I just covered Cryptosphere, a forthcoming darknet, for TechCrunch. Here’s a bit from the end. On the Hacker News thread about Cryptosphere, one commenter laments the fact that darknets end up being used for child porn, pointing out that religious heretics of the past could really have used such a system. Another commenter responds:
Child pornography producers and consumers are similarly persecuted, though clearly with much more sound reasons.
At least in western countries, there aren’t a lot of instances of repressed communication that need to be conducted across a channel like this — especially few legitimate ones. This is not to say that such a system isn’t useful; just that I believe the fact they’re so full of child pornography and the like is actually, in a roundabout way, an indicator of a healthy society.
Juian Sanchez speculates that that our contemporary mediasphere has become hyperpolarized not just because of the “filter bubble” problem, but also as a result of the coping mechanisms adopted by pundits who are constantly assaulted by a barrage of uncivil criticism:
The nice way to say this is that selects for pundits who have a thick skin—or forces them to quickly develop one. The less nice way to say it is that it forces you to stop giving a shit what other people think. Maybe not universally——you’ll pick out a domain of people whose criticisms are allowed to slip through the armor—but by default.
Probably it always took a healthy ego to presume to hold forth on a wide array of public issues, confident that your thoguhts are relevant and interesting to the general populace, or at least the audience for political commentary. But in a media space this dense, it probably takes a good deal more.
If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of est/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude.
It makes sense. Busy blogs and forums can get toxic fast. I got a lot of vitriolic comments while covering enterprise tech at ReadWriteWeb, and can only imagine what someone blogging on more popular topics at a bigger blog would experience (especially if I were a women). It can be tough to keep going. It makes sense that only a certain type of personality is going to keep blogging in public, and that you’d get worse at taking any sort of criticism from outside your own circle at all.
How is it that Dery is able to produce this uncanny feeling of identification? You get the sense that, while the rest of us were living the zeitgeist, Dery was holding a stethoscope to its heart. His essays are EKGs showing that our pulse goes haywire in the presence of extremes — perversion, violence, satanism. In an introduction, Dery declares that it is “the writer’s job” to “think bad thoughts”: “to wander footloose through the mind’s labyrinth, following the thread of any idea that reels you in, no matter how arcane or depraved, obscene or blasphemous, untouchably controversial, irreducibly complex, or preposterous on its face.” All of us take in these abominations as they play across our flatscreens and iPhones, but Dery’s distinction is to really think about them — reflect on them, contextualize them, pursue their logic to sometimes unpalatable consequences. “The writer’s job,” he means to say, “is to transform ‘bad thoughts’ into good ones — insights and observations — through a process of examination.”
Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.
And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain.
It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. And it’s a subtle but definite form of sexism to take one of the few forms of expression where women have more freedom, and treat it as a form of expression that’s inherently superficial and trivial. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial. [...]
If you don’t personally care about fashion and style, that’s fine. We don’t all have to care about the same art forms: I could care less about grand opera, and it’s unlikely that I’m ever going to. I do think people should be aware that what they wear communicates something to other people — something about who they are and how they feel about the world and their place in it — and I think many people would be better off if they made that communication intentionally instead of un-. But again, we all don’t have to care about the same forms of communication. If what you want to say about yourself through your clothing is, “I wear clothes so I won’t be naked,” that is entirely your prerogative, and none of my business.
But if you think other people — especially other women — who do care about fashion and style are shallow, trivial, or vain for doing so?
Mark of Cain, a documentary by Alix Lambert about the culture of Russian criminal tattoos, is now available for free online under a creative commons license. This documentary served as a reference for the David Cronenberg film Eastern Promises.
“There’s so much cultural anxiety about isolation in our country that we often fail to appreciate the benefits of solitude,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University whose book “Alone in America,” in which he argues for a reevaluation of solitude, will be published next year. “There is something very liberating for people about being on their own. They’re able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They’re able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city…and experience a feeling of freedom.” [...]
With his graduate adviser and a researcher from the Forest Service at his side, Long identified a number of different ways a person might experience solitude and undertook a series of studies to measure how common they were and how much people valued them. A 2003 survey of 320 UMass undergraduates led Long and his coauthors to conclude that people felt good about being alone more often than they felt bad about it, and that psychology’s conventional approach to solitude — an “almost exclusive emphasis on loneliness” — represented an artificially narrow view of what being alone was all about.
“Aloneness doesn’t have to be bad,” Long said by phone recently from Ouachita Baptist University, where he is an assistant professor. “There’s all this research on solitary confinement and sensory deprivation and astronauts and people in Antarctica — and we wanted to say, look, it’s not just about loneliness!”
1) It’s going to get worse
2) The future isn’t going to feel futuristic
3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now
4)Move to Vancouver, San Diego, Shannon or Liverpool
5) You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state
6) The middle class is over. It’s not coming back
7) Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores
8) Try to live near a subway entrance
9) The suburbs are doomed, especially thoseE.T. , California-style suburbs
10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness
11) Old people won’t be quite so clueless
12) Expect less
13) Enjoy lettuce while you still can
14) Something smarter than us is going to emerge
15) Make sure you’ve got someone to change your diaper
The article, titled “The weirdest people in the world?”, appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are. [...]
Others punish participants perceived as too altruistic in co-operation games, but very few in the English-speaking West would ever dream of penalizing the generous. Westerners tend to group objects based on resemblance (notebooks and magazines go together, for example) while Chinese test subjects prefer function (grouping, say, a notebook with a pencil). Privileged Westerners, uniquely, define themselves by their personal characteristics as opposed to their roles in society. [...]
The paper argues that either many studies’ conclusions have to be retested on non-WEIRD cultural groups — a daunting proposition in terms of resources — or they must be understood to offer insight only into the minds of rich, educated Westerners.
It’s about forty years since “Future Shock” was published, and it seems to have withstood the test of time. More to the point, the Tofflers’ predictions for how the symptoms would be manifest appear to be roughly on target. They predicted a growth of cults and religious fundamentalism; rejection of modernism: irrational authoritarianism: and widespread insecurity. They didn’t nail the other great source of insecurity today, the hollowing-out of state infrastructure and externally imposed asset-stripping in the name of economic orthodoxy that Naomi Klein highlighted in The Shock Doctrine, but to the extent that Friedmanite disaster capitalism can be seen as a predatory corporate response to massive political and economic change, I’m inclined to put disaster capitalism down as being another facet of the same problem. (And it looks as if the UK and USA are finally on the receiving end of disaster capitalism at home, in the post-2008 banking crisis era.) [...]
I’m going to give it a qualified thumbs-up, for now. Thumbs-up, because religious intolerance is clearly not the answer — but a qualified thumbs-up because I don’t believe we should give a free pass to all religious doctrines in the name of tolerance. Some beliefs can kill, when they are translated into action. They can kill directly, as when the Taliban stones women to death for adultery, or they can kill indirectly, as in the Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of condoms (which makes it harder to prevent the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease holocaust is killing two million people a year). We should, in my view, not seek to accommodate those religious doctrines that would impose restrictions on people — especially non-co-religionists — through the force of law. (If you’re a Hassidic Jew and don’t want to eat pork products, that’s fine; campaigning to ban pork products from sale to anyone at all: not so fine. And so on.)
But ultimately, religious doctrines aren’t the source of today’s social problems. The taproots run deeper, and religious extremism is only one manifestation of the underlying problem: widespread future shock. And I’ve got no easy answer to how to deal with it, unless it is to apply a little humanity to our fellow sufferers when we meet them.