with it, only the major websites with deep pockets can survive in the long run. All the small start-ups with thousands of employees, would suffer and ultimately close.  There is a very entertaining video explaining all of this and this website has the latest information.

The ignorant in this case: Mostly conservative politicians and news sources who explain net neutrality completely backwards. If you want to save free speech on the internet you WANT net neutrality.  They seem to think that “Net Neutrality” means government regulation and control of the internet, it does not.  But now that you mention it…

Threat #2: Government Regulation and Control of the Internet

The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of the internet to help protesters organize.  We saw this again during the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Ukranian revolts which actually led to the overthrow of the government.  The internet as a communication tool organizes like minded people to take action against people, against corporations, and against government.  The more tyrannical governments are looking to stop that by regulating what information moves into its country.

Google has to run different versions of its search engines in China and other countries due to censorship laws. These laws vary from country to country, which also result in lower performance of the internet as a whole.  Google releases a regular report on take down requests from various government agencies, the requests are rising dramatically every year, up 68% from 2012 to 2013.

The other threat coming from Government is radical changes of policy. The SOPA act 0f 2012 was one of those.  Currently, users can post stuff to websites free of censorship.  However if they post copyrighted material, the copyright holder can notify the website, and the website is obligated to take it down.  What SOPA wanted to do is put the burden on the websites. If you posted a copyrighted video on You Tube, You Tube would have to identify it as copyrighted and take it down themselves.  It basically would have meant that any website that allows you to post stuff, which pretty much includes most of the most popular websites, would have to radically change their submission rules, or just close down completely.  Luckily that was stopped, but organizations of copyright holders are still pushing for similar laws around the world.  Newer threats include CISPA act of 2013 which in the name of stopping online cyber attacks, hurts online privacy concerns.

Pew Research also released a recent survey of internet experts and they consider government interference to be a big threat as well.

The ignorant in this case: Politicians and law enforcement agencies around the world of all political leanings.

Threat #3: API copyright issues

As threat #1 has to do with communications companies trying to seize control of the internet, threat #3 is about software companies trying to seize control.  This is all about a potentially horrible precedent setting case involving Oracle vs. Google.

API is Application Programming Interface, it is basically how software programs talk to each other.  If program A needs information from program B, it requests information X from B, which responds by sending Y back to A in a format it understands.  Throughout the history of computer programming, it does not matter how program B handles data X or result Y, it can use any number of methods it wants to.  Oracle’s Java does it one way, Google’s Android does it another.  As a result Google avoids copyrighted software licensing issues with Java.

In Oracle vs. Google, Oracle claims that it holds the copyright of X and Y and not just the method, Google argues (rightly in my opinion) that X and Y are like the title of a book (book titles are not copyrightable), and that because the book part is different, there is no problem.  Google won the initial case, but Oracle won on appeal.

Why is this so damning to the internet?  Because the internet runs on API’s, and API’s have been around for decades. Without API’s smart phones would be bricks.  Google is not the only one with this problem, Microsoft and Apple have their own implementations in place as well. Once the precedent is set, virtually all “open source” software would end.

The ignorant in this case: Judges only looking at previous cases and not the history of software design. Lawyers that could make millions off the thousands of lawsuits that could be filed.

Threat #4: Exponential Growth and Aging Infrastructure

This month, Wired published an article on the growing number of service outages simply caused by too much traffic that older routers simply cannot handle.  Better routers and router software can fix these issues, but replacing old routers and pushing software fixes takes time.

Also in this category would be the very slow progress in moving the internet to IPv6 protocol.

The ignorant in this case: Businesses not willing to invest money in updating.

Threat #5: The Increasingly sophisticated methods of crackers and scammers combined with an increasingly tech ignorant general public.

This weeks Celebrity Nude Scandal, aka “The Fappening“, highlights how sophisticated online pirates are becoming, and more importantly how much more dangerous new trends like “cloud computing” can be to privacy.

There is a lot of interest in finding the hacker responsible for the release of these pictures, but this has all the tell tale signs of a group of hackers with a new set of tools. Most interesting is this article from Wired.

