MSP32: Don't Give Up, You Have Friends

MSP32 DontGiveUp.JPG

Don't Give Up,

You Have Friends.

Is the world turning its back on technology? If rats can make sleds, why should we throw away centuries of progress? Don’t lose hope. It’s time to Mattsplain.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

With scandal after scandal, the world seems to be turning its back on the tech industry. Hold on. Don’t exchange your smartphone for tin cans and string and replace Wikipedia with that Big Book of Pub Quiz Questions just yet. Let Kulturpop’s Matt Armitage have one last attempt at reasoning with you. Yes, It’s time to Mattsplain.

Is it game over for technology?

·     It really does look that way doesn’t it? 

·     My good old friend Elon has been in the news again this week.

·     On Tuesday, a Tesla reported to be in autopilot mode, which is the semiautonomous driving mode, crashed into, of all things, a stationary police car in Laguna Beach, California.

·     This appears to be the third time that a Tesla allegedly in the autopilot mode has hit another car.

·     Of course, this is on top of the fatal accident that an Uber test car was involved in at the end of March of this year.

·     On top of that, this week, Musk mused about setting up a media credibility rating site.

·     And this is kind of the point. Nothing says Bond villain more than questioning the credibility of negative portrayals of yourself in the media.

·     In an era of fake news, this kind of behaviour really isn’t very helpful.

 

You don’t think it’s sincere?

·     This is something that goes back to what we’ve been talking about over the last year two.

·     The tech industry has been used to having the fairly critical support of the media and the public.

·     They haven’t been subjected to the kind routine and normal scrutiny that we typically give to publicly listed corporations.

·     All of that seems to have turned around and changed. Because the tech industry isn’t so new now. 

·     These aren’t the new kids on the block any more. These are mature and valuable, if not always highly profitable, companies.

·     And a lot of the tech entrepreneurs seem to have an allergy to the kind of critical the most corporate CEOs are used to.

·     Look at Volkswagen for example. A traditional company that occupies the same space as Tesla.

·     VW has been embroiled in its own scandals, but I don’t seem to remember the call by the company’s CEO to start its own media ratings site.

 

Do you think it really does any damage?

·     You have a couple of different sides to it.

·     You have an outpouring of stories that undermines our fundamental trust in technological institutions.

·     And instead of rushing to shore up those breaches as you’d expect most CEOs to do, instead the tech CEOs seem to compound their mistakes, either with wild overreactions that anyone is questioning their genius or the Attempts like Facebook’s announcement last week the people should trust it with their naked photos.

 

You mean the crazies who want to yell fake news every 20 seconds?

·     It’s kind of ridiculous. We can’t trust the media because it is fake news, and we can’t trust social media because they spread fake news.

·     So you see this massive erosion of trust in institutions in general.

·     It’s also when you start to see stories like this week’s announcement by the government of Papa New Guinea that it’s closing Facebook for two weeks while it comes up with ways to combat fake news.

·     We have to be very wary of anyone using the term fake news as a proxy for any news that they don't like or runs contrary to policies that they're trying to uphold

·     One of the big issues with legitimising the idea of fake news in democratic countries is that it can then be used against supposed dissidents or opponents in less democratic nations to punish and suppress their voices.

·     Wow, am I keeping it light for a Friday morning!

 

We spoke earlier this year about the neo-Luddite movement. Do you see this as being part of the same phenomenon?

·     We’ve had this idea gaining currency over the past year that all technology is bad.

·     We don’t trust the media, yet we trust people who go onto media shows and say technology can't be trusted and technology companies especially can't be trusted.

·     That we should delete our SM profiles, switch off our tech.

·     Every little fault is a reason that the technology is evil, ill thought out or dangerous.

·     And the tech industry actively helps people think this way.

·     One of the things we talked about in Geeks squawk last week was the way that companies like Google are essentially using us as guinea pigs when they testing devices like autonomous cars 

·     Because these machines still in the development stage, albeit an advanced development stage.

 

Because they're out on our roads and there amongst us in public?

·     There are very real risks associated with that kind of technology, like the Uber accident I mentioned earlier.

·     What I don't think it is helpful is this kind of reactionary response from people along the lines of all technology is bad.

