Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is I Can't Play Piano (Part 1), by Jon Benjamin, in which he actually can't play piano. 🎵
Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, PM of the UAE and emir of Dubai was once quoted saying:
My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel
And in a somewhat similar vein, Einstein was once quoted as saying:
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
And in another, somewhat similar vein, a German politician recently said:
In Germany, it is expected that the plumber’s taxes pay for a doctor’s education. The plumber is the parent and the medical student is the child.
and offers some thoughts about how this is or isn't related to historical "rises and falls" of culture, cities, and civilizations:
However, Al Maktoum’s prediction is probably going to apply to many regions of the world that are currently seeing a boom. This is in some ways just the rhythm of things - rise and fall. A great visualization of this charts the trajectory of the world’s 10 most populous cities over the past 500 years. The cities falling off the chart are not just slowing down in their growth - they are shrinking. If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking.
This reminds me of an interesting frame I hadn't considered from Superior: The Return of Race Science, which I read last year: I forget how it's mentioned, but if you consider a culture or civilization's longevity and sustainability, indigenous ones tend to blow non-indigenous ones out of the water. It's a messy observation that I could probably define better with a bit more thought and/or conversations with professionals ("White Europeans are still around, man." "Yeah, but like, Rome or the British Empire aren't."), but there's something to the fact that native cultures that don't get disrupted tend to stick around, and that's maybe a feature and not a bug?
My freshman roommate was from Greece and we had a few chats about this — he was pretty Euro-centric, though I think this is a common belief — but at least his idea was (simplified) "Europeans, because [REASON], had guns, germs, and steel, which the natives didn't. If the natives had discovered/invented them, the shape of history would look somewhat similar (winners and losers, depleting planetary resources, conquest and colonialism) but the cast would look a little browner, and the names/shapes of the territories would have changed." The [REASON], depending if you're talking to a conservative or a racist, is "White people were better at [thing]," whereas classical liberals attribute it more to circumstance.
This feels like giving colonialists a bit of a pass? "Any group of humans with sufficient power would have been brutal groups of colonialists in the same way we were." I don't feel comfortable assuming that? We have so many different dimensions of observed human cultures, I'd be surprised if it was shaped the same way. Or hell, maybe they would have wrought larger, more creative horrors! We'll never really know: beyond the futility of predicting alternate histories, we murdered most of them while it was happening and burned their records. Cue an actual "this is what they took from us" 🙃
idk, there are smarter people who study these things.
All Companies Are Bastards
If you're following tech news, you'll see DHH is in a snowball fight with Apple for being shitty corporate monopolists. If you've spent too much of your precious life following tech personalities, this story has layers: DHH was always flippant about Apple criticism; I think it's safe to call him a fanboy, and now the leopards are eating his face.
Remember when we all hated Microsoft? Those were the days, man. Can't find the tweet (maybe deleted? deleting old tweets is prudent) but Gary Bernhardt once tweeted something like "Telling 2004 me that in 201x I don't like Linus Torvalds, and I like things Microsoft is doing with open source. I punch the floor so hard my screensaver deactivates." (referencing this). Anyway, Microsoft was terrible!
And remember Google? Don't be evil? Before they gave a guy $90m to leave after sexually harassing people? How their Chief Legal Officer had affairs with numerous employees and treated one, having his child, like shit after firing her? How they retaliated against walkout organizers?
Anyway, all these companies are garbage. I wish we had alternatives. I mean, we do, kinda, but they're a massive pain in the ass to operate in and migrate to. Speaking of…
IndieWeb sounds like it'd fit this blog's aesthetic, right? Like, my self-hosted bullshit and making the Web an actual web of content, for and by humans. But I'm having trouble getting on board? Not on any of its goals, mind you: I dig the ideals well enough. I'm just a little burned out by this being the nth iteration of it. I sat through arguments for Structured Web and HTML vs. XHTML (make sure it passes validators!) and Semantic HTML vs. Presentational. I saw Apple, one of the most proprietary and secretive companies in tech, argue with a straight face (and people believed it!) that Flash being closed-source was a major problem, while not letting anyone else create a rendering engine for iOS. I'm watching AMP take over, and it just reminds me of every other attempt that fits the lines of "if we all hold hands and do the right thing, the Internet can be saved from the wealth hoarders, become open, and be a resource to humanity!" and see it get utterly steamrolled by SV companies, and fail to catch hold with anyone you'd care to read.
Like hobbyists with ham radios, it won't go away entirely (thank God), but… it'll only be populated by the kind of people who hang out on ham radios. Which, no offense! It seems like a cool hobby, but in the case of ham radios, it's literally nobody I know, and at least the ham radio people probably participate more broadly in society to a degree that moving completely off of Tech Monopoly platforms wouldn't allow (check out Kashmir Hill's series of trying to cut out big tech, one company at a time. She has her phone pointed to a VPN that blacklist AWS IPs during the Amazon chapter, for instance. You can guess how that went).
I guess I'm thinking of my experience hosting a Pleroma instance and trying to get into The Fediverse. Maybe I'm using it wrong? Maybe I haven't found the right people to follow, even a year after setting it up? idk, if you take the journalists and comedians and speedrunners/competitive gamers I follow on Twitter away, what you're left with is… not a service I enjoy using very often? Some of the memes are better, but mostly, it's not fun or miserable the way Twitter is both.
On another note, I'm not sure federation is the answer. It's better than a private, unprofitable centralized company for sure, but could we build truly decentralized systems? BitTorrent is fucking amazing for how to move lots of data around efficiently, but it has very little use in casual computing via private companies.
I get depressed sometimes for what we did to the Internet. We could have kept building interoperable protocols like Email and RSS (I was at Google when Sergey mocked an employee's concern for the Open Web at a TGIF when Calendar removed CalDAV support), we could have demanded better from the companies that became giants, but we cashed out checks and destroyed it, one commit at a time.
Anyway: I might implement WebMention or hCard or any of these other things. And if you know of a good alternative (ideally server-side, self-hosted) for Google Calendar or Contacts, hit me up. I played with EteSync this weekend and it's… a bit of an odd duck, not quite what I'm after, I think.
Also, this post and the idea of a "directory" is pretty solid. I'll put one here, and a proper blogroll at some point.
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