The Paradox of Progress…
I sit at my desk with three computers in front of me. All Macs, all laptops. The first one, on the right in the picture, is a G4 purchased in 2004 and contains most of the software that I used during those years, about $35,000 worth, all purchased and registered. It was refitted in 2007 with a new hard drive from a cloned computer after a friend of mine sat on it while on a trip to Australia. Don’t ask how that happened. The operating system on that computer can no longer be upgraded so I treat it with kid gloves. I know I have the original discs around somewhere should I ever need to reload it. It lives in the twilight of the computing age and I love that machine mostly because it actually works pretty fast.
My next computer, in the middle, is a MacBook Pro, purchased in 2009 containing some of the software I could afford to upgrade when I decided to upgrade to the new operating system. It contains about $7,000 of software and effects and, big sigh, gets used on the internet.
Somethings will update. Others will not. I expected, based on my last experience, that I would have until 2014 to make the next shift, but I am elated to discover that this machine is still doing it’s work 2 years past it’s predicted lifespan.
My latest MacBook Pro, on the left, was purchased in 2015. It has limited software loaded on it that allows me to do video editing and audio development only. It is a sleek machine, lighter, faster and smooth to the touch, sometimes I take it to bed to watch movies. I love the way she feels in my hands.
But enough of all that. This post is supposed to be a grumpy post, not an erotic one.
I use my middle computer for going online and I leave my newest computer off-line as much as possible so that it can remain in mint condition. I still use the G4 for many creative tasks but only turn it on when I have a major project that needs something done in software that I can’t afford a modern version of. It is a great visual art machine and I use it to manipulate photos, stills, and animation. I am a manual kind of guy and enjoy using the G4 to create great things because it let’s me do it on my terms. A hammer is really only a hammer, after all.
When sitting in front of the three computers it’s fascinating to see how each one is slowly dropping off of the Internet to become less functional even though they are in perfect working order. The G4 used to play YouTube videos fine, for years, and surfed all the websites but as the Internet changed and delivery methods evolved, the G4 could go to less and less websites until it became impossible to surf the Internet on that perfectly functioning computer without the pinwheel of death forever taunting you while obese file sizes load. I was trained in Flash and the idea of cramming everything into a 16kb file for optimum efficiency. Today’s internet is making us digitally lazy.
My first generation MacBook Pro is now starting to exhibit the signs of the same kind of detachment from the Internet. It is becoming harder to surf the websites, things take longer to load, and, perhaps most troubling, the amount of advertising that is loading cookies into my processor has become almost unmanageable. I have cleaned those caches soooooo many times. And email trash, gotta dump the trash else wise trojans could run. And do. Ergggggg.
I should also point out that I have put tape over the lens of all my laptop cameras owing to the things I hear about cameras being remotely turned on without my knowledge. I’m one of those “I have nothing to hide” people, but know too well how things can be taken out of context and reinvented to create bad press. So I’ll just hang on to my privacy as best as I can, for the time being, thank you very much.
Today it appears that we live in a “paradox of progress”, where the things we have been told should improve our lives, actually makes them harder. None of this matters if you are 20 years old, living at home and buying your first computer. But if you have been around awhile (30 years), the amount of work needed to stay up to date can be pretty daunting.
In the Beginning
I’ve been involved with computing since the birth of the desktop computer. My first desktop was a Mac Classic that had been gifted to my theatre company in 1987. It sat in the office for months before someone decided we could use it to print a newsletter and mail it to potential audience members by printing a batch of sticky mailing labels, envelopes and paper with our logo on it. Our first Mac was used to create the first versions of snail mail SPAM. We spent money on postage. Lots of it.
I followed Apple from its infancy, one of those dedicated hard core artistic Mac heads who was always trying to convert the spreadsheet wielding PC tribe to our platform, because it was, supposedly, computing with a creative approach. Ahhh, naive youth.
I think I invested in a new mac every 3 to 5 years back then. My devotion was expressed through my pocket book.
In 1999, I cut my first digital films on the inaugural Final Cut Pro, installed on the first digital macs with firewire and shot everything on the newly released digital film cameras. I bought a $35,000 Avid Media Suite Pro, integrated into an Apple Desktop computer with two HUGE VGA monitors, because i wanted to enter the video editing marketplace and needed a state of the art digital cutting desk. My ambition was huge and I spared no expense in hiring “professional consultants” to advise me on how the future of computing was going to unfold.
What a disaster.
I traversed the changing of three buss systems in 18 months. My mega computer was at the front end of that debacle and I was awash with peripheral adapters and upgrades from the get go. But that’s another story.
