Banking on a RedeemerAt the end of July 2018, I went to the Decentralized Web Summit hosted by the Internet Archive in San Francisco. My reasons for attending were personal. I wanted to meet Tim Berners Lee in real life. And I longed to be among others who understand the painful disappointment of the monetized Web. I am grateful for being at the summit - Thank You Internet Archive - but for me, it was a bittersweet experience.
The sweet note was Tim Berners-Lee who is, without question, one of the most unaffected people to walk the earth. Eternal cheers to Sir Tim. Shaking his hand was an unparalleled pleasure. The bitter pill, though, was the understated but pervasive awareness that, barring a propitious "Black Swan", we are probably beyond saving ourselves from the negative impacts of our addiction driven consumer economy.
By my judgement, attendees seemed clustered into roughly three camps: A disillusioned, mostly older and distinguished, group hoping to devise a benign antidote to the Corporate Net's silo engine. An edgy, mostly younger and risk seeking, section infatuated with various crypto-currency/blockchain pursuits. And a contrite, visibly anxious, few of Silicon Valley insurgents such as Tristan Harris who are sounding an alarm well summarized by this quote, "Profiting from the problem, these platforms won’t change on their own".
I am most closely aligned with the older, disillusioned generation, but there is a deep desire in me to co-opt Andy Grove's "Believe In The Internet More Than Ever" as a call to re-claim the early vision of a digital nirvana.
Through direct experience on my own YouTube channel, I know the miraculous wonder of being able, as a single unknown individual, to inspire and delight a global audience. But time does not rewind. And the consequences of today's dilemma are too dire and immediate to be dismissed by wistful fantasy. So where can we look for hope?
In a world that worships a "move fast and break things" fix, we've been programmed to turn to technology first. This Gizmodo review of "app usage tracking apps" illustrates the circular snare of tech solution marketing...using an app to manage the apps that are managing us. One called "Instant" even looks likely to increase overall screen time just to keep it configured.
Instant (Android and iOS—from $2/month)
If you want something to track your phone and app use across both Android and iOS devices, then Instant is the best option we’ve found—with the caveat we mentioned above, that iOS apps can only really track total phone time use, rather than looking at your time in individual apps. It also requires a premium subscription, costing $2 per month.
You get much more besides app and phone tracking though: Instant shows you every bit of data your phone can gather, including how much you’ve been sleeping, the places you’ve been visiting, how many steps you’re taking. All of this can be linked to reports and goals you can set yourself if you want to be spending less time on your mobile.
At a recent UX Meetup in Portland Oregon, I watched more than a hundred trend conscious tech designers review the latest batch of time tracking apps. As a demographic, the crowd was quite uniformly white, young, and well-educated. In critiquing an apps' features and utility, they considered only their own needs. The immense diversity of scenarios and challenges among general public users never came up.
This feedback was a tacit admission that such an app fix is only practical for those who are tech savvy and time privileged. Other users don't matter because the underlying objective of these apps is mainly to capitalize on "Disconnecting - The Next Big Thing in Tech". They must expect a significant ROI because even Arianna Huffington, the perpetual opportunist, has boarded the bandwagon with her Thrive Global, a so-called "wellness" brand.
For the army of common gig workers in the "sharing" economy, though, the idea of going without an electronic leash - their mobile phone - is inconceivable. It is how they survive while Arianna "Thrives" on an Uber ride.
Then there is the fact that the vast majority of Facebook users are tech neophytes who commonly believe that Facebook is the Internet and they are not just in remote sectors of the globe. I have personally been astounded by the number of people I've met, often educated and in positions of authority, who say Facebook is the first and only Internet application they've ever used. These people won't be downloading a feature laden tacking app any time soon.
According to Internet World Stats, there are currently about 4.2 billion people who are connected to the internet. Facebook’s networks include WhatsApp and Instagram, and it has managed to pull more than half of the whole lot of us into using at least one of them. While most companies would be totally thrilled to have a user base larger than any nation on Earth, it’s important to remember that Zuckerberg isn’t even halfway to his goal of connecting everyone.
