Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
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Ding Dong: The Internet is Dead

06/24/2020 19:53:07

In today's world with everything either burning or smoldering, it can be distressing to wake up each day and face the latest developments. Everything that is happening now is happening because, like the Empires of yesteryear, systems rise and they fall. The sad truth is that most people have developed a blind spot when it comes to issues of this sort. That's primarily because getting there requires a bigger picture perspective most people seem to lack.

Regardless, many systems in tech seem to be modeled after the huge gargantuan centralized bureaucracy that is the US Government, which I would argue is clearly in the midst of it's own downward spiral. You can see this trait present in a wide variety of systems, most notably in the proprietary ones pushed by corporations hellbent on acquiring intellectual property and data on their users as their first, second and third orders of business.

The most obvious example of this is the amorphous entity that has come to be colloquially known as "The Cloud". While there are thousands of cloud providers who provide a wide variety of services, there are only truly a handful of core cloud providers that everything else tends to be built on top of. The companies running those clouds are Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Everything else essentially depends on capacity provided by these companies. This should scare the living hell out of everybody. They all have had downtime and they all have to explain away the resulting egg on their face in multiple instances. They all also wield an amazing and disturbing level of control over what ends their capacity can and will serve as the means for.

The Internet is yet another system which is part of this discussion. It was designed as a decentralized network, which would be capable of surviving a series of catastrophic nuclear strikes on American infrastructure. For a very long time, it seemed like the original designers had succeeded in making that vision a reality. However over time, the participants in the system began to act and subsequently modify that system in new and unexpected ways. This has led us to the current iteration, which is anything but decentralized and very much dependent on maintaining the rising fortunes of three insanely powerful and scary corporations.

Am I predicting the end of the Internet? No. That already happened. What we have now only somewhat resembles what we used to have, but its skin deep resemblance is close enough that most outside of tech haven't really noticed. As long as their phones notify them when somebody likes their latest inane post / picture on social media and allows them to buy more crap they don't need with a single click, it turns out that they don't really care all that much.

The reason this is such a huge concern is because these three companies wield an immense amount of power and that power ensures that certain aspects of society and government must remain subservient to these corporations, otherwise they run the risk of incurring their wrath and losing access to the capacity they sell. The other reason is that we can't legitimately expect these three actors to always act in ways that will be considered kind and benevolent. In fact it is probably safe to say that our interests and theirs are only tangentially aligned if at all most of the time as they are motivated by greed and that guarantees that they are dedicated to serving their own short term self interest.

I can already hear the protests from the more skeptical among you: Put up or shut up. Fine. I will. Because its still fresh, lets talk a bit about content creation on our beloved Internet and the platforms that creators depend on in order to make a living by producing said content. Specifically lets chat about Mixer. For those of you won't don't know, Mixer is a live streaming platform which was owned by Microsoft. Microsoft purchased the service in 2016 in an effort to compete with the world's premiere live streaming platform called Twitch, which was purchased by Amazon in 2014. Indeed Google also operates their own live streaming platform and you may have heard of it: A little something called YouTube.

Earlier this week Microsoft announced that Mixer was shutting down in 30 days via a Tweet. The timing is very suspect for a number of reasons, none of which I'm going to get into here but suffice to say that virtually nobody, including the employees of Mixer were given any advance warning of this to say nothing of the content creators themselves. In one fell swoop, Microsoft dismantled the revenue streams of thousands of people. Not only that but they did it in the midst of a global pandemic in which jobs and opportunities are much harder to come by.

To their credit Microsoft made arrangements with another competing service run by Facebook, idiotically branded as "Facebook Gaming" to give their partners and monetized creators some sort of path forward. What they didn't realize was that most of these creators simply don't want anything to do with the likes of Facebook as its morally objectionable on so many levels that discussing it here would also certainly derail the present discussion.

So most of these creators have only two real options: Give up or start over on another platform like Twitch. If you had spent the last few years trying to eek a living out via live streaming content and building an audience around whatever your particular shtick or brand is, you'd be pretty pissed off that the rug could and was pulled out from under you in such a spectacular manner. But what's more troubling is that they have absolutely no recourse to force Microsoft's hand on this issue. The core sin is already etched in the stone tablets of history with no manner of appeal afforded to those who depended on that platform to ply their trade.

Let me be clear: I'm only singling out Microsoft here because the Mixer debacle is the most recent example of callous decision making on the part of these three companies that has thrown portions of society into disarray. Make no mistake, both Amazon and Google have plenty of blood on their hands as well. You need look no further than Amazon undercutting popular products offered by third parties on their platform by offering cheaper Amazon branded alternatives of their own or Google changing the rules behind monetization / ad revenue on YouTube for the millionth time only to watch thousands of creators scramble to try and adapt.

So how does this apply to the overall point? Well it's simple. The decentralized Internet that we all have been worshiping at the altar of these last three decades is now officially dead. Participating in its current iteration requires you to swallow your pride and do business with at least one (likely multiple) corporations you find to be overbearing, amoral and ultimately objectionable, because overtly blocking all of their services is essentially impossible. Don't believe me? Feel free to check out the "Goodbye Big Five" series of articles published on Gizmodo by Kashmir Hill in early 2019 for some more perspective on this issue. She actually tried and her ultimate conclusion was quite disturbing.

Because we have no way to separate the corporate interest from the public interest, it is inevitable that the human quotient of the collateral damage resulting from future decisions made by the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and Google will increase. The Internet is neither a free nor a friendly place. Like everything else in this amoral society of ours, it is simply yet another gatekeeper that you must make some sort of pact with in order to persist and to survive.

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