Eventually I replaced everything with the state of the art, again, and started a multimedia company called Sticky Planet. I started blazing the digital trail, working for clients all over the world. As the internet opened up, my business started to blossom because the public’s mind was on fire and I was helping people to make their appearance on the stage of the world wide web while doing my best to promote my own on line profile. I was still doing a lot of real time theatre back then. standing in front of hundred, sometimes thousands, wondering how many I could get to see my on line stuff. They were mad, busy times.
But, things were simpler back then, of course they were, it was all new! Things were just getting started. As designers, we were trained to develop new software applications with “elegant degradation” in mind, allowing people who could not afford to upgrade their computers to still participate in the Internet revolution. I always considered myself bleeding edge back then. I wanted to introduce the latest technologies and hope everybody else would jump on board, install the plug-in, upgrade their browser, buy a new modem, upgrade their internet speed and (phew) watch my stuff. Before too long, I had many clients who wanted what I had developed for myself and, for a decade, it was good.
The FS Command
My multi media company in Australia was in its heyday during that point in time before Facebook and YouTube existed. I was working with a small decentralized group of international programmers, via email and file transfer, trying to figure out how to make a flash movie launch an FS command, (full screen command). I wanted people to be able to watch our movies, full screen, IMMEDIATELY and WITHOUT DELAY, in the year 2000 on their 56 K modems and computers, hopefully giving us the advantage in a constantly evolving marketplace. Shortly after we figured it out, mainstream internet corporations released the feature as a standard browser option and I was gutted. 3 years of development for something that had been figured out long ago by some people in a room on a spaceship and would only be released when a bunch of regular folks figured it out at earth level.
I believe we are being guided by alien creatures. From time to time they give us biscuits to chew on.
I, and my company, designed numerous hi end websites for international clients using the highly sought after new Flash engines to create fluid interfaces, programmable frames, translation modules and, the big ticket item, streaming video. I worked closely with the 3ivx (became DivX) team as they helped me make my hand crafted movies deliverable on the internet in countries that introduced respectable speeds from inception, like Japan.
I ended up working alot in Japan because they could see the demo videos of my live shows owing to the fact that they opened the internet at full speed from day one. Not like Australia, which had decided to roll out the speed over several years, if not a decade, for profit purposes, of course.
In 2006 I realized that running my company in a country that was light years behind other countries regarding the roll out of internet speed meant international failure, so I shut it down and left for a country where I could get the speed I needed as standard issue.
That turned out to be Belgium, where the smallest, fastest internet codec was being developed by a small company that had snatched a young Australian programmer called “Captian Stux” to give Belgium the bleeding edge in video codec technology.
Silly Australians. They had they guy, he was a young Australian, fresh out of high school, and they let him, and his revolutionary programming skills, be taken away by another country, fast tracking Belgium’s global superiority in Internet technologies instead of their own.
Bugger me mate!
I continued to study interactive film making and learned how to program the frames of a movie so as to enhance the viewers experience beyond the passivity of television on high speed internet connections using programs like Macromedia Director, Flash and Live Stage Pro. At one point the Apple player could read over 200 file types, you could put anything on it and it would open. Even a spreadsheet!
Not any more. I and my colleagues had a vision for the Internet that was going to revolutionize the screen experience and turn it into a truly Open Source interactive immersion. But all good ideas, ideas that service humanity, get sidetracked in the pursuit of profit.
We were so optimistic and energized! We were helping to make the world a better, easier, less complicated place and our education was all free! You could learn anything online back then, no cost.
Roadkill on the Information Superhighway
Software development is, undeniably, the most competitive industry in the world. When running a company that specializes in Internet applications, it is important to remember that there is always a new crop of young motivated geniuses who want to join in and get their share of the market. To do this, they will work harder, longer and faster, mostly because they are young, ambitious, single, geniuses and, mostly, irresponsible.
To survive in that milieux is to find a niche to which you can gain the intellectual property. As the Internet has developed we have discovered that proprietary issues find their way into the overall retardation of the development process by refusing to allow different methodologies to merge swiftly. There has to be a profit motive and two things that belong together will be denied if the price isn’t right. An advancement that could have taken weeks by cooperating, may take years, if at all, when pursued independently.
My generation dreamed of an Open Source internet where we would all work together to make the one greatest thing that everybody would use. It would probably take the form of a box with some buttons on it and the ability to speak to the whole world just by pressing those buttons.
However, the free market is not about developing the best and we don’t often end up with the best product possible because of “proprietary issues”. Instead, we end up with a product developed by someone who has the intellectual property rights and is servicing a business model that requires incremental restricted releases, isolationism, protectionism and a lot of anti social behaviours, which is just plain weird when talking about the evolution of social networks.
