Share good ideas and conversation.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  20 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Everything is amazing, but nothing is ours  ·  

Devil's advocacy: most people never needed it anyway

The MP3 revolution was interesting to watch as both a music fan and as an audio professional. On the one hand, people with no storage always opted for the lowest possible quality so they could maximize their quantity. On the other hand, people who had a handful of CDs would download thousands of MP3s. They also wouldn't back up, they also wouldn't duplicate across devices (because then you have to manage dupes!) and when they lost all their files to hard drive failure, they made no attempts to resurrect their collections.

I watched a futurist lay things out for upper-level media execs at a closed conference in 2010. "That kid with 800,000 MP3s. Guys, do you really think he represents a million lost sales? Do you really consider him to be a threat to your business model? He's not collecting, he's curating and he's curating for the sake of possession, not the sake of consumption."

The torrent kids weren't the customers of Spotify. Spotify is for people who know some music, don't have anything weird and aren't at all interested in alphabetizing their CDs. Those people listen to the radio, watch MTV and had a shelf with 20 albums on it before they could pay $7 a month to never worry about it again.

It's not that files have gone away. It's not that Dropbox is gone. It's that the people who never had a use for it in the first place have now been lured away by services designed for people who never got file structure in the first place.

Dropbox is an excellent example. It's a version control plugin. Where Dropbox made their money was by realizing that version control was useful for people who had no idea how to open a git repository. Where dropbox failed was in not understanding that even then, most people have no use for version control. The ultimate use case for Dropbox? Five people working on a group project who never work with other people and who were told by a nerd sick of dealing with them that if they just put the project file on Dropbox nobody has to worry about who has the latest version. The ultimate failure of Dropbox? Nobody understanding Dropbox, and someone deleting the file out of their dropbox, and everyone else screaming at the heavens "WHO DELETED THE DROPBOX" without understanding how to log into Dropbox to see the version control.

You see, most people never needed files anyway. They wrote a resume a few years ago, they have a list of babysitters, there's a spreadsheet with all the phone numbers in their carpool and that's it. The reason their desktops were miasmas of assorted documents is because they never need to find that shit anyway. Their desktop runs an unpatched version of XPSP3 because they bought it in 2007 and haven't used it to do more than TurboTax since 2013.

Bill Gates wanted a computer in every house because he saw the utility of ubiquitous PCs. Everyone put a computer in their house because they heard the hype. But what everybody really needed was a thing to do Youtube, Facebook and SMS. It's still just a fuckin' television, it just fits in your pocket now. Fundamentally, most people use technology as an asymmetrical pipeline of undifferentiated culture dispersion. This is why they store everything in their email inbox: emails are the most official thing in their lives, gmail makes it virtually impossible to delete anything and text is easily indexed so whatever they really need they can find by fumbling a word or two in the importantbox.

We're constantly upbraided about the "service economy." Really, the past 25 years of software development have been about creating services. "You're too stupid to do this yourself, let me give you the 5% of the functionality that you actually use, wall off the other 95% and charge you $70 a year so you can curate your own dick pics, sincerely, Dropbox." People, including myself have lambasted Yahoo for failing to achieve with Flickr what Instagram achieved by being a cheap, shitty version of Flickr. Thing is, though? Flickr was created for photographers sharing photos with people who like photography. Instagram was created for Kardashians sharing photos with people who like to eat paste.

The computer revolution was founded by people who knew that if they built it, an entire generation of artists and thinkers would use the tools to build a better tomorrow through the miracle of access and technology. The computer revolution was paid for,, however, by people who only wanted to sell each other Beanie Babies and watch each other eat Tide pods.

A quote of a quote:

    “The other day, I came across a website I’d written over two decades ago. I double-clicked the file, and it opened and ran perfectly. Then I tried to run a website I’d written 18 months ago and found I couldn’t run it without firing up a web server, and when I ran NPM install, one or two of those 65,000 files had issues that meant node failed to install them and the website didn’t run. When I did get it working, it needed a database. And then it relied on some third-party APIs and there was an issue with CORS because I hadn’t whitelisted localhost.

