The Internet’s tangled webPosted: May 28, 2018
Friends, an important book on technology is discussed below. This was forwarded to me by my friend Don Handley, who lives in Thailand: You may be well aware of this issue, but I like the way the book’s author, Jaron Lanier, puts it:
From Don Handley: “Below are the final few paragraphs from Maureen Dowd’s opinion column yesterday [May 27, 2018] in the NYTimes called Grifters Gone Wild. I feel conflicted about my ongoing use of Facebook and Instagram, and even more conflicted after reading this opinion piece yesterday. I guess my alternatives are to use email to stay in touch with friends and the Blogger blog to post my photos to instead of Facebook and Instagram:
Dowd writes: Jaron Lanier, the scientist and musician known as “the father of virtual reality,” has a new book out, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” He says that the business plans of Facebook and Google have served to “elevate the role of the con artist to be central in society.” [While of course doing much more…RH] “Anytime people want to contact each other or have an awareness of each other, it can only be when it’s financed by a third party who wants to manipulate us, to change us in some way or affect how we vote or what we buy,” he says.
“In the old days, to be in that unusual situation, you had to be in a cult or a volunteer in an experiment in a psychology building or be in an abusive relationship or at a bogus real estate seminar. “But now you just need to sign onto Facebook to find yourself in a behavior modification loop, which is the con. And this may destroy our civilization and even our species.” Lanier worries, now that tech has lost its halo, that there is nothing optimistic to replace it. “We don’t believe in government,” Lanier says. “A lot of people are pissed at media. They don’t like education. People who used to think the F.B.I. was good now think it’s terrible. With all of these institutions the subject of ridicule, there’s nothing — except Skinner boxes and con artists.”
Personally, I’m going to erase my limited presence on Facebook and other social media platforms. But is it too late? Has the “con” and the “addiction” gone too far and blinded the masses? Also, by nature I must retain my belief that technology is inherently benign and can be controlled for the common good, but my gut says if you allow greed and con artists unfettered access to one of the most powerful platforms and tools in the world, they will corrupt it – and our culture – as sure as fire burns.
“Do no harm” is the right idea, but the smart people who run Silicon Valley collectively represent the other side of an enduring debate that highlights the gap between the “two cultures,” most recently sparked by C. P. Snow’s book, The Two Cultures, in 1959. The two cultures concept is a fuzzy description, but generally it represents the scientific and the non-scientific.
From Wikipedia: Snow said: “A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare‘s?
“I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.”
Unfortunately, both the public body and our governing class are only now coming around to the immediate issues surrounding Facebook. While not grappling with the larger consequences, we are simultaneosly gutting education – the only hope that the “two cultures” can be reconciled in a beneficial way – accomodating both sides of our human nature.
The governing class is poorly equipped to deal with this clash of cultures. At the same time, we have a president – a Supreme Con Artist on Twitter – who leads a movement to discredit experts and intellectuals, wherever they are found within the two cultures.
Clearly, it’s a setup for a potential, unintended cultural tragedy. We desperately need a combined body that represents the two cultures to come to some sensible conclusions and recommendations. It’s imperative that discussion begins and is ongoing.
We need enlightened gatekeepers to filter out and better control the corrupting influences of the Internet. The legitimate media is trying to counter balance the malignancy that’s attacking our culture, but the “con” loop is constantly perpetuating its own world of self-interest.
Too little, too late is a real danger. May Lanier’s book shine a light on the way forward.