The Psalms

spectacle

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The Crossing Auditorium

Askeptical spectacle in the day-to-day typhoon of Faith’s modern enterprise.

The year I was given my first generation iPhone was the last of 14 through which my mother was still comfortable enforcing my obligation to attend Sunday morning church service. She and my stepfather had migrated 18 months or so prior from [Suburban Church of Mediocre Dope Christ-Appropriated Lukewarm Diluted Prog Rock and The Occasional Teachings of Protestant-ish Side-Glances at The New Testament] to the New York Times-appointed champion of Columbia Missouri’s 20-Year-Long Quirk the Church! Sovereignty Crusade: The Crossing. Like its competitors (of which my parents’ previous church had ranked quite poorly,) the blatantly death-cult-sounding House of God includes its own artisanal, latte-equipped coffee shop (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually a Starbucks affiliate at this point,) a regularly-replenished catering table full of doughnuts immediately to the side as one enters, and a sophisticated childcare operation staffed no less thoroughly than my public elementary school.

Since 2007, the church has been expanding from its first home (as a functional place of worship, anyway,) which lies within 1) line-of-sight from one of Nancy Walton’s properties, 2) a mile of the southernmost exit off US-63 – mid-Missouri’s primary North⟺South roadway – and includes a powered pump-arrogated pond, though the majority of the acreage is blackened by pragmatically-arrayed big box store-caliber multi-rowed parking. Ye, by night, it is flooded in coordinately-distributed cold white light suspended by the same uniform steel poles which guard long-term airport lots. Naturally, the entry and exit points for the asphalt spread are arranged deliberately opposed so that four figures’ worth of God’s children may be fed, digested, and evacuated through their weekly appointment with Christ as efficiently and hassle-free as possible.

God’s ~white~ children become especially sensitive to entirely-trivial delay or other perceived deviation from Their Expectations when inside an automobile thanks to a rampant misconception that simultaneously allows them a renewed sense of control over their environment. Psychoanalytic observation has suggested it is catalyzed by delusions of physical anonymity, exemption from civic responsibility, and a titanically-inflated perception of their personally misattributed contributions to the perpetuation of the universe. This vehicular component of the customer experience is a fundamental ingredient in The Crossing’s stellar member retinenance record – the single metric above all quantifying a Christian organization’s overall effectiveness in accomplishing the faith’s (mostly cross-denominational) evangelistic Prime Directive / General Order Number One as abridged by Christ himself to the Pharisees after his resurrection: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of [The Holy Trinity].” I did not take the opportunity to sample The Crossing’s baptismal services, but I’m sure sufficient combing of the church’s Yelp! page would yield as qualitative an analysis of such a “service” as you could possibly imagine. (Notably, it would appear the “lowest” review is the singular 4/5 star entry.)

I do not mean to disparage The Crossing, specifically nor even organized religion, generally, but instead to emphasize the absurdities which have leapt just as readily into what I’d specifically call The Business of white protestant Christianity over just the course of my own maturation as it has into any other aspect of our lives. The difference, of course, is the universal set of exceptions – and the particular age of said exceptions – which religion maintains, societally. The perspective formed by my own experiences having grown up wholly embedded across the spectrum of white midwestern Christianity – including two years of vigorous and quite academic study of the Bible in a tiny private school headquartered in the basement of a Lutheran church – lends to a particular skepticism, amusement, horror, offense, and existential astonishment that latches my fascination into a not-entirely-voluntary hold.

(Before I go on, I suppose I should also note that it’s been at least two or three years since I last set foot inside the church building at all – my only recent experiences/engagement with The Crossing has been with their digital content from a relative distance.)

