The Pentagong Show

The Pentagong Show
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Friday, March 3, 2017

FireWall St: The Siliconned Valley's SuperSillyUs Culture.

After reading Jarett Kobeck's, "i hate the internet", I was  relieved to see that someone else shares my belief in the fact that the largest manifestation of the Semmelweis effect is the Internet and its evil twin, the computerization of everything. What the Semmelweiss effect refers to is a situation in which the treatment is worse than the affliction, but data or statistics that demonstrate this are rejected, simply because they fly in the face of established ideas. The medical study of which is known as Iatrogenics, ie, causing more harm while trying to help.

 In Internet parlance, though, it is the Firewall effect: keeping out what is inconsonant with the environment you wish to maintain; a good thing when that environment is your local Lan, not so much when it is thoughts or opinions that threaten your impeccably correct view of the world, the "talk to the hand" generation's mental blinders that go hand-in-hand with the glassframes so in vogue that perform the same function physically: deliberately blinding themselves from peripheral images that may disturb their equanimity, increasing their chances of literally being blind-sided simply in order to look fashionable. Yet, to anyone outside their little bubble, they simply look moronic.
F'eyerWall Frames

An example of this might be the fact that fewer pedestrians die jaywalking than using crosswalks. Because this fact seems to indicate we should do away with crosswalks, it is simply rejected as a statistical anomaly whereas it, instead, is what one would extrapolate from the knowledge of human behavior. A person observed using a crosswalk can be seen acting as though the lines that marked it off constituted a physical barrier to oncoming traffic, which attitude actually increases their chances of being run down. A jaywalker, contrarily, is far more wary, if for no other reason than that they must not only watch for onrushing vehicles, but for the police intent on meeting their citation quotas.

Although  he sometimes comes off as something of a Semmelweisguy, Kobeck throws off such phrases as, "... in the mid-nineties, it was very hard to look at America and not feel like its unwitting citizens had been born into complex systems of unfathomable evil", it is reassuring to me that someone outside the purview of the computer/telephony industries, was seeing reality in what I had thought was only discernible to me because of the fact that I was in the belly of the beast. And because of that, I knew what most people, as evidenced by the shock that ensued from Snowden's revelations, didn't, which is that the internet was a creation of the US DOD, and, like nuclear power, was only let loose into the private sector as a way to pay for the enormous crippling costs it was imposing on the economic system it needed to sustain it. It didn't become so integral a part o for economic and financialized worlds that they would collapse without it by accident. Nor, even more ridiculously, by happenstance.

But like the automobile industry, its promises are contrary to its actual effect. The car, that symbol of mobility, that has now taken over every hamlet, as well as every major urban center, has, after decades of untrammeled proliferation, left the country in such desperate shape that its citizens voted in as their President a vulgar, crass, autocrat (no pun intended (and if you believe that, it's no wonder we're in the straits we're in)), precisely because they felt they couldn't get anywhere. This despite being inundated with cars and their resultant poisonous atmosphere, creating a new generation of kids with crippling asthma, so they are unable to walk anywhere, necessitating even more use of the very machine that robbed their body of its ability of sustained mobility, the car, that was promulgated as a means of increasing their mobility. Which, in a sense, it has: they can now go nowhere that much faster.

Talking about the internet always reminds me of a day in the nineties when I was sitting on the sofa listening to the radio while checking my day's workload. Alex Bennett was interviewing some nerd about the internet and asked him a question, after which you could  hear him clickety-clacketing away on his keyboard. After a coupla minutes of this, I got up and walked across the room, picked up my dictionary and opened it up to the category that would supply me with the answer, which I retrieved while Alex's guest was still clickety-clacketing away. I felt like Katherine Hepburn in "The Desk Set" (well, not exactly, she was getting paid).

During that era, I was a Field Engineer, although I neither worked in a field nor was an engineer, for a computer company that operated in an IBM environment, meaning the equipment was located in an environmentally-controlled Data Center wherein was located a black locker containing what we used to call our "paper brains" - manuals that had service diagrams and flow charts that detailed the working  of our equipment and its configuration at that particular site so that we needn't rely solely on our fallible organic memory in the midst of an outage. The internet has adopted that concept by substituting "cloud computing" for paper brains, extending the mind's capabilities beyond the confines of our own cranium and giving it 'instant' access to the thoughts and data of a far larger environment. A marvel of human ideation, to be sure, but one, like all marvels, that comes at a price, that being the trimming of dendrites in our own memory resulting in an incapacity to recall what should be in our CPU memory without accessing its remote component, literally creating clouded thinking by design.