On the web forum Anon-IB, one of the most popular anonymous image boards for posting stolen nude selfies, hackers openly discuss using a piece of software called EPPB or Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker to download their victims’ data from iCloud backups. That software is sold by Moscow-based forensics firm Elcomsoft and intended for government agency customers. In combination with iCloud credentials obtained with iBrute, the password-cracking software for iCloud released on Github over the weekend, EPPB lets anyone impersonate a victim’s iPhone and download its full backup rather than the more limited data accessible on iCloud.com. And as of Tuesday, it was still being used to steal revealing photos and post them on Anon-IB’s forum.

“Use the script to hack her passwd…use eppb to download the backup,” wrote one anonymous user on Anon-IB explaining the process to a less-experienced hacker. “Post your wins here ;-)”

I do not know if this is the exact process used by hackers (plural seems most appropriate) in this case, but something similar: Someone found an exploit, allowing unauthorized access to iCloud accounts, posted it for others to find, and large numbers of hackers went to work seeing what icloud accounts they could hack. I have seen “group think” hacking in action, and the sheer volume of accounts attacked tells me this wasn’t the work of one lone hacker.

What is especially worrisome is that the Wired article seems to imply that the exploit used by hackers on Anon-IB (again the two may be unrelated) is there for law enforcement use. As long as law enforcement and spy agencies insist on legally requiring access to cloud computing for intelligence gathering, cloud computing is is going to be vulnerable to hackers!!

There are a number of large companies that have decided to put much of their data needs on “cloud computing”, quoting the money they save on IT expenses by going this route.  They are making themselves more vulnerable to hackers by doing so, just to save a few bucks.  Apple and Google have been pushing cloud services for a while now, Apple is even updating OS X and iOS with cloud computing in mind, often requiring the cloud to use certain services. The Celebrity hacks couldn’t come at a worse time for Apple.

But this is just one example of the increasing sophistication of today’s online hackers.  Let’s take a look at another recently published by PC World:

CryptoWall ransomware held over 600K computers hostage, encrypted 5 billion files

A file-encrypting ransomware program called CryptoWall infected over 600,000 computer systems in the past six months and held 5 billion files hostage, earning its creators more than $1 million, researchers found.

The Counter Threat Unit (CTU) at Dell SecureWorks performed an extensive analysis of CryptoWall that involved gathering data from its command-and-control (C&C) servers, tracking its variants and distribution methods and counting payments made by victims so far.

CryptoWall is “the largest and most destructive ransomware threat on the Internet” at the moment and will likely continue to grow, the CTU researchers said Wednesday in a blog post that details their findings.

For a couple of years now “ransomware” viruses worked at the fraud level pretending to be government agencies like FBI or IRS claiming to find evidence of wrong doing by the end user and demanding a $300 bribe (or “fine”) to make it all go away, often disabling users from using their computer to get rid of it. Many fixes nevertheless exist online to avoid paying the scammers.

CryptoWall has elevated “ransomware” to the kidnapping and extortion level, and if your files really are encrypted there may be no way to unencrypt them without paying for the extortion.

These viruses are spread mostly the old fashioned way through fraudulent emails saying you are owed money, and you need to “click here” to get access.  The sophisticated tech savvy would never click.

Scammers are going beyond fake emails and phishing these days.  Now they are calling people, usually older people, posing as technical support using fake caller IDs to look legitimate, telling them they need remote access to their computer to fix a problem they have found, which once given access is loaded with various malware and viruses for future ransomware scams.  A variant is to pose as government lawyers collecting fines as explained above.  This is of course all highly illegal and potential victims are reporting people with foreign accents, meaning it is foreign scammers taking advantage of call centers being based in India and other large English speaking countries to save money.  People are used to hearing foreign accents from support centers these days.

Even if you are smart enough to avoid fraudulent emails, and inbound calls asking for bank or computer access, there is scary unavoidable stuff like rogue cell towers that your phone automatically connects to when you are in range.

The tech savvy for the most part know how to avoid these problems, and keep their security updated, and know how to fix their own problems if they do crop up.  The problem is that there is an increasingly small percentage of internet users who are this careful, and viruses malware and trojan horses affect all internet users, even the uninfected.

Some viruses never reveal themselves, they reside in the background of unsuspecting computer users to form networks of parallel processing power, often used to brute force passwords, or create denial of service hacks.  Such actions slow down internet traffic, cause temporary outages and ruin everybody’s internet experience.