Apple Leadership Headshots

The ludicrous parallels between Apple events and services at The Crossing, especially, come immediately to mind every single time I watch one (live or otherwise,) as they did just weeks ago when I first engaged with this summer’s WWDC keynote. Pastors Dave Cover, Keith Simon, and Shay Roush all look, dress, speak, and photograph exactly like Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Scott Foristell, Jony Ive, and just about any public-facing leadership figure we’ve ever seen giving an Apple Keynote. They’re hilariously interchangeable, as are other explicit aspects of the typical Sunday morning service at The Crossing. As far as I can tell, the church as a whole only uses Mac computers and the projections in the main auditorium/worship hall – mostly sing-along hymn lyrics and referenced bible verses – are exclusively created through Apple’s office presentation software, Keynote, just as the company itself does for its “Keynotes.” This was immediately obvious to me upon first entering that space because they both use the default theme – typography, color palette, transition animations and all. Indeed, during the sermons, the three pastors would take command of the slides by fairly inconspicuously clicking what I’d imagine must be a very sweaty Apple Remote in the exact same manner in which Tim Cook and his underlings still do.

I JUST REMEMBERED DAVE EXPLICITLY USING MENTION OF APPLE PRODUCTS IN HIS SERMONS

The Crossing on WordPress

Nay, the likenesses do not diverge when comparing the fundamentals of the two organizations more broadly: The Business of the faith is very much a volume business, which also describes Apple’s contemporary strategy with perfect precision. It’s been a few years since “ecosystem” ceased to be an exhaustive buzzword in tech media discourse, perhaps because the term falls very short in expressing the change in global Apple scale. My recollection of high school biology has failed to produce a scientific substitute, but I find Matt Honan’s “very lovely swamp” exceptionally said in 2014, but the fact of the swamp’s becoming generally lovelier in the interim – in a less linear fashion than would have been ideal, mind you – leaves ample room, I think, to fear and respect whatever it was that we then called The Apple Ecosystem in 2014 as a ruling deity or daemon (just as Google’s sought to be, recently.)

The church live streams every fucking keynote sermon in HD on Vimeo, not YouTube. (I had no idea Vimeo offered “professional streaming services” until this moment.) They have a fucking iOS app (apparently developed by an outfit called Subsplash, who had the audacity to include analytics meta tags following the root of their website within the in-app attribution button) which features a calendar-bound tool containing full-text preparatory reading material from scripture, on-demand audio and video recordings

I genuinely wonder quite often if the individual who set the digital template for the sign in front of our Portland neighborhood's Episcopalian church paused to look at the text he was arranging: “PRAYER REQUESTS BY EMAIL.” I'm not sure any of this really means anything, but it's sure spectacular to look at.

#spectacle #software

Why

An autobiographical overview of my personal history with technology and its contributions to my current perspective.

Incalculable odds were against my arrival in this world happening in early 1994, positioning my life within a timeline that would allow me to bridge my two species’ most significant millenniums in the first grade as a student in the first class at Fairview Elementary school to receive curriculum-mandated exposure to brand-new Windows 98 PCs in its brand-new, fluorescent-lit computer lab in the center core of its 50-year-old rectangular brick structure. The lab also meant that ours was the first Fairview class to have the available relief of air conditioning during the school day. It’s unlikely that I would be home sick and watching the last television ever allowed in my mother’s living room as the second plane hit.

My peers and I would form a picogeneration without a name (perhaps we should be called the 9/11ers) — 91s and 92s wouldn’t have regular access to public school machines until they’d eclipsed the true prime of their development, and were just that much further along, mentally, to being able to comprehend the huge and terrifying concepts of 1) New York and 2) burning alive — while 98s like my niece were spared any such comprehension of death at all, yet now have to face the existentially future-sundering, darkly-mirrored reality of the Trump Presidency during the most critically uncertain period in the last stage of their brain’s transition to adulthood.