Two decades ago you would have fired up Internet Explorer which would have broken a few links, insisted that your Flash was out-of-date and rendered things pretty-sorta-OK at 1024x768. But two decades ago we would have considered this "perfect" because things had to run on Explorer with updated Flash at 1024x768. Now? Now I need all the content indexed for Google, capable of rendering landscape or portrait and be usable on Android and iOS through the same URL. Which - yes - means your espresso stand menu now relies on eight Wordpress plugins to be legible on seven different versions of iOS. Microsoft lost the mobile battle by presuming that a soccer mom waiting in line would put up with constantly patching her browser in order to know the price of a latte. Apple won by knowing they were selling devices to people who wanted a Swarovski panda on the back of it.

So I get it. The geeks who grew up being told that theirs was a shiny future of egalitarian brilliance prompted by the boundless promise of ubiquitious computing are slowly realizing that the Kick Me In The Balls Channel wins on content.

But you can't blame the technology and you can't blame the people profiting from it. Most of humanity has no goddamn business fucking around with file structure, and most of humanity knows it. The idiots were the people who tried to force them to adopt one even when it could only do them harm.

veen  ·  19 days ago  ·  link  ·  

So basically the technological equivalent of:

    "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people" - (attributed to) H.L. Mencken

I don't really disagree with you, but I do have some thoughts.

1: Catering to the masses is not necessarily good for everyone. Services cater to the masses first, and to the "difficult cases" second. Facebook works for mom and pop but whoopsie, it also enables neonazis, oof, that's difficult. WhatsApp is great for a lot of people, except when you're in a bloodthirsty village in rural India.

Services serve people, but disservice others. More and more it seems like you can't have the first without also having the second. Now we can blame that on the people, and not on the tools, but I don't think that's entirely fair because services remove so much friction. If the tool enables wrongdoing so much more effectively than the alternatives, its design has led to that end. People kill people, but guns kill people too.

2: There is power in impermanence. There is powerlessness in dependancy. c_hawkthorne and I discussed our music libraries. He's one of those people that I envy, who have kept their music library at a pristine level for the past decade or two. Meanwhile I've given my soul away to Google Play Music, who will definitely merge it with YouTube music at some point and fuck everything up.

I mean - I pay for GPM and YouTube Premium, even though the former is included in the latter. That's not because I like giving Google money, no, it's because I do not trust Google not to fuck up merging those to subscriptions. And when they do fuck up, I have nowhere to go, and all my collected music of the past half decade will be gone with the wind. Because Google does not have any way for me to export my full list of music. I can't jump ship because there's an ocean between me and the alternatives.

3. We use plastic, the most permanent of materials, in the most impermanent disposable ways. Similarly, we somehow ended up casting the most permanent of digital things - files - aside for the impermanence of services. There is no reason my stuff is locked up in services when I can have a goddamn file and have it work in ten, twenty years from now.

I'm pretty sure GPM will not exist for that long. Thing is: these services can totally make it easy to transcend their own fleetingness. GPM could allow me to download a list of all of my songs at once, but they don't. Pretty much every service doesn't let me download shit. They never let me take back the control we yielded to them, some Hotel California-ing and dark-patterning us into paying forever and ever and ever.

kleinbl00  ·  19 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Not the technological equivalent of Mencken, no. Mencken meant that spitefully and I don't. I don't need everyone to know their way around terminal commands. I have no problem with the guys who used to use Tascam Portastudios using iPads now. If anything, the phone revolution has meant that there are a lot more pictures in the world and people can always be in touch with very little effort. Marc Weiser coined the term "ubiquitous computing" in 1988 and expanded on the concept of the iPad introduced by Vannevar Bush in 1948. I think what upsets people is the idea that if you build it they will come and they haven't. But that's the nerds misunderstanding human nature, not a failing of the technology.

What you're talking about breaks down to two separate thoughts. The first of which is the argument that technology should do better for ethical reasons. I don't disagree. However, technology will do what it does for economic reasons. How much are ethics determined by the market, and how much are they externally enforced? That's pretty much the moral question of humanity: how much good do we do because it pays off in the long run vs. how much good we do because the social contract forces us to behave. We'll start using plastic correctly the minute it becomes expensive. I mean, the floor I'm standing on right now is made from dimensional 4x6 old-growth cardeck with rock maple flooring. You couldn't build the subfloor of this place for less than $150k these days. in the late '40s? In the Pacific Northwest? Cheaper than linoleum and slab. Would the world be better if we made plastic so expensive that we have to use it right? I certainly think so but I guarantee Xi Jinping disagrees and so long as his plastic is cheap, it will be ubiquitous.

