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[liberationtech] Beware of Geeks Bearing Grifts « The Berkeley Blog

Yosem Companys companys at
Fri Sep 19 02:05:40 PDT 2014

Beware of Geeks Bearing Grifts

by Gene Rochlin, professor emeritus, Energy & Resources Group, UC
Berkeley | 9/18/14

It seems as if the news media have become a wholly owned subsidiary of
the internet technology complex (ITC) these days. No matter which
seemingly outrageous new product or system is being put forth, it will
become ‘news’ in print and online, unpaid advertising that assumes
that all of us have little else to do but sit here and salivate over
the next great new development, however futuristic and socially
disruptive it is.

Do I exaggerate? Over the past few days, Apple’s latest
products/development/ideas have gotten almost as much media space as
Ukraine or Ebola (although somewhat less than ISIS). And to a close
reader of hype, what, exactly, is being promoted? The ‘new’ iPhone,
which is somewhat larger than the original iPhone (among whose
attractions was its small size)? The one you bought last year is now
so five minutes ago. The miraculous web watch, for those with very
tiny fingers and the 20-20 eyesight of youth who don’t mind their
health as well as their location being monitored? The Apple Pay
system, which will let you trade your money and credits from your
account with those from someone else’s without their consent? Or, in
conjunction with the others in the ITC, the Cloud, which provides a
neat single warehouse for data theft? Not so widely noted is Apple’s
dropping its promotion of the iPod, the small appliance that started
it all, and which now seems to have been developed in order to do a
bait-and-switch to the iPhone.

For those of us of a certain age, who disdain the label of ‘Luddite’
but still see no particular personal advantage to joining Facebook or
Twitter, who prefer to protect our privacy and identity as much as
possible, and who believe that there is no such thing as a perfectly
secure internet site (although we hope some of our banks and all of
our military sites are more secure than Home Depot), the notion that
Apple Pay will make credit card payments obsolete is absolutely
horrid. One after the other, these newly promoted ‘capabilities’ will
not only stimulate sales, but will also ensure that the market never

And one more thing. Many of these new capabilities introduce new
insecurities, new modes of spam, new avenues for thefts of data and of
value ranging from credits to cash, and new possibilities for
blackmail, exposing us to a whole new generation of Internet grifters.

Several common threads connect these ‘modernizing’ ideas, ranging from
planes without cockpits and cars without drivers to ApplePay (or its
equivalent). One is that they are always put forth in the spirit of
idealistic innovations for the benefit of everyone. Less publicly
mentioned is the admission that without continual innovation there is
no hope of continual (and sometimes outrageous) profits. They assume
that however impractical their widespread use may be within our
present social formations, societies will simply adapt and reform
themselves in the face of technological pressure. The social costs, of
course, are never mentioned, let alone taken into account. That there
are so few challenges reflects the degree to which the early successes
of the computer industry, ranging from home PCs to LANs to the
Internet, have softened up consumer resistance. Each new model, or
innovation, can then be easily and widely promoted, even cheered, with
complaints and interference only from a group who the industry can tag
as backward outsiders.

It is interesting to note that this is often expressed as the triumph
of individuals over institutions, wrapped in a mantle of progress and
development. Some of it, admittedly, does promote efficiency and
social progress. But not all, and not everywhere. The creation of new
social and political risks without forethought is already stirring
demands for institutional control, a genuinely unfunded mandate. There
is also a redistribution of wealth and privilege, instantiated by
rapid obsolescence. More seriously, what I see being actively promoted
is the triumph of libertarianism over social coherence, the creation
of new social and political risks without giving them serious
analysis. Many of the newer developments being promised also have no
real benefits to the growing cadre of older folks, particularly those
without the education and technical skills to keep up, while
increasing their vulnerabilities in ways they cannot deal with as
individuals. Their interests are not only marginalized, but as far as
the press is concerned they are not important. No one is speaking up
for them effectively. Some of us should try.

Added note: Michael Cabanatuan reports on SFGate on Sept. 16 that
because the use of services such as Uber and Lyft have cut deeply into
San Francisco taxi rides in the past few months, the number of regular
taxis on the street has sharply declined, nowhere more steeply than in
wheelchair-accessible ramp taxis. He further reports that because ride
services are not required to pick up people in wheelchairs, municipal
authorities are considering stepping in. And so it goes.

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