If there is truth in the cross-cultural supposition that souls have some sort of choice, pre-conception, over when they’re born, my own must have either cleaned out the house, or lost horrible, though I suspect I’ll never be able to confidently wager either way. This question of how lucky or unlucky am I to be alive right now is one which I find most fascinating — not just within myself, but within others my age. I declare us a generation largely because of my experiences under the assumption that my mid-Missouri upbringing represents the ultimate average in the American experiences of the time as the area has been a reliable sample of the clearest average of the country’s cultural, political, and economic life. Technically, it was quite unlikely that I arrive here as a new human being instead of China or India, and what if that, too was my choice?

Though less so, it was still against chance that I would be born to parents who would divorce very quickly after my birth, before my mind was able to form any tangible long-term memories, sparing me whatever pain could’ve resulted from their greater togetherness later nullified in front of me. I could’ve chosen them as well for the variety of experiences their situation would allow me as I grew up between my father’s 800-acre farm and my mother’s suburban house in Columbia, the college town an hour’s drive south. I write about my experiences now — so young — because I’ve likely already born witness to more extraordinary changes in human development than your parents, their parents, and their parents’ parents combined. At 24, my life has already spanned by far the most profound and expedited informational renaissance in human history — greater progress was made between the day I first rode a bicycle and the one on which I took my driver’s test than in thousands of years before it.

The sum of my father’s ordeals between 1950 and 1974 — from his birth until the age I am now — would indeed include watching a man set foot on a spatial body other than Earth for the first time, but would be mostly defined by work on the family’s soybean, corn, and wheat farms in central Illinois, driving carbureted tractors pulling cultivating equipment of the same basic design and function as had been pulled by horses, mules, and oxen for hundreds of years, and other implements — like the mechanical multi-row planter — that were new technology at the beginning of the century. For neighbors, he would walk behind the path of a square hay baler next to a moving flatbed trailer, upon which he would throw the 70–100 lb. rectangles of dead compacted grass by their twine through thick cowhide gloves. All of this I would get to experience in the next century on his farm, using the exact same equipment.

At home, he would watch NBC, ABC, and CBS on a CRT TV, as I would for several years until wireless television was legally transitioned to digital statewide in the summer of 2009. As an adolescent, he would form a business with friends cleaning out old abandoned barns in exchange for the rights of ownership to any finds inside, which led to his discovery of a hay-preserved 1929 Buick Sedan containing hand-written records of its every service. This car would change hands into his Uncle’s care as he went off to school in Champaign, married in Georgia, and eventually settled on the flat clay soil of the farm where I grew up, right on the border between Audrain and Monroe counties, Missouri. I was about 10 when we drove back to the family hub with a trailer in tow to collect the car from my Great Uncle, to my manic excitement.

Up until my mid-teens, my life was defined by my extreme reverence for historic cars, airplanes, tractors, and watercraft, and the time I spent operating, maintaining, restoring, or simply studying the assortment of these which I was allowed — often because of extraordinary circumstances — would form the component of my psychology which seeks to experience different cultures, ideas, and eras through the medium of engineering and design and relies on these to understand them. Like my father in his youth, I would learn to clean water out of a carburetor after the Oliver 88 had sat silent for too long, and I would piss in a chamber pot to avoid waking up my Grandfather by walking down creaking attic stairs and turning the lights on. I would learn how to shoot and drive before 10-years-old, and I would have the freedom to do both as I pleased on the miles of gravel roads that ran around home.

Though my stepfather bought me a PC of my own just as my first-grade computer class was ending, I could not conceive of a reason to occupy the dial-up line and block his incoming calls or faxes, so my use of the machine was limited to sparse writing and aggravating attempts to run Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 at approximately one frame per second on a 300MHz single-core Pentium II CPU. Though I was extremely fortunate compared to most middle-class kids my age at the time to have my own computer in my room, my relationship with it was not significant or particularly involved. I would leave it powered down for weeks at a time until my last two grades at Fairview, when homework assignments began to require it.

