The world has changed many times, and it is changing again. All of us will have to adapt to a new way of living, working, and forging relationships. But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.
Without social distancing of the whole population, they found, even the best mitigation strategy—which means isolation or quarantine of the sick, the old, and those who have been exposed, plus school closures—would still lead to a surge of critically ill people eight times bigger than the US or UK system can cope with. (That’s the lowest, blue curve in the graph below; the flat red line is the current number of ICU beds.) Even if you set factories to churn out beds and ventilators and all the other facilities and supplies, you’d still need far more nurses and doctors to take care of everyone.
The challenge will be what this all means for various aspects of society, such as sport and travel. Lichfield suggests that we may well be asked to give over more information and data to qualify us for various things.
We don’t know exactly what this new future looks like, of course. But one can imagine a world in which, to get on a flight, perhaps you’ll have to be signed up to a service that tracks your movements via your phone. The airline wouldn’t be able to see where you’d gone, but it would get an alert if you’d been close to known infected people or disease hot spots. There’d be similar requirements at the entrance to large venues, government buildings, or public transport hubs. There would be temperature scanners everywhere, and your workplace might demand you wear a monitor that tracks your temperature or other vital signs. Where nightclubs ask for proof of age, in future they might ask for proof of immunity—an identity card or some kind of digital verification via your phone, showing you’ve already recovered from or been vaccinated against the latest virus strains.
Taking this topic from a different perspective, that of someone living with those deemed to be at risk, Ben Werdmuller discusses the routines he follows as a part of the ‘new normal’:
I keep a container of Clorox bleach wipes in the car with me. I wiped down the steering wheel and the controls, and then the handles on each of the doors. When I get gas, I wipe down the pump and its buttons. If I need to go to a store, I wipe myself down with Purell first, then get the groceries or whatever it is I need, and wipe myself down afterwards. I wash my hands for 20+ seconds as soon as I enter the house (and as soon as I got here, I wiped down the front door handle). I wash my hands regularly. They feel really clean, so at least there’s that. Because my mother also uses the downstairs bathroom, we wipe it down with alcohol when we’re finished with it. And then more hand-washing.
The time is right for tech companies to make the shift into open protocols, in a way that allows businesses to make money, users to own their data, and a thousand new social networking interfaces to bloom. And I think that’s a progressive move for the web.
The key will be rapid iteration in the public interest, repeatedly testing not just the feasibility of such a protocol (whether you can build and maintain it at scale), but also its desirability (user risk) and viability (business risk). In other words, it’s not enough to make something work. It also has to be able to win user trust, serve as the foundation of an ecosystem, and allow businesses built on the platform to become valuable. As yet, open standards processes have not shown themselves to be capable of this kind of product development.
Doug Belshaw is sceptical about what is being proposed and feels that it focused on investors and regulators.
Ultimately, Twitter’s announcement is a distraction to the important work of building viable, interoperable alternatives to Big Tech. The thought of Dorsey and chums building an alternative to ActivityPub sounds a lot like the Rainforest Alliance. Given the mention of blockchain, I should imagine there will be a ‘token’ or cryptocurrency angle in there, too. And I’m not sure that’s in the long-term best interests of humanity.
For Stephen Downes, this is a response to the rise of distributed networks.
The sceptic in me wonders whether Twitter is merely trying to undermine existing distributed networks who have been bleeding traffic from the centralized social network.
I think that Michael Bishop captures my feelings best in a short post on his blog:
This is a note I’m posting to my WordPress blog that syndicates to Twitter. If you heart it, it will show up on my blog too. Open standards.
The most important question when you’re building a new product or service is why. It’s not enough to know that people seem interested in the thing you want to build. Why are they interested? What are the stories behind their frustrations or their curiosity? If you’re trying to improve an existing process, why do they do it in the way they do it right now? Why do they need something better?
Let’s be clear: Google is participating in the prevailing business model for internet businesses in Silicon Valley. So in that sense, they’re not more evil than any other business that seeks to make money through personal data. You could also make the argument that they’re not as directly harmful as a company like Facebook, whose data practices have been shown to have undermined democracy in countries like the United States and Britain, and even to have supported genocides in countries like Myanmar.