The second thought is the nature of ownership. Google will cheerfully let you download anything and everything you bought from them and anything and everything you uploaded. I've done this. My backup strategy suffered... a configuration issue, shall we say, which left me with a RAID5+1 version of blank space. Thus, everything I'd uploaded - 130GB, or 110GB over their advertised limit - was readily available from Google.

It did a shitty job, of course. The interface is garbage, as if it were a barely-realized wireframe of an idea that got added at the last minute. And it errored out on easily 40% of my files because the possession functionality of a rental platform is not one Google spent any effort on.

Here's the thing: I had CDs of all my music. I ingested all of it. I curated the ID3 tags, I made sure the album art was correct, I had everything assigned by genre. I had a lot of time sunk into my music. My ownership had moved far beyond simply paying for it. With the torrent tweakers their ownership was reflected in the amount of craft they put into the files. Yeah - they never paid for that album but they made sure their file sanitation was perfect, it was the best possible version, etc. And when you say "Okay, Google, play nine hours of music related to Coldplay" you're giving up ownership to Google. Your involvement is an off-handed non sequitur. This is by design. The less you touch it, the less it matters. Dan Ariely pointed out that psychologically, the further you can divorce "dollar bill" from "$1.00" the less that $1.00 means a dollar bill. This is my theory as to why all the chip readers in the United States suck so hard: they want us to switch to using NFC on our phones so that we don't feel the money going away the same way.

When you own your files, you protect your files, you arrange your files, you categorize your files. You know what pushed me over the edge into buying a $3k Synology backup solution? Scanning all my slides. They started as rolls of film, passed through a $2000 nikon, then cost thirty cents each to become slides, then burned a minute each passing through a $700 slide scanner. So they were just data... but they were data too important to trust to Flickr.

But most people don't have files like that. You don't have music like that - at least, not as files. I'll bet you have it as vinyl because you have a visceral attachment to it. That was the genius of the music industry for the past decade: whereas people used to never spend more than $10 for vinyl, once vinyl because a touchstone for fandom above and beyond the music they jacked the price up to $40, $50. It's a fetish object and people pay a lot for fetishes.

Why do you pay for GPM? Because your sunk value is in your curation of someone else's property. Eliminate that curation and you lose your value.

kingmudsy  ·  20 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I just got out of a long, long client meeting that touched on points tangential to this, and your comment was therapeutic to read. You're absolutely right - for 90% of people, their computer might as well be a browser, and 50% of those people don't even own a computer because their phone also has a browser, and the Facebook app is better than the desktop experience anyway!

You hit on a solid point with modern dependencies, too. It frustrates me a little bit that the author draws this line between access and ownership while talking about npm packages. I can keep my package-lock.json frozen in time if I want to, because those files are on my computer - I have high access to them through npm, and I also own the files (which kind of ruins the dichotomy he wants to present).

I can deploy my modern webpage how I want to, thank you very much! You know why I don't, though?

Because your shitty IE7 site from the fucking bronze age had so many vulnerabilities that the only reason you never got pwned was that everyone else was just as shitty at the time. Point being, ownership isn't a virtue if you don't do maintenance, and the example he pins the rest of his article on probably looks like this

kleinbl00  ·  19 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I was gonna bring up Space Jam.

The first computer I ever touched was a VT100 connected to a Cray YMP. It was normally used for nuclear yield simulations but that day, it ran a golf simulator. The next computer I touched was a Wyse teletouch connected to a server at UC Boulder (probably a DEC something-or-other). Its only output was a daisy-wheel printer that used continuous stationary and it communicated via acoustic coupler. Right now? Right now I can touch twelve devices with IP addresses without leaving my chair. I watched this being built; my father built the first computer network at DOE so that he didn't have to write the output of Nixie tubes using paper and pencil. It grew up around me as I grew up. That refines my experience.

I think something most people don't understand is that the early computer visionaries were convinced that if computing was easier, people would use it for the erudite, scholarly things they intended to use it for. And while that happened - Larry Page built a printer out of Lego Mindstorms before he built Google. Educational computing went from "nothing" to HERO 1 to I mean, I've got three Raspberry Pis that I use for truly mundane shit.

But some people are never going to be erudite. They're never going to be scholarly. And by "some people" I mean the preponderance of bipeds walking the earth.

There was this beautiful dream that technology would make nerd culture ascendant. It didn't. It made nerds ascendant and out of their bitterness they buy and sell the rest of us while reading Ayn Rand, prepping their disaster islands and arguing that wealth makes right. If you can't join 'em, buy'em.