Perhaps the greatest gap between my mostly-suburbanite classmates and I was an exposure to Japanese entertainment and video games. I was once disallowed from a lunch table because I’d never heard of Pokémon or Luigi, but I did have a Sony Playstation at home on which I occasionally loaded A Bug’s Life to wander around its first level, perhaps in basal awe at the idea of manipulating what I saw on a screen in realtime. In self-imposed isolation from children my age, I wouldn’t develop any need to be socially competitive with video games as many of my peers would to carry with them into adulthood. I thought my interests in mechanical engineering to be above all of them, so I spent my time alone with heavy picturebooks on 20th century cars, tractors, and airplanes.

On the farm, my consistently agriculturally-proactive father was one of the first to have satellite internet for farm futures and weather reports on a pre-GUI machine which I don’t remember. As I was becoming computer literate in school, he would become extremely frustrated with the Windows XP-running machine he’d bought from a one-man, one-room computer shop in Centralia, and I would often solve some problem with bloatware or the goddamned printer. He would also subscribe to and install a first-generation DirectTV receiver, which had the first on-screen program guide I’d ever seen. In the evenings, I would watch hours of Modern Marvels on The History Channel, which presented the history, abstract functional theory, and implementation of a particular technology, both past and future. This single program — which has aired nearly 700 episodes since 1995 — is probably responsible for the majority of my at least rudimentary general knowledge in a variety of historic and “future” technological schools, and my curiosity about culture’s relationship with innovation.

Though my father’s interests differed significantly from mine — he thought more about growing and raising than of the tools one used to do it — he would indulge my many questions about how engines, hydraulics, and electrical systems worked, and indulged my curiosity by exposing me to the hidden communities of the most elderly, most obscure historic machinery enthusiasts like those of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant, Iowa — the Concours d’Elegance for antique tractor and reciprocating engine collectors. It was a similar event closer to home where I first operated a steam tractor — great, field-going locomotive-like vehicles that supplanted a need for horsepower in the late-1800s up until the Great Depression which chug, whistle, and puff along just like rail locomotives with a huge, gritty, iron steering wheel. As I recall, I was also given the opportunity to drive an unrestored Model T truck around the grounds that day — the knowledge from which I gained I cannot imagine being of much use ever again.

I was proud to the point of arrogance of my technical knowledge and experience in all the different things I had driven and operated, which my schoolmates were in no position to understand. I was elitist and anti-social about this as late as 8th grade, when I had just moved in to stay with my mother, who bought me a first generation iPhone which I proudly wore in a leather belt holster to Junior High. It would represent a shift in my fascination from very old technology toward the present and future.

I started talking online with a friend I’d first met years before at Fairview, who spent most of his time fiddling with his first-generation MacBook Pro. He originally exposed me to gadget bloggers on YouTube like Mark Watson and Jon Rettinger (both of whom are still full-time tech personalities.) My mom bought me a 13-inch aluminum-bodied MacBook (which would be sold as MacBook Pro after a single year,) and my lifestyle radically shifted inside my room, my computer, and my Xbox 360. My friend and I would both obsess together over software, design, and gadget – experimenting with our own tech YouTube channels until high school, where I would be adopted by a new friend group who would finally socialize me.

Recently, I have written about the contrasts and discrepancies of consumer technology development as its progress has disconnected from the upward linear trajectory in use, quality, and genuine innovation for the End User in a departure which has been especially visible from my perspective as an academically-untrained, but intensely demanding user in the past five years. When hardware was still the industry focus before ~2012, there was a tremendous amount of optimism among journalists and enthusiasts because each successive generation of devices had added more tangible capabilities. Publications like Gizmodo and Engadget made a fortune publishing reviews and comparison tests of hardware offerings across every segment of tech, and the discourse they generated had a noticeable influence on design. I remember this time well because it accented my last few years before adulthood, when I had plenty of spare time, energy, and curiosity to keep up.

