Posted on 2022-02-07

Read Time: 4 minutes | 844 words

Curmudgeon Tech?

On occasion, I worry that I am entering a curmudgeon stage in my tech career.

It may be such a stage is inevitable, or it may be that the state of modern technology and the “innovation” it pretends to provide are so pathetic that really becoming a curmudgeon is all that is left.

I want to preface this with a massive “not all tech.” There are some seriously cool things happening in a ton of areas technology-wise. Instead, I want to focus on that particular brand of consumer computing and Internet tech that comes out of a completely disconnected, Silicon Valley-esque, pseudo-tech, garbage mill.

I have been working in tech since the mid-90s (and playing with it throughout 80s and 90s) and I have always been somewhat of a cheerleader for what it can do. That cheerleading, though, is not born of this Silicon Valley mindset. I use SV as a shorthand for a hyper-capital focused tech that is always pitched as a innovative or (even better) disruptive, but that is really just a new set of lipstick on a still very ugly pig. We’ve see it over and over again. Those of you old enough to recall the collapse of tech in the 2000s remember when it began and (despite a temporary collapse) it never really stopped. Why would it when they kept finding more and more suckers as connectivity increased. Now, here we are and technologically speaking - things are faster and smaller - but nothing has demonstrably changed functionally speaking in quite a long time. Innovation? What innovation? If anything, Silicon Valley has only served to stymie what technology can do.

The SV approach to technology is to bury it, to re-assert a sort of centralizing control that has been at the core of the approach since the start. The newest iteration of Web3 is no different - it pretends at decentralization while simply shifting control. If anything, that has been the clarion lie of Internet technology for quite some time. It promises personal autonomy - and then exploits the work of those who embrace its lie while making it more and more difficult to adopt out. Certainly this is true of social media platforms and cloud computing, but I would argue that it is also the case in many Open Source projects in which multi-million dollar companies continue to profit off the unpaid labor of the community.

It is an interesting shift, and I must confess, not one I saw coming when I was a young tech in the 90s. But I was young and stupid then1. Everybody wants their free beer! It doesn’t matter that someone has to make the beer, or that someone has to keep it fresh, or that someone has to distribute and store it. It doesn’t matter that all of those things require time and/or money. It gets even worse when a person creates a piece of art or media and want to make money from their work. The number of pirate sites for Patreon works and Onlyfans content are a testament to modern web entitlement2.

That is why the rampant theft of copyrighted work is so much a part of the current Web3 experience. Because that is how these companies and organizations work. They don’t create - they steal and copy. They don’t build new media, they regurgitate the same shit. They don’t create new solutions, they just look to lock you into their solution.

I believe in Open Source and Open Access, but we have to acknowledge that, in the current economic system, it allows for massive exploitation. The further commodification of everything does not somehow fix this, rather, it exacerbates the issue by forcing those most at risk into systems that are inevitably weighted to better serve those with money.

I think that this is the challenge that those of us who support and promote Open Access media and Open Source software need to address. Of course, that is a risk because it probably means confronting the fact that our economic systems (especially in online spaces) need an overhaul that moves away from the commodification of Web3 toward something sustainable. In leaving, I will remind you that the Internet was never a capitalist project and that almost all of the actual growth of the technology - not regurgitated walled gardens with built-in spying tools - is because of government support. This is just another example of SV entitlement - they take taxpayer money and then use it to make more money off of taxpayers 3. Ask them to pay their fair share, though, and it’s a whole different story.

  1. I am old and stupid now ↩︎

  2. Adult entertainment and those performers who already operate on the fringe of acceptance are often the most common victims of this “free beer” ethic. ↩︎

  3. This is why the entire concept of paid academic journals are a joke. When the publishers of those journals actually pay the authors for their work, then we can talk. Until then, they are making obscene profits off volunteer and/or taxpayer funded labor. ↩︎

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