·     On the one hand, it’s stupid because everything we having in our lives is to some degree technology.

·     If you reject technology then you go back to living in caves and underneath palm fronds.

·     There are plenty of creatures in the Kingdom that fashion and use tools. 

·      I read, or rather listened, to a funny and scary story in a book by Bill Bryson.

·     He was talking about a farmer who is losing a lot of hens eggs to rats. He couldn’t understand why there wasn’t any mess. There were no broken shells, there was no spilt egg white or yolk.

·     So he sent someone to spy on the hens at night. What he found out was astonishing.

·     One rat would take an egg and roll with it until it was lying on its back, holding it with all its paws. 

·     Another rat would then drag the rat bites tail back to the nest where they could beat the egg in peace and safety.

·     So, if rats can make sleds, why on earth what Heathrow away our technology?

 

I don’t think they’re saying we should do without any technology…

·     Who chooses?

·      I can only read because of my glasses. Think of all the equipment that’s required to find me the correct prescription and make those glasses.

·     So, yes I have to say I don’t have much time for the anti-technology brigade.

·     Of course, not every technology is good, in the same way that not every flavour of ice cream is good. I’m astonished that sweetcorn and red bean ice cream even exist, here in Malaysia are plenty of people crazy enough to actually enjoy them.

 

Is it conspiracy theory time?

·      I don’t Wanna get into that kind of stuff.

·     Roseanne Barr lost her show this week. I don’t want to be the next casualty, so I’ll keep my comments about squid people to myself.

·     It plays into the hands of people who really don't want you to have the information you need to make good decisions.

·     One of the stories we will be talking about in this week's geeks is about new advances in technology to detect melanoma.

·     Technology will be far more efficient than doctors in detecting those early stages of the cancer, making it far easier to treat and survive.

·      I don’t think we should using technology in general as a proxy for the things we don’t like, CEOS, politicians, news media and social media sites.

 

But there are bad actors?

·     Of course, you only have to watch Riverdale to realise that. 

·     There are bad actors in every industry.

·     This week a court found the magician David Copperfield negligent. 

·     Does that mean that we turn our back on all magicians?

·     Does it mean that we stop believing in magic?

·     With tech we have this kind of knee-jerk response.

·     One thing is bad, so it’s all bad. I mentioned Riverdale just now.

·     Does Riverdale make Netflix bad? No, Netflix is awesome. Without Social Media, it would be the closest thing I have to a relationship with other human beings.

·     When we take these knee-jerk positions we are putting ourselves in a precarious situation.

 

Aren’t people right to question the notion that technology is neutral? I’m the right to look at the underlying motivations the technology companies?

·     Absolutely, that’s what we do on this show, week in week out.

·     We know that technology is not neutral.

 

The infamous Kulturpop stabbing fork…

·     I’m hoping that one day people will quote Kulturpop’s Fork the way they quote Occam’s Razor.

·     If ever get around to doing merchandise, I have to do a fork, don’t I?

·     At the pointy end, it will have the word ‘you’. On the handle it will have “Me”.

·     When we make things, we usually have a purpose for them in mind. They are usually to address a weakness or a flaw in our existing technology.

·     Sometimes, they address a juicing issue that no one had, and still get funding.

·     It’s the same with social media and their infamous content algortihms.

·     They’re often used to create an environment that nudges us to spend more time online, more specifically on that site and within that ecosystem.

·     That's what their business is: their business is grabbing our attention and maintaining it for as long as they possibly can.

 

You think that people are starting to realise where they are in the value chain, and they don’t like it? 

·     For a while people have realised that there is a significant imbalance of power .

·     You’re right, we are essentially at the wrong end of the value chain.

·     We not being treated like trusted or valued customers

·     To use the analogy I’ve used on the show before, we’re the cattle in a dairy farm. We are the product that is being groomed for market. The ones being sold to the real customer.

·     We shouldn’t be in this situation but all or nothing approaches don’t help, either. It’s not a reason for us to turn our backs on technology.

 

You heard it here first. Matt Armitage is not having a cow. When we come back. More animals that Matt won’t have. Here on Mattsplained.