The general consumer technology narrative since Steve Jobs’ death has become increasingly more about the companies who design and sell hardware and software than about how and why their consumers actually use them, and the result has been a series of new product segments with little defensible place in my own linear timeline of innovation, especially where productivity is involved. Augmented and Virtual Reality are quite explicitly escapist industries, yet to fill any significant need which was before unfilled. The same could be argued about voice assistants and smartwatches — neither of which remove obstacles in most users’ day-to-day lives but instead contribute to the array of tasks and devices which already seek their attention.

Of course, there are defensibly sound business incentives behind the industry’s new, fragmented direction, but I would also argue that there are those, too, for genuinely revisiting both what we should be doing and what we should be seeking to learn to do with technology. In a more abstract sense, I have written about whether or not we should want to be living in this particular now, and how the way we feel about the future should inform what we do in the present.

I cannot help but observe human progress from a perspective of powerlessness, acute alienation, and amused awe, which has already lent to a significant quantity of occasionally original thoughts as I watch, having witnessed an odd diversity of American life and culture. I’ve published them to entertain and to demonstrate a few methods of reflection on what it is you really want from the times you are living.

#meta #software #spectacle

Googleplex

What I have long predicted is now coming to pass: Google believes it should assume control.

Out of all the technology companies that have made my knees knock and my voice hoarse and my Tweets manic as a technoheretic in the past several years, Jumbo Google would easily take home the winning trophy for Dystopian of the Millennium. I have been rehearsing an especially dear pet prophecy of mine, unsolicited, to family, friends, and podcast guests since 2011 in which I end up arguing quite convincingly that Google is a dead ringer for the 16th-century Vatican: an inherently self-isolating organization with an absolute monopoly yielding gargantuan levels of essentially passive income from a service which nearly everybody transacts with, but only Google understands (and is therefore assumed to be its only possible provider,) which inevitably develops such a distance from the rest of the populace and their way of life (in tandem with total notoriety and celebrity among them all) not intentionally out of malice, but from the delusion of mythically-bestowed philanthropic duty that is borned of and compounded by this economic and cultural isolation in a perpetual accumulation of power and wealth that radicalizes the monopolizers — the majority already highly predisposed to zeal as they would’ve needed to be in order to find themselves in this singular, universally powerful position over every other class — and leaves their egocentric minds to wander exempt from all criticism save for that of fellow radicalized monopolizers, who together begin to feel more and more comfortable wondering aloud about themselves in increasingly fantastic presumptions: what if all of this was bestowed upon us because we are superior to them? What if it is our divine responsibility as superior beings to take charge and shepherd the common people as our sheep — for they cannot possibly know as well as we what is truly best for them?

You see it, right? And you can feel a very specific flavor of terror that is both awed by the scale of the circumstances created by so few human minds and sincerely amused by the absoluteness of your own inability to alter them in any way. Perhaps you even recognize this taste as one perfected by Christianity’s ancient advertising business, but Google knows so much about you that it’s rumored to’ve been selling user data to the Judeochristian God for some time now at a 10% discount, and so we extrapolate and anticipate, yes?

Of course, it’s admittedly satisfying for me to deliver you to this godfearing place in the most perverse look what I saw first that you didn’t see because you’re just not as bright but lucky for you, I’m so fucking generous with my wisdom sort of thinking around which the entire personas and livelihoods of fringe movement fanatics are built upon, but this is my one thing, okay? I’ve been waiting years for the right time to formally argue this theory in depth, and — thanks to this year’s public spotlight finally pivoting on the giants who’ve been silently swallowing their competition and relentlessly forcing their already ridiculous margins higher and higher in relative obscurity for decades, the time has come, indeed. The common people’s trust in Google had a godawful week.

Don’t Be Evil

On Monday, Gizmodo reported that twelve frustrated Google employees were quitting the company in protest of their work assisting the Department of Defense to “implement machine learning to classify images gathered by drones” for the detail fleeting Project Maven, despite some 4000 employee signatures on a letter addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai requesting (in full) that he “cancel this project immediately,” and “draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology,” citing the infamous “Don’t Be Evil” motto, which Google then proceeded to remove from its code of conduct for the first time in 18 years the day after the New York Times article went to press, on April 5th.