The other side of the coin is that scamming is profitable.  People do fall victim, people do pay, and scammers hide themselves behind international law to avoid prosecution.  That means there is only going to be more of it. Scams are not just using mass emails, they are buying ad space on legitimate web sites to make themselves look legitimate.  Unfortunately, there are no security firewalls to protect you from the ignorance of others.

The ignorant in this case: pretty much everybody.

UPDATE October 3 2014:

Apple is refusing to help law enforcement access phones anymore, they said that the security of their iCloud is now so secure they can’t even break in. This has made nude celebrity hackers very sad.

The End of the “Gamer”

downtownob

The last couple of weeks have been embarrassing for anyone who calls themselves a “gamer”, so much so that I am disassociating myself from that title.  Maybe I’ll call myself an “Online RPer” or something, I don’t know, but the “gamer” culture is over.

For a couple of decades now there has been this ongoing joke about the existence or non existence of the “girl gamer”.  At first it was kind of funny because the gaming community was so dominated by males, that females in the community seemed elusive as bigfoot.  Then over the past decade or so games that appealed to women, like “The Sims”, started matching and even surpassing sales of games that mostly cater to men.  The “girl gamer” was no longer a myth, it was a demographic to cater to.

For some inexplicable reason I can’t even rationally explain, a small group of narrow minded men in the gaming community were shocked and appalled that there were women out there that liked to play games.  They were offended and even felt threatened by this realization.  This led to many flame wars on the topic, as well as the birth of many memes.

For a while it was recognized that these misogynistic basement dwellers were just a vocal minority to be ignored.  Egged on by other social conservative anti-feminist movements, they started getting more vocal and more organized to the point that they became a blight on everything “gamer”.  To quote one recent commentary:

Right, let’s say it’s a vocal minority that’s not representative of most people. Most people, from indies to industry leaders, are mortified, furious, disheartened at the direction industry conversation has taken in the past few weeks. It’s not like there are reputable outlets publishing rational articles in favor of the trolls’ ‘side’. Don’t give press to the harassers. Don’t blame an entire industry for a few bad apples.

Yet disclaiming liability is clearly no help. Game websites with huge community hubs whose fans are often associated with blunt Twitter hate mobs sort of shrug, they say things like ‘we delete the really bad stuff, what else can we do’ and ‘those people don’t represent our community’ — but actually, those people do represent your community. That’s what your community is known for, whether you like it or not.

All of this came to a head over the last two weeks. First there were vicious personal attacks against a female game developer, followed by death threats against a feminist You Tube blogger, followed by vicious personal attacks against anyone who dare says nice things about these women.

I find this kind of crap offensive, reprehensible and indefensible.  Disagreeing with someone is one thing, threatening them, or exposing their personal life, is just disgusting.  To their credit, the International Game Developers Association released a statement saying the same thing.

I’m not even sure I understand the disagreeing part.  To quote another recent commentary:

Literally the worst possible thing that can happen here is equality. That’s the worst outcome, that’s the nightmare scenario. If, today, every AAA publisher said “We will start to include women more in our games and represent them better”, the only actual difference this would make to anybody shrieking about how feminists are destroying games is that they might have to pick their gender in the next Call of Duty game. Terrifying, isn’t it. Stuff of nightmares.

The problem here is that these squealing man-children, so desperate to keep women out of their precious games, want it both ways. They want gaming to be taken seriously as a culture and art form, while at the same time throwing an unbelievable tantrum when subjected to serious criticism. This is ludicrous and immature on so many levels. Gaming isn’t for you, anymore. Gaming is for everyone. Everyone gets to have their say, to make their criticism, and gaming doesn’t need you to defend it.

Misogyny in Gaming

I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing Anita Sarkeesian’s criticism of gaming today.  I have seen her videos, and she is just saying what I already know: that there is a lot of sick and twisted scenes in video games that come off as sexist, degrading and even hateful of women.  Not every example she points out are good examples. Some of the examples she says are offensive are not so much when seen in context of the game story. But, there are enough legitimate examples that the “sexist” criticism of the gaming industry is justified.

Video games are at least partially about fantasy fulfillment, and the fact that many major video game today contains sexist and misogynistic tropes means that players have sexist and misogynistic fantasies to fulfill — or at least that is what developers of these games think.