That person, or group of persons, may not actually be the best minds suited to the realization of such an idea. Planned obsolescence is at the centre of the computing paradigm, the entire business model is driven by upgrades. It was The Henry Ford Motor Company that realized it had to make the Model T with inferior materials back in 1908 when it was discovered that the original car was made of mostly indestructible parts. The only way to make more money was to make it so that parts would break or wear out and the customer would have to come back to get it fixed.
When creating a sound business idea it is always best to pursue projects that provide a solution. It follows that, in order to provide an “integrated solution”, you must first define a problem. If the problem doesn’t exist, then you must create the problem.
This is the very concept that destroyed what the internet could have been through Open Source. Instead of the best, we got a long, extrapolated, unnecessary pathway through an alternate, dark, haunted digital forest to help prop up an already doomed Capitalism. The back end of the computer revolution has really just been a fire sale before money becomes obsolete and people don’t need to spend money on plastic crap, upgrades and things they don’t need any more.
In my view, the telecommunications revolution was implemented so that a new industry could be ushered in. It is a time honoured business model. Create confusion, provide a solution. The privatization of the industry was bent on keeping us in the same place while creating the illusion that we were advancing.
Still operating until the late 80s and early 90s, telephone companies were owned by the government. Our governments rolled out the first fibre optic cables. Telephony was considered to be an essential service similar to electricity, water, heat, schools. It was infrastructure by and for the community to enhance our lives and make the essential things that needed to be done easier and faster.
In order for a society to function effectively communications need to be accessible by everyone. The telephone simplified this, the answering machine made it faster and easier. When looking for revenue, where is the first place to look but where people gather to do the things they need to do, which is, primarily, communicate and be social.
But of course, being social means that people get together to commune, and, through communication, develop better communities. These three words, central to the health of populations everywhere, sit too close to the next word with the root word “commune” in it, which is, of course, communism. Which all Americans have been programmed to hate, even the liberal ones.
Being that Americans are at the centre of the universe of commerce, any words that contain the root word “Commune” are to be extinguished at all costs because, well, Communism, in any form, is bad. Socialism also gets crapped on because, being social means communing and… well you get the idea. Guilt by association.
With the privatization of the telephone companies came a whole new set of problems. Problems that could only be solved by a variety of private telephone companies who were, and remain, in direct competition with each other. The best problem to create for this business paradigm is to fracture the communications sphere and create confusion so that people can be manipulated into buying solutions that will, theoretically, return them to a similar efficiency as before the big shift. Customers may have to switch companies numerous times and never get a solution that works, paying dramatically higher costs for services. Things will move quickly and lots of money will be spent digging ourselves out of the communications quagmire for decades.
It’s much the same as taking a perfectly functioning wheel, smashing it into bits, rebuilding it into a square and telling people that we have to make the wheel rounder in order for it to function better. It goes through several phases of development from 4 sides to 6 sides to 8 sides to 16 sides to 32 sides and then 64 sides until, finally, the number of sides has been increased exponentially to create a circle. Which is where the whole thing began. A perfect pointless trip right back to where you started to service a profit motive and nothing else! WooHoo I’m having fun now!
We have been told that privatization was going to stimulate job growth, stimulate innovation and, generally, make the lives of people better. My question always remains, what kind of jobs were we creating? Were they good jobs or just jobs people could do to help them find a way into a pine box after drinking some brews and partying hearty for a lifetime. Has this society been so brain washed to be beholden to money that we wasted our lives running in circles? The petroleum industry did that, refusing to acknowledge new sustainable energy sources and doing everything it could to retard the process of conversion so that it could assist the profit margins of the shareholders and not the general well being of all the plant’s inhabitants. The very people who drive the consumer marketplace from where they draw their fortunes. Killing their customers. Hell, human reproduce at a ridiculous rate. There will always be more to exlpoitn.
“Hey what’s your job” says Bill
“Oh I sit in an office and figure out ways to get people to creatively chase their existential tails and always turn right. They always need to turn right as they do it.”
The majority of jobs that are created today are based inside of the idea that we need to engineer dysfunction so that companies can sell us more solutions for the dysfunction they have engineered. When communicating with my friends and colleagues I have a vast array of tools in my arsenal; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SMS, iMessage, FBmessenger, WhatsApp, Skype, YouTube, Snapchat, Bing, zing, ding. The number of telecommunications applications that are available today is staggering. Of course it made sense, in this hamster wheel of a world, that someone created a single device that you can speak into and press one button to get everything you need. After all that, the word Telephone was replaced by Siri.