On initial approach to the abstract of this story, from the ass to our thoughts arrives an easy narrative of a Silicon Valley mutiny comprised of twelve brave, conscientious souls who’ve been eaten up inside by their complicity in the filthy deals made by their power-obsessed CEO over scotch and cigars in a dark D.C. study — kept awake for months by the sound of his puffing cackles at satellite images of dead toddlers in a bombed-out street.

Ah ha, we say. That man is no good, and he just wouldn’t listen! They knew they didn’t have a choice… They only did what they had to do…

The reality of internal disagreements at Google, though, manages to be even more theatrical. The sheer volume of correspondence must surely be beyond anything capable of the enduser’s imagination, so let’s phone a friend: my favorite peek into the day-to-days of inter-Google existence is an old blog post by Benjamin Tilly on his first month at the company in which he was compelled almost immediately to describe in great detail how best to “deal with a lot of email in gmail” at peak efficiency using shortcuts and labels. “As you get email, you need to be aggressive about deciding what you need to see, versus what is context specific.”

Now we have a bit better idea of the aggressive emailing that was a sure constant on a normal workday at Google in 2010, so it must’ve been deafening after 8 years of Gmail development as 4000 employees no doubt vented, debated, and decided to organize last month, though without making much headway because the leadership’s response was apparently “complicated by the fact that Google claims it is only providing open-source software to Project Maven,” this new knowledge having significant effect on our mind’s image of Sundar Pichai’s activities in Washington: he is now swapping seats with a frustrated Colin Powell in order to install OpenOffice onto his desktop from a flash drive, and we recall that Google’s Googleplex headquarters resembles nowhere in modern life more than a brand new playground built in a design language borrowing heavily from Spy Kids. And though these Twelve disciples are unnamed for the moment, a few of them could immediately land book deals by going public, and every single one would always have by default not only the badge of “I landed a job at Google,” (which is really to say I have hit Life’s maximum level cap,) but “I worked at Google for a while, but ended up quitting to do something else,” which is guaranteed to make you the most interesting, intellectually superior person present in whatever crowd for the rest of your life. The ultra-cool Sarah Cooper quit Google to become a comedian and even got to talk to Kara Swisher! I won’t pretend to understand big tech’s diminutive bastardization of prestige, but “more than 90 academics” jumping to publish an open letter (adjacent to a huge DONATE: Support the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots button) in which they “write in solidarity with the 3100+ Google employees” who’s terrible boss decided to help some lackeys in the Pentagon set up their email and didn’t text back for a whole hour doesn’t sound 100% sincere. Notably, I don’t know how or why the fuck 90 people would go about collaborating on a single document, but if it really was managed, they definitely used Google Docs… At one point, it was fun to think about the history of the friendly side-scroller-playing garage ghouls and dorm dorks who gave cooky, wacko names to their dot com startups in parody and defiance of the lame-ass surname anagrams on the buildings of their established competitors, but those who’ve stuck around have only done so by becoming expert at SUCKING UP EVERYTHING around them, and it pisses me off every day how worried I am that my species will finally be done in by a company with a name like Yahoo! and be known only to a bunch of adolescent interdimensional silicon blobs 30 million years in the future as that bipedal race who remained dignified until the last 0.01% of their reign on Earth, when in way less than a single generation, they all just went FUCKING INSANE and blew themselves up because they suddenly hated all sense.

“Google” is perhaps the worst of these to have to shout in fear and/or anger in your last moments as it sounds in American English like you’ve startled your subject with a ticklish pinch followed so immediately by an esophagus-busting chokehold that the two events appear simultaneous, and in real English English, it almost always sounds like a parent speaking of a character on a pre-K children’s television programme whom they find quite foul and upsetting, but will manage to refrain from expressing so otherwise because they know that Teletubbies shit is the most quickly forgotten stage of television viewership. It’s fascinating how exclusive the word “Google” is to American English because in everything else it really is complete nonsense, but lets halt all etymological discussions right now because we’ve only now just finished with Monday.