The apologists often argue that games are just a reflection of the times, cheap escapist entertainment.  Lets take a look at another popular escapist art form from 60 to 80 years ago: cartoons.  They too were a reflection of societal norms of the time, filled with a lot of blatant racism.  Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM have been forced to censor their old catalogs of cartoon shorts refusing to release many of the old shorts and even at least one classic feature film.

Video game developers are likely to self censor themselves in the future, too.  As knowledge this stuff gets more widespread, and more socially embarrassing, I can see certain scenes and missions suddenly removed in updates and in re-releases.

We should be demanding better games than this.  I found this commentary to be extremely good:

You know what’s not escapism? Having to wonder if any given game (or movie, or book) you pick up is going to include women primarily as prostitutes, murdered girlfriends, vulnerable daughters, and rape victims.[…]  Games with realistic stories are still built on unrealistic mechanics and stylized environments … Prostitution is real, but a game that erases all women except prostitutes wouldn’t reflect our world. Realism is as much about what you leave out as what you put in, and an unfortunate number of games pare down the feminine experience to nothing except sex, childbirth, and vulnerability. […]

If you’re an author, writing down what you see is harder than riffing off things other people have already made, and even what we see is filtered through our preconceptions — in one of the best essays about writing I’ve ever read, author Kameron Hurley explains this idea with an extended metaphor involving llamas. If you’re playing a game, you’ll usually judge the story more by what you’ve seen in other media than by any real-life point of comparison. After a while, it becomes easy to say that something is unrealistic because you’ve seen it written differently elsewhere. Women in video games should be damsels and whores because damsels and whores are what women are in video games. There can’t be female player characters in GTA because the movies GTA is aping didn’t have female protagonists. It’s a lazy, conservative, and boring way to think, no matter how much you dress it up by saying you’re writing about “the concept of being masculine.”

And my own games?

No doubt there are those that would consider Date Ariane and Something’s In The Air as sexist, since in these games the player is a male character trying to undress and bed females, and you are free to think that, I don’t care. (Its part of my mission statement, I don’t care what other people think)

There are those that also find the games rather positive as all the female characters are strong, smart, successful, and don’t put up with any crap from the player.  In fact that is the central premise: Can you be a good enough “man” to attract these kind of women?  There is a reason why 30% of the “likes” on my Facebook page are from women.

My goal is to strive to do even better in the future.  I will continue with my personal policy of NO prostitution plots, or female victim assault/kidnap/murder plots, or non-consensual sexual assault plots.  I’m even planing a change of point of view, a Rachel story where you play as Rachel as she ventures through various fantasy scenarios.  Looking forward to doing something different.

Whither the “gamer”?

The reputation of the “gamer” community has soured to the point that it is no longer anything worth bragging about.  No, most people that play video games do not generally fit the the stereotype of the basement dwelling misogynistic nerd burst into flame wars whenever anyone says something negative about a game they happen to enjoy, but that is what mainstream culture imagines with growing frequency, and the “gaming community” is doing little to change that image resulting in a shrinking demographic.  I’ll give the last word to this opinion piece:

The word “gamer” is regressive. It accepts the portrait of us painted by the mainstream news media, and every time I hear it or read it it actually makes me feel a little sick. I believe in this art form, and I believe in the people who make it. That’s why I am so hard on this industry, because I believe that as great as it sometimes is, it can get better.

So play games, of course, but don’t let the playing of games define you. Why would you ever really need to describe yourself as someone who plays games, anyway? Do you walk up to people and say “Yeah, I watch movies.”

Update Oct 3, 2014:

The “gamergate” story refuses to die.  Two very good anti gamergate articles come from Cracked:  5 Things I Learned as The Internet’s Most Hated Person by Zoe Quinn herself, and 7 Reasons “Gamergate” Proves Humanity Is Doomed which proves that the primary arguments used by the misogynists in the GamerGate movement are completely illogical, and makes them look like a bunch of “birthers” or “911 truthers”.

A prominent GamerGate proponent submitted an article to Cracked as a rebuttal, which I thought was poorly written and very naive of reality and said as much in the comments, which of course got me a bunch of negative comments by supporters (as I expected).  I learned a long time ago, you cannot speak rationally or logically  to “true believers”.