Internet: The Illusion of Empowerment (Jerry Mander, 1998)

Jerry Mander

Congratulations to Whole Earth for surviving so long, for turning away from technotopian visions, and for returning to community, ecological sustainability, individual empowerment. It is truly a revolutionary act when people or institutions are able to say, “My God, we’re out on the wrong limb here; we are not heading where we meant to; let’s get grounded.”

And as we attempt to reground–which is to say, reconnect with an Earth-based reality that is not virtual-we all need to sweep around in the corners of our consciousness to examine some basic assumptions. The one I’m most interested in changing has to do with the issue of “empowerment,” specifically the idea that the computer revolution contributes to it. I think the opposite is the case: computers are disempowering us, and our causes, and are leading to the highest degree of corporate-controlled centralization in history. Computers, the global information networks, and the “information society” empower them, not us.

The computer revolution is a weird one since both sides seem to agree about it. They all think it’s great. The corporations and the activists, the engineers and the artists, the Al Gores and the Newt Gingriches, the conservatives and the liberals all outdo themselves to articulate utopian visions of a computer-based society. Does that make you uneasy? Is Newt Gingrich’s utopia the same as yours? In any case, shouldn’t we have learned by now to be wary of any “revolution” led by corporations and vice presidents?

Even my own friends tend to side with the computers-bring-you-power argument. “You miss the point,” they tell me. “Computers can help us communicate with like-minded types; we can get better organized against those big corporations. We can reach people all over the planet, and use email to mobilize.”

Some of my friends quote Kevin Kelly, formerly of Whole Earth and now of Wired. He argues that the computer revolution created a new political structure on the planet. The symbol of today should no longer be the atom, he has written, now it’s the web, or the net. According to his view, the political center has been wiped out and an entirely new web structure “elevates the power of the small player,” while promoting heterogeneity and a new kind of pure democracy where we can be equal players in the global information game. Also, it brings on a new “incipient technospiritualism.”

Kevin’s right on the last point: Technospiritualism, though I favor the older kind that doesn’t require mediation by machines. As for the idea that the old political center has been wiped out by our PCs and email, and that web politics has brought us a computerenhanced democracy, let me ask this: Shouldn’t we call it “virtual democracy”? I think so. Because somebody forgot to tell the transnational corporations in Tokyo, New York, Brussels, and Geneva that the real power was no longer in the center, that it was now out of their control. Two hundred corporations now control twenty-eight per cent of global economic activity; twenty-four corporations are among the hundred largest economies of the world, far larger than many countries. The computer has had a crucial role to play in this, as have the big new global trade agreements, which have deregulated all controls on international banking, investment, and capital movement. Corporations are now free to use the new global technologies to move their assets around the world, instantaneously, at the touch of a key, without the ability of nation-states to observe, control, or slow them down.

Some people understand this, notably among the right wing. Dr. Joe Cobb of the Heritage Foundation once told me that because of technology, corporate-led globalization is “inevitable.” It can’t be stopped (presumably because technology itself “can’t be stopped,” yet one more paradigm worth examining).

So, what kind of revolution do we have here? To use terms like “empowerment” to summarize the effects of computers is to badly misrepresent what power is about in a real political and economic context. Computers may help individuals feet powerful or competent and surely they are useful; nobody denies this. But this does nothing whatever to balance the ultimate drift of the technology, to help gather staggering new power in the hands of giant corporations, banks, and global trade bureaucracies, all made possible by these same instruments.

In my view, computer technology will eventually be understood by all of us, as it already is by the right wing, as the greatest centralizing technology ever invented. For while we sit happily at our PCs editing our copy, sending our emails, designing our little web pages, transnational corporations are using their global networks twenty-four hours a day, at a scale and a speed that makes our level of empowerment seem pathetic by comparison. The giant transnationats of today simply could not exist without the global computer networks. When they push their computer keys, they cause hundreds of billions of dollars in resources to move from, say, a bank in Geneva to Sarawak, resulting in a forest cut down. Or else they push a key and buy billions of dollars of a national currency, only to sell it again a few hours later, leaving countries’ economies in shambles, and populations devastated. That is information with power. Information by itself is for the disempowered; and the Internet is our opiate.

The question we have to learn to ask about new technology is not whether it benefits us, but whom does it benefit most? For despite its usefulness to us in many activities, the electronic revolution has far more to offer the largest enterprises on the planet than it does to you and me; we suffer a net loss from its emergence as the new global nervous system.