The trouble is, Zuckerberg makes it seem as though Facebook, with its already massive scale, is the internet. But that notion lets him off the hook for properly policing the thing he’s created because the internet has no master. It is its own ecosystem that requires decentralized control to function at its best. The tradeoff of decentralization is that there’s no one to blame for what a fucked up place the internet truly is. But Zuckerberg does not control the internet; he controls Facebook and all that comes with it. Until he begins to fully espouse the difference, he’ll continue to demand we just give him more time while he figures out how to clean up the messes his creation has made.
As Long as Mark Zuckerberg Thinks Facebook Is the Internet, He'll Never Be Sorry
Gizmodo - February 2019
Since details surfaced about the Cambridge Analytica data exposé, calls for tech industry regulation again began trending through media headlines, political chambers, and corporate boardrooms. There is something about regulation that rings of satisfaction and even slight revenge. It sounds like the obvious solution.
Call it a Bill of Rights for the internet.Given her political standing and connection to Silicon Valley, this was a move Nancy Pelosi had to make. As she says in the article, “Something needs to be done to protect the privacy of the American people and come up with overarching values”.
Six months ago, Ms. Pelosi charged Ro Khanna — the Democratic representative whose California district is home to Apple, Intel and Yahoo — with the creation of that list. After consulting with think tanks like the Center for Democracy and Technology and big Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, as well as some of tech’s biggest brains, like Nicole Wong and Tim Berners-Lee, he came up with a list of 10 principles that cover topics such as privacy, net neutrality and discrimination.
To set the table, let’s be clear that the tech industry has long operated nearly unfettered, aided by laws that have given its major companies broad immunity and an open plain on which to operate. The goal was to foster and encourage innovation. And like the pioneers who once set out for California to make their fortune, tech companies have thrived in that regulation-free landscape.
But it has become ever clearer with every misstep — including but not limited to Russian interference on social media platforms, the amplification of hate speech and fake news, and the misuse of personal information — that tech’s freedom has come at a steep price to the American people. If voters give her the chance, the once and perhaps future speaker of the House says she will lead a push to get the industry in line.
Introducing the Internet Bill of Rights
NY Times - October 2018
Such a complex conundrum had to be distilled for public consumption so Pelosi appointed an outstanding candidate for the task, Congressman Ro Khanna, of California’s 17th District which includes much of Silicon Valley. But as Kara Swisher, the author of the Times article above, goes on to ask, "will it be too little, too late?" From my perspective, the answer is yes.
Like the Wall Street/Silicon Valley mutual benefit pact, the story of government efforts to regulate corporations is a maze of dark alley deals leading to public welfare dead ends. Not something that can be covered with any depth here. But I do have some insights to offer about regulating the tech industry.
In general, tech heavily favors self-regulation. Their typical justification is fear of stifling innovation. If this sounds like a self-serving excuse, that's because it is. But smaller players do have a legitimate concern. The established giants will craft compliance standards that only they have the money and means to meet. Any general public outsider who believes that government agencies will determine these regulations should review the April 2018 congressional hearings where a confused Senator Lindsey Graham, among others, asked Zuckerberg to help write legislation in the future.
From our current perspective of Russian election meddling, this opening tidbit from Zuckerberg's 2010 "Person of the Year" Time magazine award is a cautionary example of how tech celebrity can dazzle anyone.
[Context: Took place at Facebook during an FBI tour of Silicon Valley.]
The door opened, and a distinguished-looking gray-haired man burst in — it's the only way to describe his entrance — trailed by a couple of deputies. He was both the oldest person in the room by 20 years and the only one wearing a suit. He was in the building, he explained with the delighted air of a man about to secure ironclad bragging rights forever, and he just had to stop in and introduce himself to Zuckerberg: Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, pleased to meet you. They shook hands and chatted about nothing for a couple of minutes, and then Mueller left. There was a giddy silence while everybody just looked at one another as if to say, What the hell just happened?
