Shit tinted glasses

“It [the internet] is just a thing. Whether it is good or bad depends what you do with it. If you don’t like what you are doing with it then it is simply a reflection of what you are as an individual, an organisation or a society and that is what you have to fix.” – Vint Cerf

I continually forget this even though I was there when he said it and I quote it all the time.

The internet just is.

Facebook just is.

Life just is.

My experience of life is a result of all of the cultural, genetic, and personal history baggage that I carry around with me.

It is a made up story.

Remembering this is important.

17 thoughts on “Shit tinted glasses

  1. I do think there is a palpable difference between the way the “internet just is” and the way “Facebook just is”. The internet is a set of protocols, and is not actively managed in terms of what moves across it. Facebook is a site, with an algorithm that is designed by humans, that makes decisions for you about what you see.

    It’s that human action, expressed through algorithms, that differentiates the two.

    I’m much more willing to don the shit-coloured specs for Facebook than the internet, because I feel they’ve earned it…

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    1. True, but I was making the more general point that our perception of the world around us, all of it, is conditioned. What we deem good or bad, what we consider blameworthy and not, says more about us than the world. It just is.

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      1. I’ve just written and deleted a long reply, which I’ll post elsewhere, as it was getting so far from your original post that it felt like I was hijacking your comments.

        I think the point I’m trying to make is, that while I see the relativistic point you’re making, and have some sympathy, I’m in two minds about it. There’s an elemental truth in it, but I can’t help but feel it’s also dangerous.

        I think it’s a useful — possibly necessary — thing to bear in mind in the case of the internet, it might be dangerous in respect to Facebook right now.

        Perhaps I’m just not Zen enough.

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      2. Feel free to hijack my comments any time! I am becoming more and more convinced that carving the world up into good and bad, right and wrong, and seeing it all as somehow separate from ourselves and our actions, is the source of our problems not their solution.

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      3. I’d certainly agree with the latter half of that. To return to the example of Facebook, at least some of the malign role it can play is entirely the fault of us, the users. But equally, I don’t think it’s the whole story, and that the management need to be held to account for decisions they make. But yes, the two are deeply connected.

        And I agree with the first half to some extend. Very few things are as simple as just right or wrong. But I do think it is appropriate to make considered evaluations of wether, in balance, things are beneficial or harmful to society and human life. And then seek to mitigate the harms and boost the benefits.

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      4. At a conference in Washington last year I was hosting a panel with an expert in artificial intelligence who said we just need to program it to do the right thing. I then asked him if he meant his right thing, my right thing, or the Chinese right thing…

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  2. Ah, now that’s certainly a more interesting expression of your point. And a very good one, I’d suggest.

    One of the underlying issues we’re dealing with is the way the internet allows us to reach global scale in (relatively) short periods of time. And that the tech world’s historic – and on-going, based on your anecdote – unwillingness to recognise the inherent challenge posed by the cultural and political diversity of the world, and plan and accommodate for it, is playing out right now – and possibly will be for decades to come.

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      1. Funnily enough this bit I clipped from Russell Brand is closer to my meaning than moral relativism:

        “There is little to be gained from allocating blame now that Caroline is dead. Her vulnerability was obvious when the CPS pursued her case and when she took another turn in the barrel with the media and social media. I’ve seen that there are petitions to regulate the press and I admire the optimism of the enterprise. But the media is made up of people, the world of celebrity is made up of people, social media is made up of people. All culture, all values pass through the consciousness of individuals and collectives. If we want the world to change, for less people to die in pain and shame then we should pause before we next vent a pleasurable stab of vindictive judgment or jeering condemnation. Social media is a network of connections. We can use those connections to convey love and support and kindness, all ideas that can be rationally understood as expressions of our unity.”

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  3. I couldn’t disagree more. The idea that technologies of whatever sort simply “are” is a way of absolving people and institutions of responsibility for them. I would suggest reading the old tome “The Whale and the Reactor” by Langdon Winner, whose infamous article “Do artifacts have politics?” pretty much blasts huge holes through this way of thinking. A concise summary can be found here: http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/kellogg/069a.html

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  4. Perhaps, but not taking responsibility for the things we use and attempting to actively shape them rather than passively “accepting” them is at the very least an abdication of that responsibility.

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