EU Regulation Against Planned Obsolesence
Recently the French government criminalized the engineering of planned obsolescence through new legislation that is sweeping Europe. Owing to environmental concerns, the Europeans will start imposing fines on manufacturers should they continue to design their products to fail for profit. It is my hope and desire that this new legislation will find its way into the computing paradigm for it is surely the biggest violator of this very environmentally unfriendly practice.
A Box on the Wall
Where as my telephone had 12 buttons, that I could use to blue box my way around touch tone code access, I now have a bevy of preferences panels for upwards of 50 apps on my handheld device. I can spend hours turning things off that arrived turned on. Sometimes one is in conflict with another and I find I am no longer using the app I wanted to use but I am being forced to use the new app which has hijacked my function. iMessage did that. Made it so anybody who wanted to send me a text message via the SMS system had to be on iMessage or I couldn’t get their SMS text messages, further fracturing my ability to integrate and simplify my communicate needs. Some people use this, some people use that, upgrades are always being shoved at us and nobody answers their phone anymore. We are told we will get a response faster if we send a written message. If you ask me, things have NOT gotten easier. 20 years old with their heads buried in a handheld phone have no idea how elegant life was back then and the vast expanses of leisure time we had. I wanted my computer to increase my leisure time, not force me to be upgrading all the time.
I don’t know about anyone else but, today, I have never been more isolated in my life. Sure, I stay in contact with old friends using Facebook. But new developments in the privacy rules department makes this less and less of a desirable option as going on the FB site and sharing my views results in more advertising being shoved in front of me for things I have no intention of buying and an algorithm being built that threatens to deafen me, if not completely crush me, with a feedback loop of self reflexive things in the past I have no interest in seeing in my future.
Recently I was having a private conversation on Facebook and my colleague mentioned an organization he thought I should research. Within a matter of seconds of him typing the message and Ad came up for the website he was speaking of. Some would say ‘cool’ because the information is so readily available to you after it is been recommended, but I just found it creepy. From that point on I’ve had markedly less conversations using Facebook’s messenger system and find myself drifting away from certain internet processes I used to enjoy.
I’m a good netizen. I make and post videos and songs, try to increase my views, get my likes and create buzz around my creations. I still offer digital services and try not to stay on my computer too long. By this point in time I was expecting to be spending almost no time on my computer.
I go outside and try to meet people but that has become harder too. I used to make eye contact with people a lot in the olden days. I made a lot of friends around the world just by being ole, charming me. Not any more. Eyes are fastidiously fixed to glowing screens and a friendly greeting is just met as potentially very weird by anyone 10 years younger than me.
Submissive and Dominate Behaviours
Perhaps the biggest difference between my three computers is that my early G4 allows me to use my computer as a tool that services my needs. I am the dominant one!
My state-of-the-art MacBook Pro works very hard at telling me how I am supposed to use my computer, forcing me to change the method that I have always used, to make me submit. My methods, in my opinion, are simpler because they are manual. I like the way I put my fork in my mouth, i don’t need my computer telling me six new ways to put a fork in my mouth while telling me the way I currently put my fork into my mouth is redundant.
I work swiftly. I like having my folders on my desk top with all the things in them that I need just like when I had a paper desk. New applications take my documents and often put them into folders that are hidden inside of application bundles with out giving me the choice i=of where I want to store them. Yes of course there are probably options in the preferences panel that I can switch so I can change where my data goes. But when I get a commuter, I just want to access it on MY terms. The amount of time that it takes to set these preferences to my desired behaviours becomes a task that is daunting, my day is long enough already. It is as if, almost by design, I am being forced to change from dominant to submissive behaviour through bombardment and shear exhaustion. Some would call it torture. 20 years later, I have less leisure time, not more.
Of course, for all of my quibbling, yes, there have been undisputed great advantages and parts of our lives has been improved with the evolution of computing technology. Duh. I just wish I didn’t have to sacrifice a lifetime to get those conveniences so that the free market could benefit. I wanted Open Source, I wanted an early end to the pursuit of money.
Moore’s law of computing tells us that the processing speed of computers increases two fold every 18 months whilst the chips becomes exponentially smaller . This law suggests that the first computers will be smarter than humans in about ten years. It will be about that time, I predict, that we will have returned to a small box on the wall with a speaker and a transmitter into which we communicate by simply requesting a phone book, looking up a number and making a call.
I hope I get to see it in my lifetime, because the phone on the wall was a great thing when I was a kid and I was a lot more socially connected then, in real time, than I am now.