PERSON OF THE YEAR 2010 - Mark Zuckerberg
Time Magazine - December 2010
Laws won't impede bad boy hackathon culture. It feeds on challenges. And Venture Capital rewards those who most brazenly circumvent the rules.
Antonio García Martínez’s “Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley" is an insider view of the winner-take-all mindset that now has the power to manipulate nearly half the people on the planet. Martínez salutes his adversaries with this dedication, “To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you.” He then describes the virtues that it took to defeat them, "I was wholly devoid of most human boundaries or morality.” And finally his definition of a typical VC burning tech bro highlights the character that leads to success, “bomb-throwing anarchist subversive mixed with coldblooded execution mixed with irreverent whimsy, a sort of technology-enabled 12-year-old boy.” In short, regulation will not be our savior.
Barring an irreparable collapse of the so-called "cloud" infrastructure, we are, in fact, on a relentless trajectory toward tech infiltration in every facet of life. As legislative brows furrow in Washington over "concerns" about data abuse, shiny new bobbles are teasing us with the next awesome ways to give it away. We may be wary of tech at the moment, but look! A fast approaching 5G Network promises to deliver the "new cellular system that will potentially transform our world".
This 5 gigabyte tsunami of silent intrusion has an ideal emotion-fueled vehicle waiting to drive it even into our flesh and bones: The Internet of Things(IoT) for healthcare. Implanted, network dependent medical devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators, infusion pumps, and glucose monitors are previews of how the medical needs of an expensive, unwieldy bulge of baby boomers will be provided and even welcomed.
At this point, Jeff Bezos is positioned to be the primary profiteer of digital health. I'll discuss this in a future post about Amazon. For now, just note that Amazon's penetration into private homes is a made-to-order interface into its real profit center, Amazon Web Services (AWS) which happens to manage data for Healthcare.gov, Medicare, Medicaid... In fact, Amazon's AWS Cloud Computing Services should be recognized as the Official Information Technology Department of the United States Government. In April 2018, Bezos singled out AWS as a big contributor to its jump in profit and “remarkable acceleration” in growth. Without realizing it, US taxpayers are responsible for making Jeff Bezos the richest person on earth.
Amazon’s biggest move into healthcare thus far has been through Amazon Web Services, its highly successful business unit that offers other companies and government agencies data storage and computing capacity. Since 2014 Amazon Web Services has provided cloud computing and network support services to Healthcare.gov, the health insurance e-commerce network operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Under a multiyear contract Amazon Web Services has with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Amazon has built several e-commerce programs that have enabled millions of consumers to comparison shop and purchase health insurance on Healthcare.gov. Those tools include building an identity management system, a feature for comparing insurance plans, and a tool to determine eligibility for specific plans based on a consumer’s income and other variables.
Amazon Web Services, which generated revenue of $12.21 billion in 2016, or 9% of Amazon’s total revenue of $135.98 billion, has nearly three dozen publicly named big healthcare clients. They include such health systems as Cleveland Clinic and Intermountain Healthcare, and health insurers such as Oscar Healthcare. For the Cleveland Clinic, Amazon Web Services helped to develop the Healthy Brains Initiative, which gives patients and neurologists a way to enter and analyze information about conditions and activities that affect brain health. For Intermountain, Amazon Web Services worked with oncologists across the U.S. to deliver precision medicine to cancer patients, while Oscar uses AWS to run its insurance platform, customer databases, and analytics program.
But the move with Cerner gives Amazon more direct access to the biggest hospitals and health systems that use Cerner’s electronic health records system. About one-fifth of the U.S. hospital market, about 1,029 organizations, use Cerner health records system.
“Prior press reports indicated Amazon was selectively looking to enter certain healthcare information technology markets via its 1492 project, including electronic health records and as such we are encouraged by this broader partnership between Amazon and Cerner,” Gilmore says. “It’s better to be aligned with Amazon vs. being disrupted.” (emphasis taken from original)
Cerner Deal is a Sign Amazon Has Big Plans for Healthcare
Digital Commerce 360 - November 2017