However, the impact of Google’s business is exponentially greater because of its size. From widespread location collection in Google Maps, to the fact that the majority of sites on the internet host Google tracking code, it’s very hard to not be tracked and profiled by them in some way. That information has the potential to be cross-referenced, together with offline information like credit card purchases, which it adds together to create a highly targeted profile.
It used to be that these regressive values were the norm. So I want to spend this International Men’s Day thanking the women who have helped changed this state of affairs, as well as the men who refuse to live by them, and who signal that there are other, better definitions of masculinity. This change is saving people’s lives. It probably has saved mine. So, thank you.
Over time, your body of work will build, and you’ll find that people are interested in surprising topics. This post on equality of outcome vs opportunity has been the most popular thing on my site for a while now, which I never could have planned or anticipated. The power is in being consistent, and keeping your site online for the long term. (I wish I could have told my 1998 self that.)
We live in a consumerist society where everything is presented in terms of products. So, let’s talk products. Tim Burton’s Batman was released 30 years ago. So was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And, yes, Star Trek: The Next Generation is thirty-two years old. In less time than that, it could all be over.
A key question to building any software in the modern age is: “In the wrong hands, who could this harm?”
Decades ago, software seemed harmless. In 2019, when facial recognition is used to deport refugees and data provided by online services have been used to jail journalists, understanding who you’re building for, and who your software could harm, are vital. These are ideas that need to be incorporated not just into the strategies of our companies and the design processes of our product managers, but the daily development processes of our engineers. These are questions that need to be asked over and over again.
Buying and selling automatic weapons is indefensible. These are weapons of war, designed to be wielded by trained military servicepeople. We don’t need them on our streets. It’s not about mental health; it’s not about drugs; it’s not about videogames. It’s not about prayer in schools. It’s about limiting access to instruments of death.
My love of tech has always been deeply tied to my love of people. Technology isn’t interesting for technology’s sake: it’s interesting because it elevates the human experiences and lets people do things they couldn’t do before. It has the potential to make the world more educated, more inclusive, and more peaceful. It’s certainly not interesting because it makes money for people.
Code is never more important than life. Genocide is always a bigger problem than software distribution licenses. Hopefully this is obvious.
While I accept that it runs counter to the stated principles of the free software movement, I believe we need a new set of licenses that explicitly forbid using software to facilitate hate or hate groups.
Being generous, having purpose, working in service of others; the truth is that all of those things make you happier, too. I need to get so much better at this. But it’s clear to me that it’s the right direction.
Rather than be responsive to hate, fear, or tragedy, I want to be proactive with love, with everything in my work, and everything in my life.
Lustig says that pleasure is short-lived, selfish, and can be achieved with substances whereas happiness is the opposite. Most importantly though, Lustig believes that pleasure is based on dopamine and happiness is based on serotonin, two entirely different brain chemicals.
Happiness is a laudable goal, and we can only achieve it by creating a better society (and even a better world) for everybody. Not through authoritarianism or revolution; not through a worship of markets; not through tending to the individual at the expense of community, or through tending to community at the expense of the individual; not through accidentally creating new gatekeepers as we tear down the old ones; but through balance, compassion, and an eye for creating equal opportunities and making everybody’s lives better.
A common, and correct, critcism of alternative funding models has been that they don’t adequately describe the upside for potential investors.
We have a half gallon of eggnog in the fridge. I can hear my family now, awake and down in the living room. I’m going to go downstairs, pour a little eggnog in my coffee – those West Point cadets missed a trick – and join them.
What information is Facebook sharing with Palantir, or the security services? To what extent are undeclared data-sharing relationships used to deport people, or to identify individuals who should be closely monitored? Is it used to identify subversives? And beyond the effects of data sharing, given what we know about the chilling effects surveillance has on democracy, what effect on democratic discourse has the omnipresence of the social media feed already had – and to what extent is this intentional?