Reprinted from “Internet: The Illusion of Empowerment” by Jerry Mander (Appearing in “Whole Earth” Winter 98 from Whole Earth 888 732-6739 or on major newstands now.)

SEE ALSO: https://ehaugsjaa.wordpress.com/2019/08/25/the-internet-the-illusion-of-empowerment/

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“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”

One term for this is (apparently) “The Matthew Effect of accumulated advantage”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect

Anyway, the coronavirus pandemic, and really any mess that comes along — hurricanes, depressions, etc — all give an out-sized advantage to
the folks and companies that are are already doing very well and have “cash on hand” allowing them to buy stuff — real estate, other companies — being sold for bargain prices from the (usually smaller) companies that are struggling.

Expanding chains see opportunity in post-pandemic real estate
https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/financing/expanding-chains-see-opportunity-post-pandemic-real-estate
“In April, Chipotle reported that it had no debt and $900 million in cash on hand, setting it up to acquire real estate made available by recently shuttered restaurants and retail establishments.”

Why Markets Don’t Seem to Care If the Economy Stinks
https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-08-04/why-markets-don-t-seem-to-care-if-the-economy-stinks?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

Real-Estate Investors Eye Potential Bonanza in Distressed Sales
https://www.wsj.com/articles/real-estate-investors-eye-potential-bonanza-in-distressed-sales-11586260801

When Wall Street Is Your Landlord
With help from the federal government, institutional investors became major players in the rental market. They promised to return profits to their investors and convenience to their tenants. Investors are happy. Tenants are not.
https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/02/single-family-landlords-wall-street/582394/

“Economists estimate that the country’s high levels of industry concentration account for something like 30 percent of the past 50 years of wage stagnation.”
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/why-are-americas-most-essential-workers-so-poorly-treated/611575/

What do essential workers get paid in other countries? (adjusted for PPP, but probably not accounting for benefits like paid time off and health insurance, which would make the US numbers even lower — since many workers have none of this)
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/03/03/chart-see-how-much-or-how-little-youd-earn-if-you-did-the-same-job-in-another-country/

Other covid-19 economy news:

Economists estimate that more than 40% of layoffs will likely be permanent.
https://www.marketplace.org/2020/05/08/how-many-jobs-will-come-back-after-the-covid-19-pandemic-ends/

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Alan White — “Alan was the rock”

Some articles and blog posts about Alan White, a very important person in the history of Sudbury Valley School who I was lucky enough to meet on a few occasions and who continued to write articles for the Sudbury Valley Journal until just a few years ago. Alan passed away in 2017.

Alan White, 1926-2017 by Hanna Greenberg

On the Passing of Alan White, January 2, 2017 by Mimsy Sadofsky

Alan White (1927-2017) In Memoriam by Daniel Greenberg

Articles by Alan White

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Before and after – removing a mega rotary Chelmsford Massachusetts, USA

See also: Roundabout Interchanges at wikipedia

See also: Road rage, accidents down at new Drum Hill interchange, Lowell Sun, 2005

See also: Rotary-turned-square brings state of confusion By Mac Daniel, Boston Globe, March 21, 2004

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Peter Gray on the term “unschooling”

From a discussion on the ON POINT program.
=====

On the unschooling movement

Peter Gray: “I have to say, ‘unschooling’ is not my favorite term. Because it’s kind of a negative term. It says what you’re not doing, and it terms to put other people on the defensive — ‘Oh, you’re not doing school? You’re not doing what we’re doing?’ — instead of saying what you are doing. So I prefer the term ‘self-directed education.’ … It’s not that we don’t believe in education. We believe in education, we just think it works best when children take charge of their education. And the other reason that I don’t use the term ‘unschooling’ in my own writing is because self-directed education can occur in a school-like setting. There are schools for self-directed education. They are not schools that give tests or have a curriculum. There are schools where there’s all kind of opportunity for learning, for interacting with other kids, there are adults to help you if you want to ask the adults to help you, but they’re not going to come to you and say it’s time for you to do this or that. You have to go to them. Much of my research has been in that kind of setting.”

https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/10/30/unschooling-homeschooling-education-kids

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The Internet & the Illusion of Empowerment

Has this idea (from ~2000) aged well? Some parts yes, some parts no.

