Recent Thoughts on Social Media

August 14, 2009 at 13:04 | Posted in Life, Tech | 2 Comments
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I find myself pondering the direction in which things are moving and in truth have been moving for quite some time. I have been around the Internet since the days when it was text only and things like Usenet and IRC were king. Postings on the Usenet (before it became a waste land for binaries) were considered, heart felt, and usually several paragraph long. One had to actually take time to read them and time to formulate a proper response. Similarly Chatting on IRC usually meant having deep conversations often lasting hours.

Since those days there has been a slow but steady march towards more chatter with less substance. Today we have MicroBlogs and other social media that limit the users ability to converse to a scant 140 characters. Although I believe that it is entirely possible to have a conversation 140 characters at a time. I do not believe that it is possible to have a meaningful discussion. I constantly find myself wanting to comment on something I’ve seen on Twitter or one of the other Social Networking sites but I find there is no way to fit my thought into the constraints of the medium. I am sure others suffer the same fate, and so, conversations on these sites stay simple, superficial, and often highly polarized (yes it is… no it isn’t…. yes!! it is!!… etc).

Please do not get me wrong. I am NOT saying that people that use these sites/services are simple minded or lacking depth. I am saying that the medium is not useful for in-depth, considered, and meaningful discussion.

These sites/services allow people to have a voice and to comment on things. I have seen from my own experience with Social Media that it is much easier to comment on something than to form a considered opinion and discuss it properly. I can see how it would be very easy to fall into commenting on this and that and then commenting on peoples comments on your comments. I can also see how this would detract from doing more considered work. It is much easier to throw out 200 comments then to take the time to consider all sides of a issue form a considered opinion and write out your thoughts in something measured in paragraphs or pages rather then characters.

There is also the other side of the problem that the Social Media phenomenon is half symptom and half cause of. The continued shrinking of peoples attention spans. I am certain that by this point in this blog posting I have lost a significant portion of people who started reading it. In writing this I have broken one of the main caveats of having a popular blog, keep it short and sweet. Luckily I am not interested in having a popular blog. I wish to have a meaningful one.

The comments above on popularity bring me to another phenomenon of which Social media is both symptom and cause. If the generation coming of age in the 80’s was the “Me” generation, then the current group of people coming of age could well be describes as the “Look at Me” generation.

Social Media fosters a culture of faux popularity. The more followers you can gather the more respected you are in the current Social media culture. Sadly this too is superficial and unconsidered. Followers are not friends, nor acquaintances. The people that gather these crowds do not know any of these people in a meaningful way, no more then a street performer knows or has a relationship or friendship with the crowd that gathers to watch him or her while they perform. In both cases once the performance ceases to be amusing the crowd will quickly drift away. However in the Social Media world few people take the time to un-follow someone unless they become annoying. This creates a false sense of someones popularity and a false respect for the person.

I’m not saying that Social media is evil or should be done away with. I’m saying it is part of a long, on going trend towards the superficial. So we now have superficial conversations on superficial topics with superficial “friends” using a superficial medium. We are heading towards a place where people, instead of having discussions, thoughts, and feelings, have performance content and viewers (Followers). This will be a sad and lonely place when life gets rough. Because viewers are notoriously fickle and tend not to stick around if things get heavy, or require them to think, feel, or god forbid act (well other then commenting).

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Get you head out of the clouds

November 12, 2008 at 13:25 | Posted in Privacy/Security, Tech | 6 Comments
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This will be a posting on why I, like and others, think this movement to “cloud computing” is a bad idea.

Privacy

Why, for gods sake, why would people willingly had over their sensitive personal documents to some corporation that can then do with it as it pleases? Scan it for key word, so they can advertise to you better, or to see if you are a threat to their business model, etc. Then there is the fact that all this glorious, wonderful, information will be sitting in one pot begging over zealous governments to go snooping. “Hey Google, this is the NSA. We suspect that terrorists might be using Google Docs. We are invoking the Patriot Act. Please hand over all the files stored in the Google Docs servers.” It can happen. The US government already went fishing for search histories a few years back.

Even if you totally trusted your government and large corporations to be completely hands off with all this data. There remains the fact that this huge pool of data will be a big target for malicious hackers. these individuals must be salivating at the thought of millions of files accessible in one place. Not just for the wealth of information, although that would be enough to get them interested. But imagine the possibilities. hack an account, change the password, and then ransom the data back to the owner. Hack an account, deposit illegal materials, call the cops on the owner of the account. hack business accounts and silently watch what goes on selling the important bits to competitors. Write themselves into someones will, or just be a nuisance and corrupt data is a manner that they find humorous. It is just a bad idea to make all your data network accessible.

Fees

Right now, many of these offerings are free. But I suspect that once enough people are on-board and their precious data is tied up in another companies servers we’ll start to see access fees. The companies that are offering to host the cloud aren’t doing it as a civil service. They are doing it because they perceive some way to monetize either your access or your data. Sure, you might say, well if that start then then I’ll pull my data and run.. But then what was the whole point of this cloud exercise.. other then giving some corporation a peek at your data.

a step back to client/server model

This is a conceptual step backwards. This is going back to the old Server/Client way of doing things, just with a shiny new name. This dis-empowers the individual and empowers the corporation. Which brings us to my next point.

Tenuous benefits

I can see few benefits to this “cloud” concept. I don’t see a Utopia of accessibility in this what I see is a world where my data is locked behind proprietary web applications and interfaces and I’m forced to pay a fee every time I want to edit a document, or a monthly fee so my data doesn’t go in the bit bucket when my account runs out. I see a world where a failure of the electrical grid (black out of 2003), failure of some part of the net, or even a DDOS attack on the hosting companies servers means I can’t get at my data.

Most of all I see no reason for it all. Hard drive storage is insanely cheap right now. I can get a 1TB external USB drive for $200. Laptops are cheap portable and powerful, free Peer-to-Peer technologies exist that make data collaboration easy. If I keep my data on my laptop, or my external drive my privacy concerns are hugely reduced. if I host things on a SVN server accessible through a VPN, my colleagues can collaborate on the documents with ease. And still the data is totally in my control and far less susceptible to power failures, etc.

In short, the “cloud” makes data less accessible, less private, less secure, less reliable, and less cost effective. Why, Why, Why would anyone go this route.. unless they have their head stuck in the clouds.

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