 

BREAK

 

Before the break we were talking about the tech industry’s lemming like response to consumer confidence.

 

Why shouldn’t we give up on technology?

·     technology is giving us access to such colossal amounts of information.

·     That information should be empowering us 

·     it should be making us more able to influence others decisions over us 

·     yet we somehow feel more hopeless and more helpless 

·     But if you turn your back you lose any influence you have over the people manipulating and gaming the system against you.

·     Your best defence really is in knowing what they're doing and working out how to deal with any abuses or overreach.

·      I know this is a simplistic argument, but we only have a 30 minute segment. 

·     Opt out of the system and you become a passive rider.

·     The people who have the information and the power will still be making decisions that affect your life.

 

Can’t we separate our online and offline lives?

·     We imagine that there’s this huge gulf between our online and offline lives. 

·     There isn’t. Just because you are not using the technology doesn’t mean you’re not part of the system.

·     On last week’sshow we were talking about Amazon cloud.

·     Even if you’re not someone who uses Amazon’s web services, every time you buy something in a supermarket you’re probably being indirectly sucked up into the AWS market.

·     Because the people are you buying the food from or the people that they’re buying the food from are probably using Amazon cloud services.

·     Automation is increasing and it’s forcing us towards these technology solutions.

 

Can we redress that balance? Shift the focus back towards more traditional companies and structures?

·     If we look at the Companies that are the engines of the global economy

·     When we look at the way stock markets have performed, especially in the US, it's the technology sector that has largely propelled the upward path of the various market indices.

·     Traditional companies are not faring so well and if we were to remove the influence of those technology companies our economies would be in much worse shape than they are now.

·     Our best hope, in my opinion, is to influence and help shape this new generation of companies. 

 

There seem to be a growing number of former tech evangelists who are also re-evaluating their position with social media and other parts of the digital revolution.

·     There were a couple of interesting articles published on the Guardian website over the weekend that were worth reading.

·     One by a guy called James Williamson, based on his new book Stand Out of Our Light where he argues that devices like smartphones have become tools that are used to trap us and, a way rob us of our free will and drive us, physically, to distraction.

·     The second is by Jaron Lanier, again, based on a new book: Ten arguments for deleting your social media right now. 

·     That one is pretty self explanatory as titles go, though ironically it’s a title designed to appeal to Buzzfeed generation, which I’m sure Lanier hasn’t overlooked.

·     Broadly speaking Lanier’s article echoes a lot of the things that I’ve been saying, although he says it in a rather more succinct way.

·     He also focuses attention on the way that companies like Facebook and Google make money.

·     Which means that if I wanted to write a book about this subject, there’s no point, because Lanier got there first and his version is undoubtedly better.

·     So, thank you for that, Jaron.

·     He also points out that despite the attention and praise we lavish on the business model and its cleverness in delivering profits, it doesn’t actually work for most companies.

·     A lot of smaller tech companies arrived various aspects of it to greater or lesser success.

·     But the real big daddies, like Apple on Amazon, stay away from that funding model completely.

 

I know you’ve said time and again that you don’t think it’s time to delete the social media accounts. When someone like Jaron Lanier advocates it, doesn’t it give you pause for thought or push you to change your mind?

·     For those of you who don’t know Jaron Lanier is. He’s kind of the unicorn of the tech scene.

·     Not in the sense that he’s made huge amounts of money, as far as I know he still works for a living.

·     Morning that he is one of those amazing people who manages to be in exactly the right place when hugely important things are made or created. Check out his Wikipedia page or bio if you don’t believe me.

·     He’s also one of the most entertaining speakers I’ve seen. And when you’re talking about tech it’s hard to be entertaining. 

·     This show is evidence of how badly it can go wrong.

·     Lanier puts up a compelling argument but I don't think we are at that point yet.

·     As I said before I think that disconnecting from the services is probably the wrong move because it simply hands the power over to other people.

·     Better to have some skin in the game, as they say.

 

What about James Williamson’s position that the devices themselves are part of the problem?

·      I think the way we use our digital Devices and social media are very much a reflection of the way that we want to communicate with people.

·     It’s true that we give a disproportionate amount of attention to the trollers and the idiots.

