[-empyre-] Intro, launching some initial questions

Domenico Barra domenicobarra.db at protonmail.com
Thu Feb 4 11:06:33 AEDT 2021

Hello everyone,

There is so much to say but I better save some thoughts for when it will be my turn.

The scale of what we are discussing is huge, considering the amount of people, billions, interested and influenced by our online day by day, everyday emotional scrollacoaster.

We know that we need better structures, and more valid alternatives. But when those will be provided, and some are already here, they will never succeed if we won't have first changed our culture, of being online at least.

As I said, we all share the same platforms but the scale is so huge that I always prefer to refer to my experience, because after all is the only experience I am really aware of. Emotions. We are too much involved within these platforms emotionally, as some sort of twisted relationships, and it can really have a strong impact on our choices, that's why it is hard to switch to other alternatives, we are into Facebook, Instagram, with our emotions. And it's hard to by pass those feelings. I heard many saying that they are fighting Facebook exploiting its own tools, alibi.

This is a fight happening on and emotional ground, not just technical, regulations and so on.

And, of course, vanity, the most foolish sin of the devil. On account, only three likes are need to trigger some people ego and self accomplishment in the race for consensus.

Anyway, this is just a personal dig the social media journey I wished to share as I always believed since many years ago that social media boost and drain us emotionally, addictive.

About culture, which I think it is always a matter of culture, even the best alternative can be wasted. My most recent experience is with blockchain and crypto. The first time I heard about bitcoin it was in a squatted place,. anarchists were euphoric about it. Second time it was at a meeting of our Neapolitan Pirate Party group, we had a panel in a students occupied room at Università Orientale. I was with Vito Campanelli and Denis Roio, also known as Jaromil. Even if Bitcoin was always meant as a solution to protects online trading against eventual frauds, we all believed it as a resource for free the people from banks, debts, naively, probably, somehow. We have a new powerful technology, but as we do have a toxic culture of money, power, wealth, all I am seeing now is bull run, whales, record sales, milestones, money flowing, rankings, new wealth, new rich, new power. Same old story. We always update the technology, but the culture is always obsolete.

So, I believe we got to bring digital literacy in school, at early age, make kids aware, especially about feelings, emotions, human values, develop critical mind, to dialogue, to have doubts, curiosity, invest in culture as much as we invest in building new awesome technologies. The next Zuckerberg, Bezos, are probably at college right now ready to screw the next generation.

Thank you.

Sent from ProtonMail mobile

-------- Original Message --------
On 4 Feb 2021, 00:05, Ben Grosser wrote:

> Geert,
> As always I appreciate your ability to see beyond the horizon. I think the pandemic era has, for many (including myself), amplified some myopias. That said, I've been working towards at least a one- or two-year plan, so am happy to talk about collective efforts to expand this frame. A few reactions are below, plus some additional thoughts...
>> My theses would be that we have left behind the first
>> stage (about raising awareness)...maybe not in the USA
>> yet...
> The situation here in the US is that we have awareness without change. It reminds me of the 2013-2020 disconnect between awareness of surveillance post-Snowden and the broad lack of individual initiative to change behavior in response. One factor then was acceptance of the government's argument that security required surveillance. Perhaps the new version of this with the now-acknowledged-to-be-harmful Silicon Valley monopolies is that convenience requires platforms? That no matter the harm, scale--and the convenience that scale is perceived to be productive of--is the necessary condition required to make possible the connected and internet-activated landscape of today? Such an attitude certainly reflects the ideologies of Zuckerberg et al, unsurprisingly given that their ways of thinking are embedded in the platforms they build (and we all use).
> There's some new awareness here post January 6th, and at least some in Congress recognize the relationship between the rise of authoritarianism and the rise of algorithmic platforms (though many also seem to embrace it). I fear that Silicon Valley's lobby actions will soon defuse new regulation and anti-trust rumblings, but we'll see.
>> Do we need more documentaries like The Social Dilemma?
> No. I used to think it had done more good than harm, but on balance I'm not so sure anymore. It's served as a whitewashing vehicle for Silicon Valley execs, helping them gain absolution for having built the monopolistic platforms in the first place. Those execs/techs now see, after amassing their fortunes from it, that social media is problematic? Scholars, artists, and others have been yelling about this for fifteen years, so I'm not impressed they finally figured it out post Trump. But more damaging is that the movie advances the argument that Silicon Valley might regulate itself, that some of its founders and premiere techs will turn on the platforms and force them to change. This has the SV-desired effect of defusing government arguments towards regulation and antitrust.
>> 1. Develop a culture of refusal ... [that aims to produce]
>> collective exodus but there need to be alternatives first
>> ... this has been a stagnating strategy ... we’ve not been
>> able to resolve
> Breaking the stagnation may require stronger, more confrontational works that pollute the platform ecosystem in ways that turn their advantage of scale against them. Just thinking on the fly here, but one example would be an AI users could install to take their place on the platforms when they leave, a system that slowly trends that user's (now artificial) contributions towards nonsense. This would not only pollute their individual profile but could also negatively influence the feeds of many others.
>> 2. Political pressure to break up the monopolies.
> Agree that it's a necessary component for change, but have also watched special interests drive the US Congress for decades. What can break this cycle? From my side of the ocean I think the EU holds some potential here, as it sometimes seems willing to risk loss of platform access in order to compel change. As for future pressure actions, we need more dialog between artists/theorists and political activists.
>> 3. Preparations for the building ... internet as a public
>> infrastructure ... we’re not very far into this at all
>> 5. A federated, decentralized web is not happening inside
>> AWS. ... Is it realistic to bring back server to the people?
>> This debate is urgent ... If we want social networks to be
>> local again, where do we actually situate them?
> I'm reminded of Mark Fisher here, that we've been so conditioned to see platforms as inevitable that capitalist realism now lives alongside (and is co-productive of/with) platform realism. People can't envision any viable alternative to the platforms.
>> 6. ... how to subvert the new enclosures, organize exchanges
>> and debates, and facilitate encounters with others with
>> royal gestures.
> Much of your plan leads me to think about shared values as a way forward. Values I'm thinking about right now that might be a place to organize conversation around include:
> SLOW -- we need media that actively and intentionally works against the platform capitalist idea that speed is desireable and productive.
> LESS -- we need new alternatives that advance an anti-scale, anti-more agenda. Facebook's answer to the negative effects of platform scale post 2016 was to foreground Groups to "give people the power to build community." Four years later that platform-produced power has propelled racism and authoritarianism to new heights.
> PUBLIC -- social media infrastructure for 3B+ users should not be driven by profit or controlled by single individuals. Ditto goods distribution (Amazon), information access (Google), etc.
> DECENTRALIZED -- going back to your thoughts in #5, I see this is as a daunting challenge. The internet's physical infrastructure is built to encourage centralization and to discourage anything local. In the US, home connections dramatically preference consumption (download) over production (upload). In fact, for many here their user agreements prohibit any kind of home-based server without expensive "business" plans, and even then the infrastructure usually won't support it anyway. Perhaps a middle space along this path is to focus on (or build) some kind of alternative (co-op?) cloud provider?
> DECOY -- to help produce a culture of refusal we need new projects/works that get into the platforms and help users turn themselves away from them. To make this possible, my instinct is we need projects that can distract the platforms (e.g., by being overtly confrontational) in order to slowly and consistently turn the volume up on those projects that evade their attention. Projects that only produce cease and desist letters from corporate attorneys produce nothing. But if they are made and released in order to create cover for other projects, then they become of use.
> ben
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