November 10, 2018 in 2,116 words

Saying “the internet is broken” won’t fix anything

THE INTERNET’S CHARACTER


The internet is broken.

This refrain echoes across all corners of the internet, and has become a general, all-purpose complaint for all of the bad things we encounter online. Trolling, fake news, dark patterns, identity theft, cyber bulling, nasty 4Chan threads are just some of the symptoms of this corruption. But the first step to fixing the internet requires an understanding of what it actually is.

For most of us, the “internet” means Google, email, online forums, Facebook, Twitter, and web apps. For computer scientists, the internet is simply a neutral platform for transmitting packets of data.

When we say “the internet is broken,” it’s crucial to distinguish if we have a problem with our Wi-Fi connection or Mark Zuckerberg, explains MIT senior research scientist David Clark. ”It’s a valid expression of frustration, but it’s not actionable,” he says. “It’s important to make that distinction because they’re created by different actors.”

Clark, who distills over four decades of work in his new book, Designing an Internet, helped shape the network’s structural underpinnings since its nascent years. He worked on the internet project in the 1970s, served as its Chief Protocol Architect in the 1980s, and was the former chairman of the Internet Activities Board. Recently, he was a facilitator at the National Science Foundation’s 10-year Future Internet Architecture program, which seeks to test the viability of new architecture that changes how data are tagged and transferred online.


The internet is a manifestation of our psyches—neither better nor worse

COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS

Twenty years ago, the internet inspired hope. Like a clever toddler full of promise, people thought it would grow up and change the world. Now, it’s a young adult with all the attendant problems, plus some. Today, we’re more inclined to bash the web rather than marvel at it, though we’re ever more reliant on it.

We’re addicted and feel, as addicts do, trapped, yet always wanting more. We imagine, or actually recall, a time that wasn’t like this one, when instead of taking a maddening route from one stupid and superficial website to another, we engaged deeply and meaningfully in real life. Or that’s what we tell ourselves.

However, it’s not clear that there’s any point distinguishing between “real life” and our current more virtual existence. They are already so deeply intertwined as to be one and the same.

In 2011, social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson coined the term “digital dualism” to describe the fallacy of the distinction between the “virtual” and “real” worlds. “We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts,” Jurgensen writes on his blog Cyborgology.


The internet can’t handle functioning like a democracy

GOOD INTENTIONS

In 1999, the organization responsible for the backbone of the public internet, ICANN, tried to build a democracy.

In theory it was utopian: Internet users from around the world would register as at-large members of ICANN, elect delegates to represent their continent, and these delegates would sit on the ICANN board of directors. The structure of internet would be governed by its users.

ICANN was in a position to do this because it’s in the business of determining how people are found on the World Wide Web. It governs the directory that every computer uses for directions to the right web page on the right server. If you register a web page, it gets registered by an ICANN-approved registrar. This proposal wasn’t just about who could register a .edu domain versus a .org, but instead who would be allowed to have a place on the web at all.

Turnout for registration was sizable by 1999 standards, when only 26% of Americans had the internet (pdf) in their home. More than 158,000 people around the world registered to vote.

But the representation of that turnout was less stellar; only 4% were women, and 69% of the internet users that signed up to be at-large members were from the US. African internet users accounted for just 1% of at-large members, while European voters made up 20% of the final tally.


4 Health Problems You Had No Clue Were Contagious

We don’t mean to alarm you, but the entire world is covered in imminent death, it is well past time to panic, and if you have an actual physical alarm within reach, please do sound it. Alright, maybe we meant to alarm you a little bit. It’s just that dangerous bacteria and viruses lurk on every inch of everything, and we’re a little freaked out by that. Like, the next escalator handrail you touch could mean a painful demise. What kind of world is that? Even if you bathe in Purell, you could still catch things that no sane human would even suspect were contagious. Things like …

4. You Can “Catch” Cancer


Organ transplants come with well-documented medical risks, like infection, rejection, or turning their new owner into a murderous psychopath. There’s also a small chance they can transmit cancer.

Sometimes this is the result of a misdiagnosis. In 2008, doctors transplanted organs from a man they thought died of bacterial meningitis. It turned out to be lymphoma, which was passed on to three recipients, two of whom died as a result. Oops.

More often, the signs of disease aren’t visible. Doctors may get as few as six hours to prep and screen a donor before their organs go bad, because organs apparently have the shelf lives of avocados. By the time a thorough autopsy is performed, the tumors are already snuggled up in a throw blanket and binging Netflix in some poor new schmuck’s chest cavity. There have also been freak occurrences, including the curious case of an operating surgeon who suffered a cut, which later developed a wee bit of cancer thanks to hitchhiking tumor cells.