·     SM is set up to grab your attention, it favours the attention seekers.

·     Beyond that, we have a fundamental need to communicate with other people. 

·     Yes, you can do that in person. Technology has enabled us to communicate in dozens of other ways. But that’s kind of the point, there’s always technology involved somewhere, whether it’s a door, a horse and cart or a smart phone.

·     Look at the humble telephone.

·     When it was invented, on several different and separate occasions, its inventors never really considered that it would be used for leisure purposes. 

·     In the same way that you didn’t send telegrams to find out if aunt Mary had Baked another batch of brownies, you never considered the telephone would be used in that way.

·     This is where I say another one of those things that people aren’t going to like.

·     The problem isn’t with the technology, the problem is us.

 

I think we all expected you to say that…

·     Doesn’t make it any less true.

·     We can invent things far faster than society can adapt to them.

·     We’re coming up with new ways to communicate far faster than we are coming up with the norms of behaviour to govern them.

·     That’s one of the reasons I don’t think it’s time to disconnect.

·     We want to communicate, we want to find out what our friends are up to.

·     So if we delete Facebook, people Will look for something to replace that service.

·     And if you simply have another service that replicates the mistakes of facebook or adopts the behaviours you didn’t like about it, then what was the point?

 

Will people still be trolling in 20 years time?

·     Of course, there will still be some people who set out to cause trouble.

·     In the same way that every backstreet pub has a drunk who wants to start a fight with you.

·     There are primaeval forces that you simply can’t overcome.

·     But overall, no. I think the online world will be a much more civil and fulfilling place.

·      I don’t think people will spend so much time in echo chambers. 

·     We will still be watching cat videos however.

·     Dogs, not so much.

·     That’s why I think the calls to delete and disconnect are a little short-sighted.

·      I think they show a generational divide as much as anything else.

 

In the get your hair cut sense?

·     Yes. Especially amongst the people who were the architects of this technology.

·     People get angry when they perceive that something is being misused.

·     But looking at it as misuse is usually an incorrect perception.

 

In what way?

·     In the same way that there was once a generation parents the belief that their children’s rock music would break the stereo system.

·     That somehow this horrendous music would warp and destroy the machinery that played it.

·     Listen back to those 1950s and 1960s sixties rock records now. Elvis Presley, Bill Haley.

·     Think how tame they sound compared to the music that came after.

·     Compare Love me tender to Skrillex.

·     It’s the same with the Internet and digital tech.

·     The pioneers are now in their 40s and 50s and sometimes older.

·     How they envisage the digital revolution is not the way a group of teenagers view it now.

·     And it shouldn’t be. If they did, it would mean that tastes and culture were standing still.

·     If adults understand what the kids are talking about, then there’s something wrong with the world.

 

You think a lot of the problem is with ‘our’ technology becoming ‘their’ technology?

·     When You’re a pioneer it’s hard to give up the reins.

·     Hard to Believe that your opinion isn’t worth what it once was, or that it’s less relevant.

·     I’m a middle-aged guy and I have to accept that a lot of new technology doesn’t belong to me.

·     The difference is that I want the next generation to take it somewhere else, to do something else with it.

·     To make it better than it is.

·     Even if the cost of it is that I feel isolated from it.

 

What gives you hope?

·     I’ve said this before, and it’s the connection that this newer generation feels to social causes.

·     That their activism goes beyond what we understand as traditional politics and it doesn’t follow the usual left – right divide.

·     There was a recent story about engineers at Google signing a petition and starting to agitate inside the company to prevent the company taking on defence industry contracts.

·     I’m not so interested in the political aspect. Some people think it’s fine to do defence industry work, some people don’t. That’s not really the issue.

·     What’s interesting is that the workforce is saying that they have a set of beliefs and moral positions that they believe that the management of the company should bend to.

·     That’s quite an incredible thing. And it’s not a story that we often hear.

·     The more likely to hear how fragile and impermanent jobs are.

·     But here you have a group of people who essentially putting their careers on the line because they think the company is acting in a away that they think is unacceptable.

·     That’s really cool. And I think we’re going to hear a lot more stories like that in the future.

·     And that’s why today’s show is titled don’t give up.