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Getting the Most Out of Your New Internet

A sideways response to Anil Dash’s essay, “The Web We Lost.”

I can remember back when CD players first began appearing in new motor vehicles, they carried over a tradition that they had started with tape decks. They would include audio media with the vehicle, supposedly explaining the capability and the indomitability of the beast you have saddled. They would also throw in a disc of elevator music to demonstrate the sound system, if the salesman lacked the dexterity to elicit a liked genre so as to engage the customer more directly from a personal library.

Anil Dash: The Web We Lost, an essay mentioned in numerous blogs and aggregators of late, attempts to paint a picture of the web with various insidious facts of nature undoing the best of man’s works. Facts like turf battles between the Facebook/Instagram alliance and the Twitter syndicate. Facts like the monetization of hyperlinks via reputational dependency.

The problem with that analysis: it conflates the hope of the web at the time with the web we had then. We didn’t lose that web. We never had it. The real need for a better web defends perfectly against any retrospective fondness for the early Twenty-Aughts (or where we hoped it would be today).

Yes, Microsoft Corporation wanted to be the digital passport. Google desires being pulled from your pocket and used to buy everything from Abba-Zabbas to Zoot suits. But neither wants to pay any taxes. In the latter case, we should feel small if we replace the credit card oligopoly/trust with a handful of providers from the likes of Google and other giants. But that possibility arises out of the ineptitude of our current governments, too senile to draft and ratify a digital supplement to the Uniform Commercial Code.

In the case of sign-on, that story fell flat then as it does today. A system like Mozilla Persona must supplant the idea of site sign-up, much less walled single sign-on. That system allows multiple identities, including pseudonymity. It did not exist in the web of yesteryear.

Maybe people uploaded to Flickr five years ago, but it never allowed decentralized sharing as suggested by Media Goblin. Increasingly we feel the need for federated and decentralized systems, as we continue to recognize the pain of being subject to a single provider’s whim. That’s as true for one-off game servers as for the monoliths: Google Corporation, Facebook Corporation, et alia.

The Internet we make versus the Internet today versus yesterday. We will never be given the Internet. Not by corporations, and not by governments. We must defend her. We must build the services and mores that serve us best. The governments grew from an age where monarchical decrees came from gods. The corporations arrived as successful market manipulators.

Corporations brought you those promotional discs trying to instill a post-purchase, post-hypnotic suggestion of your potency and fairness if you continue to buy their products.

The Compact Disc Digital Audio System offers the best possible sound reproduction – on a small convenient sound-carrier unit. The Compact Disc’s remarkable performance is a result of a unique combination of digital playback with laser optics. For the best results you should apply the same care in storing and handling the Compact Disc as with conventional records. No further cleaning will be necessary if the Compact Disc is always held by the edges and is replaced in its case directly after playing. Should the compact Disc become soiled by fingerprints, dust or dirt, it can be wiped always in a straight line, from center to edge) with a clean and lint free soft, dry cloth, No solvent or abrasive cleaner should ever be used on the disc. If you follow these suggestions, the Compact Disc will provide a life time of pure listening enjoyment.

— Text from early Audio CDs

Idea being that an early adopter shelled out a dear price, give them a pat on the back. Fluff their mane a bit. King of the audiophiles.

Encouragement comes from Dash’s admission that the problems will erode over time. But the interim holds a lot of discouragement. Even great projects like Wikipedia do not offer data feeds of pertinent information. Hail to the Data.gov initiative, but when you look for a specific bit of data you may be stuck with an Excel spreadsheet or worse a PDF document.

How will augmented reality become if we fail to have an augmented web first? Services like Google Search and Wolfram Alpha possess their own data banks, but, again, reliance on a single service provider regularly proves fraught with pain and subject to lawyers’ whimsy.

No, we did not picnic the Internet of yesterday. The Internet of tomorrow, we shall paint red.

Competition vs. the US

If you are wearing shoes, are they brand-matched with your socks? Does the brand of your belt match your pants? Do your pants use a patented belt loop system that makes them incompatible with other belts?

Look at what you are wearing.  Did it all come from the same store?

Look at your feet. If you are wearing shoes, are they brand-matched with your socks?  Does the brand of your belt match your pants?  Do your pants use a patented belt loop system that makes them incompatible with other belts?

These days, the barriers to entry are rising faster than Jesus beats it out of the tomb on Easter to get himself a (preternaturally kosher) green eggs and ham sandwich.  Even a seemingly mundane industry like farming has Mount Anto scrambling to bind the farmers’ hands and brand their hides.