And this externalization of our brain's capacity has only grown so that now the simplest of tasks, such as unlocking your car door, is dependent on a series of interlocking mechanisms run by underlying software, that, if something the programmer didn't foresee in fact happens, can keep you from accessing your own vehicle with your own key. This should make it apparent that it was conceived and constructed for an entirely different purpose: not to make information available for free to anyone anywhere, but to gather more and more information behind a firewall of passwords, ISP's and Domains to which the hoi polloi without means will have no ability to access. It will take away all alternate sources of information that are at-hand and erect a barrier of electro-mechanical impenetrability to restrict access by eliminating any other source and enabling only those that are centralized and kept inaccessible and under password protection.

As an example of this is the ubiquitous camera phone. Whereas pre-internet there was a diverse range of expertise as to what an f-stop is or what shutter speed should be set to attain certain effects, what film was best, what lighting needed, etc, a whole science of photography spread not only all over the country, but all over the world, has now become atrophied, replaced by centralized knowledge, which the merest peasant can use, without knowing anything about how it operates. A Blessing on one side of it. But like all blessings, it has its dark side as well, and that dark side is that all alternatives are forgotten or destroyed, and once your ISP bill goes unpaid, or your cell phone runs out of charge, all that info is inaccessible, all your info as well, as most people don't even know their own best friend's phone number. It is in the phone, why bother?

In the penultimate chapter of a very entertaining book, Kobek enumerates the reasons he hates the supersillyus culture (or lack thereof) of FireWall St, and screams his reasons for thinking we've all been Sillyconned Valley'ed. Which is that we've turned the internet into a vast entity for the introduction of advertisement into every arena of our lives, arguing that by its existence everywhere on the internet that no matter what your intention, you're making money for some rich white dude (Kobek has a distinct animosity for all Caucasians which he misses no opportunity to indulge). And advertising, by its very nature, is dissembling at best, outright lies at its worst. And these lies are downloaded to your machine first, because the algorithms which are in charge have given them a higher priority than the data you were actually seeking to retrieve. You may not think they have a higher priority, but what your priorities are doesn't really matter; the network's do.

But his most cogent arguments could be used as signboard to the Democratic party for their loss of the election, as it seems to pointedly address their mindset:

"Fuck your unbelievable ability to pick on the powerless. Fuck all the crocodile tears that you shed every time a mentally backwards idiot calls some Turk a towelhead camelfucker! I don't give a fuck about the opinions of illiterate gas station attendants in Dubuque! It's so easy to demonstrate your own righteousness and it's so easy to challenge the social order when all you're doing is picking on idiots that are better off ignored and left to wither in the stench of their own lives! You have transformed activism into high school politics! And doing so using systems engineered to prey on the worst instincts of the human race because preying on the worst instincts of people is a much better way of generating advertising revenue than appeals to our better nature (by extending the reach of an already insidious Capitalism that also preys on our worst instincts).

Kobek then goes on to prove he's  unafraid to visit topics no FireWall St dwellers would dare, as he makes the astonishing (because it's so true one dare not speak of it) observation that the Zuckerbergs of the world have changed San Francisco into Suckerburg, where the goal is to replace every person in the workforce with wageslaves from Asian countries, because Asians will always work for 1/3 the salaries. But tech workers were so busy getting their degrees in Computer science that they never bothered to get a political education and have no idea of what's happening to them, so they fritter away their overblown salaries on smartphones and stupid water as though they'll always be making incomes in the stratosphere, but the future holds no such jobs. Yet these are the supersillyous know-it-alls who view the rest of society with contempt. And they all voted for Hillary Clinton and are convinced the only explanation for their completely being blindsided by her loss just has to be those evil conniving Russians interfering with our erections (sic).

They are incapable of the introspection necessary to arrive at the Pogo observation that "We have met the enemy and he is Us", because the Semmelweis effect is unobserved, despite the anti-social nature of the social networks they blithely continue to use in the face of the now common knowledge that it is a tool of repression, surveillance and targeted advertisement that is called "free" despite its onerous costs in not just personal relationships but energy usage, its needs of which are prodigious, exactly the opposite of what it promised during its implementation but which promises have long since been forgotten.

All of which isn't to say that I hate the internet, but merely to point out that, like most things in modern life that rely on networks to deliver their benefits, there is a vast hidden arrayed infrastructure, the man behind the curtain having morphed into a whole range of ISP's, DNS servers, IP addressing, packet protocols, and Cisco-powered WANs, MANs and LANs to deliver what looks like a magical result, and that structure requires disproportionate concentrations of manpower on upgrading, guarding, constant enhancement, and subterfuge to maintain and power, the demands of which burn entire mountaintops worth of coal in order to cool what would otherwise be the fried microchips and wafers of this vast installed base of silicone. But all that is ignored by the sillyconned who prefer to keep all that firewalled out of their picture of the world, as it makes it too complicated; its true, staggering costs too apparent, which would in turn make the urgent need of a cost/basis analysis undeniable.

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