(This article is one of about 23 that ran as a weekly full-page “ad” in The New York Times.)

FROM: internet archive of http://www.turnpoint.org/ at http://web.archive.org/web/20040325044110/http://turnpoint.org/

Article archive (Word Doc)
http://web.archive.org/web/20000816225354/http://www.turnpoint.org/internet.doc

=============

Photo of Original NY Times Advertisement

The Internet & the Illusion of Empowerment

The computer revolution has been no boon to democracy. It has threatened personal privacy like nothing before, and it’s a serious toxics hazard, too. As for empowerment, let’s call it “corporate empowerment” because they gain far more than you do.

The communications revolution is an odd revolution since all sides agree about it. The conservatives and the liberals, the George W. Bushes and Al Gores, the engineers and the artists, the corporations and the activists who oppose them, accept computers and the internet as empowering to individuals and democracy. But are they?

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Using a Verizon MVNO like Red Pocket? A Verizon Prepaid phone will probably not work.

There are many things to not understand about how cell phones/plans work! Including:

1. How does Verizon Prepaid work vs Verizon Postpaid? (They get treated significantly differently by the company, including having different plans, customer support, phone prices, etc)

2. How do MVNOs work and what are the special arrangements they have with the carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint).

3. Is it significant that MVNO traffic (calls and data) get deprioritized when network traffic is high affect coverage substantially? My guess is YES in crowded/busy areas in cities. 2 others CONs of MVNOs include: 1) might not have international coverage in Mexico and Canada 2) don’t usually allow for roaming on other compatible networks

All I *DO* know is that (despite this not being clearly stated at their website)… Verizon Prepaid phones are NOT eligible to be used on Red Pocket Mobile (at least as of as of today, 4/6/2019).

Even if:

A) …your phone is “carrier unlocked” and this is verified via checking your IMEI at verizon phone support.
B) …your phone is definitely not on a “lost or stolen blacklist” checked at verizon/
C) …your phone is not flagged as “lost or stolen” at apple iphone phone support.
D) …your phone USED to work for a year on red pocket. The point is that they have changed (or started enforcing) this restriction.

I *think* the issue is that (per #2) Verizon has a special arrangement with their MVNOs (at least redpocket) that they do not allow VZ prepaid phones to be used. In other words, Verizon Prepaid phones are only truly “GSM Carrier Unlocked” or more accurately “unlocked to work on any other network except our own when used with an MVNO” (since Sprint is also “CDMA” and really Verizon is retiring their CDMA network at the end of 2019. Everyone is LTE (“4G”) anyway.)

Luckily, I was able to have the very friendly redpocket customer support PORT my phone number from a RP CDMAV (Verizon) SIM to a GSMA (AT&T) SIM.

Next time I will only buy FULLY UNLOCKED/FACTORY UNLOCKED phones because it is not worth the hours of hassle dealing with mysteriously not-quite-working phones (due to network issues) and the back and forth with customer service. My suggestions are:

1. iPhone SE (iOS) — great little phone, look for one that says “CDMA/GSM unlocked”. Still possible to find refurbished ones on Amazon / Gazelle / etc.

2. Moto G (Android) — these typically come fully/factory unlocked and have worked flawlessly for years.
I have a G4 from a few years ago, but they are on G6 or G7 now.

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Location Privacy on cell phones/mobile devices … iOS and Android

There is a NYTimes article and podcast about location data privacy out yesterday.

They also give some advice about how to make sure you are not sharing more than you think you are. With some instructions for iOS and Android. Unfortunately, the Android instructions are really focused on Android 9, which many people will not have.

Android Steps:

0. Consider giving up and buy an iPhone! I personally buy “fully unlocked iphones” that are refurbished — just make sure it notes it is covered by an Amazon warranty. Apple seems to care more about privacy. They are not an advertising company like Facebook and Google.

1. Make sure you have location sharing and location history turned off in your google account. You can do that via your phone “Settings… Location” or via your google account via the website — https://myaccount.google.com look under “Personal info & privacy … Location sharing” and “Activity controls … Location history”

2. Then, since you probably don’t want to turn off “Location” completely, make sure you have gone thru EVERY app and made sure it is not using location in PERMISSIONS. Here is how to do this in multiple versions of Android.