It’s the same story almost everywhere you look.  Businesses trying to subvert the marketplace in favor of their own profits.  It’s a recipe for disaster.

Subverting the marketplace is the economic equivalent of deforestation.  In the short term you get tons of cheap wood and farmland, but in the long term you have tossed away some of your greatest resources for stability in favor of a few years of profits.

Even our leaders can’t help themselves, though.  They have long blocked any real competition for governance, savoring their cushy seats so much that they now increasingly risk their oligopoly due to the ever-escalating war of words they must rely on to keep their constituents in a frenzy rather than letting them calmly pore over the issues.

But it’s harmful.  The creation of commerce depends upon diversity and choice.  When industries couple themselves together, they remove choice from the market, and they decrease the overall creation of commerce.  More precisely, they usurp the individual’s choice and act as a proxy for it.

You might prefer one firm’s shoelaces, and another firm’s shoes, but without the choice to relace the shoes, you must decide which is more important.  If the barriers to entry are low, that’s fine, because the firm that’s losing can simply improve on their faults.

But when barriers are high, and many choices are coupled, it’s much harder.  Consumers are making thousands of tradeoffs and only choosing amongst a few firms in doing so.

The USA currently has lackluster competition in a variety of key areas (including the political markets), resulting in subpar economic performance.  Until that changes, consumers get inferior goods, investors get inferior returns, and stability will remain more fragile than it needs to be.

The Price of the Sun

All this copyright business makes me wonder how screwed we would be if the same sort of business practices could easily be applied to things like that star over there that’s responsible for keeping this planet going. If, one day, there’s a sun tax, how big could it grow. How much could an institution get away with before people rebel?

All this copyright business makes me wonder how screwed we would be if the same sort of business practices could easily be applied to things like that star over there that’s responsible for keeping this planet going. If, one day, there’s a sun tax, how big could it grow. How much could an institution get away with before people rebel?

Note the term institution there, because it’s common knowledge that institutions are the problem unless you’re a Republican, in which case only two types of institutions (government, then often only at the federal level, and unions) are the problem. Unless you’re a democrat, in which case it’s just the businesses (and sometimes state governments) that are the problem.

But if you’re not tattooed with silly farm/circus animals, then the problem is the institutional structure, clearly. Some will maintain that individuals are the problem, that the human animal is a dumb beast ready to screw up everything from the Garden of Eden to microwave popcorn (take that both as levity and dead seriousness, as you may recall that the chemicals in the butter actually do nasty things, particularly to the factory workers). The problem there, its equivalence to saying any tool is bad, rather than pointing to its poor use in practice.

It’s plain to see the institution of copyright has become an untended Garden of Nod, and that in many respects the lack of gardeners has rendered its ground of only minimal use except to those most giant machines capable of uprooting the giant brambles, those with the industrial-strength pesticides capable of warding off the myriad critters in the global marketplace of content slobbering for fresh plant meat.

But the question posed can be abstracted to any informational system. When does dysfunction lead to adaptation? When does disequilibrium require reequilibration?

The answer may be hard to get at. All systems constantly reequilibrate. If you add salt to water, or change altitudes, the boiling point changes. But it doesn’t wait until you’re three kilometers above sealevel to drop the boiling point approximately ten degrees Celcius. It’s a continuous shift.

So why does sentiment bubble over at some given point? Why will we await the collapse of copyright before we fix the problem?

Namely because externalities only become internalized when all other pressure releases are exhausted, either artificially or naturally.

That is, if you have a faulty drain system, it only overflows when the total inflow exceeds the total outflow, which means a slow drain won’t back up if the amount of water in remains low enough and/or its blockage isn’t too severe.

And that’s why my surmise is that the actions of the content industry are merely pushing toward a complete erosion of copyright, which will result in a situation far worse than they expect. Every new law that increases the criminalization and increases the term lengths, blocks the drain the more. And the Internet and technology are adding to the inflow to the drain more than ever. They are pushing the whole damned system toward overflow.

Which is what you would get if the sun started to cost money. The fees would start small, but build over time, and you would get so-called sun pirates that would seek to avoid the excess cost of sunshine. Just as you get people bootlegging booze and tobacco products. Just as you get people ordering drugs from foreign countries, medical tourism, etc.

The fools in the content industry shouldn’t be pushing to block the drain entirely, for they cannot swim for long upon overflow. But the first losses will be the small artists that can’t swim at all.