Those are unfortunate cases of bad luck that are nobody’s fault, but there’s also an increasing trend wherein doctors are using higher-risk organs because there simply aren’t enough for the 114,457 people awaiting a lifesaving transplant. Instead of letting a patient die, doctors implant a bargain organ from donors on the “extended criteria list.” It’s basically a choice between dying soon or dying slightly less soon.


4 Fun Everyday Activities (That Will Secretly Destroy You)

So work is stressing you out, you’re worried about politics and the environment, and you know you’re not eating properly or exercising enough. But at least you can do something relaxing to take your mind off of things for a few hours, right?

Wrong. Everything that seems relaxing is terrible for you. The Universe is trying to destroy you and everyone you care about the moment you let your guard down. Here’s how

4. If You Go Down A Slide With Your Kid Wrong, You Might Screw Up Their Legs


So it’s the weekend, and you’ve decided to enjoy your time off by taking your kid to the local playground. Don’t let the friendly pastels fool you, though. This place is a crucible where innocent children are turned into battle-hardened tweens, scarred by countless scrapes and bruises. But at least the humble slide seems like it should be a respite from the carnage, especially for little kids. In fact, maybe you can even go down it yourself … and doom your child.

If you go down a slide with a toddler in your lap, either because they’re nervous about doing it solo or you just want to briefly recapture a fleeting sense of joy, you’re running (sliding?) the risk of causing a lower leg injury. An analysis of slide-related injuries (of which there were an estimated 352,698 among American children under six between 2003 and 2015) revealed that a huge chunk of the wounds were to the lower body. That didn’t make sense to researchers. If a child catches their feet on the edge of a slide, they shouldn’t have enough momentum or body weight to cause any damage, because they’re slow and weak and won’t even put in an honest day’s work in the Cracked coal mines anymore. But if you add the weight and speed of an adult who’s holding them, suddenly there’s enough momentum to really mess up an itty-bitty leg that gets caught and wrenched back.

We’re not calling for a slide prohibition enforced by cold-hearted playground police, but if you do slide with your kid, keep their limbs carefully tucked in so you don’t break them like some lumbering oaf petting a rabbit. Or just pretend you’ll slide with them, then shove them down on their own at the last second. That’s the safest way to keep them from becoming a weird statistic, and you’ll teach them a valuable lesson about the inevitability of betrayal.


69-Year-Old Dutch Man Seeks To Change His Legal Age To 49


Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old Dutch man, says having a younger age on paper would give him a boost in life and on dating apps.

Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old motivational speaker from the Netherlands, has petitioned a court for permission to change his legal age — by altering his birth certificate to show he was born 20 years later than he really was.

Ratelband argues that he feels two decades younger than he actually is — doctors told him he has the body of a younger man, he says. While in most cases that compliment is rhetorical, Ratelband is taking a more literal approach. He also says having a younger age on paper would give him a boost in life and on dating apps.

He presented his argument before a judge on Monday.

According to the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, or AD, Ratelband told the court he would be happy to delay his pension benefits for 20 years, as a logical extension of his age change.

The judge expressed some skepticism but also noted that changing the sex on a birth certificate, as transgender people have the right to do, once was impossible and is now allowed.

DEGREE OF OPPORTUNITY: “When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Kevin Simmers is a former police sergeant in Hagerstown, Maryland. During his tenure as a narcotics officer, he vehemently pursued drug arrests. “I believed my entire life that incarceration was the answer to this drug war,” Simmers says in a new documentary from The Atlantic. Then his 18-year-old daughter, Brooke, became addicted to opioid pain pills.


Donald Trump is heading to Paris this weekend for two of his favorite things: meeting with Vladimir Putin and parades.


The few, the proud, the Marines Corps pilots who drew a giant penis in the sky.


A 69-year-old man says he identifies as 49. He has either been drinking from the fountain of youth or, more likely, bourbon.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including midterm election results and Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.


In his penultimate New Rule of the season, Bill takes a look back at an exhausting year in politics and issues a warning about Trump’s dictatorial desires.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.



FINALLY . . .

Could consciousness all come down to the way things vibrate?


What do synchronized vibrations add to the mind/body question?

Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?

These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It’s resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.

The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it’s generally known as the “hard problem” of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”

Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called “hard” in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the “easy” problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they’re not actually easy at all. But his point was that they’re relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not? Tomorrow’s a Groundhog Day.