Best guide I’ve seen for Android 6-9 (Marshmallow, Nougat, Oreo, Pie)
https://www.androidpit.com/how-to-stop-android-apps-accessing-your-location#pie-apps

Some specifics:
Android 7 (Nougat) — https://www.tomsguide.com/us/manage-app-permissions-in-android-nougat,review-4116.html
Android 8 (Oreo) — http://www.tomsguide.com/faq/id-2316485/enable-google-location-reporting-android.html

To check which version you are running, go to Settings and go to the last item “About Phone” and it should tell you.

3. If there IS an app you want to share your location with (like Google Maps or Waze) make sure to QUIT the app when you are not using it — (Click the SQUARE and swipe right on the app)

4. To see actual location requests — go to “Settings … Location” and you will see a list of “Location Requests”

5. As reported, Google also collects location data, obviously (in google maps, and maybe can in android generally?) and uses it (I suppose for targeting ads) but supposedly doesn’t sell it.

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EVs

Folks, EVs are definitely going to take over. Even without rebates/tax incentives.

1. Such high MPGe. The Prius Prime (for example) is rated 133 MPGe for 25-30 miles before it has to use the gas engine which gets 52 MPG. And I regularly get 168 MPGe. (The car reports 5.1 KWh/mile and using roughly 33 conversion… that’s 168.) I suppose I should adjust downward to take into account that the charger is not 100% efficient… so that’s maybe why something closer to 133 is more accurate? So that’s roughly 2.5 times more efficient with energy than a standard Prius getting 52 MPG.

2. Easy to offset for green energy. MA for instance already has a great program that automatically charges your credit card a little extra to turn you into 100% wind energy. So now your car is wind powered.

3. Other stuff: Quiet. No gas-station visits. Low-end torque/acceleration from 0-30MPH in traffic.

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Fun with lambda calculus in Javascript

I would argue that Computer Science introduction courses should be using Javascript, not Java or Scheme, in many of their introductory courses.
1. Runs in a browser! Nothing to install!
2. Lambda calculus in ES6!
3. One could use the classic text and convert examples to javascript — it would be a good proof of understanding of the Scheme/Lisp.

I guess one could argue which has more real-world applicability — Javascript vs Java, but we all know one could learn either in a few weeks on the job.

EXAMPLE IN SCHEME/LISP from the classic:
Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, by Abelson, Sussman, and Sussman

ch1-Z-G-27.gif

(define (inc n) (+ n 1))
(define (identity x) x)
(define (sum term a next b)
  (if (> a b)
      0
      (+ (term a)
         (sum term (next a) next b)))) 

(define (sum-integers a b)
  (sum identity a inc b))

Then we can add up the integers from 1 to 10:

(sum-integers 1 10)

55

HTML HERE: LINK

MY EQUIVALENT JAVASCRIPT (utilizing ES6 “arrow functions”) IN THE CHROME/FIREFOX CONSOLE   (run on codepen)

inc = (x) => ++x;
identity = (x) => x; // for simple test with sum_integers below
sum = (term,a,next,b) => {
  if (a > b) 
    return 0; 
  else 
    return term(a) + sum(term,next(a),next,b); 
}
sum_integers = (a,b) => sum(identity,a,inc,b);
sum_integers(1,10);
55

ENGLISH

sum – a function which takes 4 arguments:
1) term – a lambda function describing how to evaluate each item
2) a – start with
3) next – a lambda function describing how to get to the next value between a and b
4) b – end with

To continue with the example from the STRUCTURES book…

SCHEME/LISP:

We can also define pi-sum in the same way:

(define (pi-sum a b)
  (define (pi-term x)
    (/ 1.0 (* x (+ x 2))))
  (define (pi-next x)
    (+ x 4))
  (sum pi-term a pi-next b))

Using these procedures, we can compute an approximation to pi :

(* 8 (pi-sum 1 1000))
3.139592655589783

JAVASCRIPT:   (run on codepen)

pi_sum = (a,b) => { 
    let pi_term = (x) => 1/(x*(x+2));
    let pi_next = (x) => x+4; 
    return sum(pi_term,a,pi_next,b); 
}
8 * pi_sum(1,1000);
3.139592655589783

Cool! Of course to me the original is being a bit more difficult than it needs to in explaining this concept by
1) obfuscating with the naming of arguments
2) one-liner silliness
3) adding recursion into the mix

But OK. We’ll forgive them! Onward with the javascript!


RELATED ELSEWHERE:
TL;DR – Lambda means “function used as data”

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