Bad Chrome

The Soul Ledger

On Thursday, all of my Google experiences, suppositions, and soul-detaching screenshots were usurped when a thoroughly alarming internal company video called The Selfish Ledger was leaked to The Verge, which I watched once then and do not want to watch again for the sake of this piece, but I will. Though the big V has been disappointingly timid for years about editorializing — when tech journalism desperately needs some confident, informed opinion more than ever — Vlad Savov’s accompanying article should be read in its entirety, to which I can add my own terror where he perhaps could not. The production style is technically identical to that of the very popular thinkpiece-esque, motion-graphics-paired-with-obligatory-sharpie illustrated videos which you find playing at max volume on your mom’s iPad from where she’s fallen asleep on the couch at 9PM, but the repeating stock string soundtrack multiplies one’s discomfort as such that we would all end up in the fetal position without remembering the transition were it not for the appearance of trusty old Dank Jenkins, who’s face I thankfully associate heavily enough with his infamous down-and-out Tweet to be a welcome respite in attention before the very scary hypothesis for which it’s been buttering me up, as best summed by Vlad:

The system would be able to “plug gaps in its knowledge and refine its model of human behavior” — not just your particular behavior or mine, but that of the entire human species. “By thinking of user data as multigenerational,” explains Foster, “it becomes possible for emerging users to benefit from the preceding generation’s behaviors and decisions.” Foster imagines mining the database of human behavior for patterns, “sequencing” it like the human genome, and making “increasingly accurate predictions about decisions and future behaviors.”

The next time the what if they do something scary question comes up in a casual conversation about Google, you’ll have something a lot more substantial than just speculation. Or will you? The Verge reached out for comment and got an awfully convenient response.

This is a thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as ‘speculative design’ to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate.

Wow! Leave it up to grand ole Googe to reveal the ultimate excuse for just about any suggestion or behavior, though it does seem almost deliberately uncomfortable, doesn’t it? No matter — whether or not this video was ever about a project or tangible product development, or simply to explore uncomfortable ideas because it is proof that the company has reached that critical Vatican stage — if you’ll remember — where they now feel comfortable exploring Very Bad, but Very easily made Real Ideas amongst themselves about what would happen if they allowed their system to nudge its users around a different, slightly less optimal route to the bar, let’s say — without their knowledge — in order for the system to collect traffic data for the sake of its own interests? Which would be, technically, in the interest of all Ledger users now and in the future, so why not?

The ledger could be given a focus, shifting it from a system which not only tracks our behavior, but offers direction towards a desired result.”

This, my dear privacy-obsessed friends, is the real issue with data collection — its power over huge groups by way of their behavior and it is never going to be remedied in any significant way by ad-blockers or VPNs because the EndUser shall always out number you 50 to 1, even decades from now. EndUser does not understand — or, crucially, have any desire to understand anything technical about what leads to the PewDiePie videos playing on his filthy screen. Here’s a great opportunity to escape Silicon Valley’s technolibertarianism and resign your Darwinian empathy in favor of meaningful and truly-effective action: if you want to avoid a future Google Church (or Google Government, more worryingly,) you should invest your time, effort, and knowledge into electing officials more capable of understanding and regulating Big Tech.

Google Government

The internet as it stands is made possible by Google as the goto resource for online advertising. In 2016, “Google held 75.8 percent of the search ad market, bringing in $24.6 billion in revenue from search ads,” according to Recode. By 2019, “that’s expected to grow to $36.62 billion in revenue, or 80.2 percent of the market.” Google’s edge in user behavior and targeted advertising combined with their extensive resources available developers to integrate independent platforms with Google’s software services at various levels makes it very difficult for any advertising-funded individual or organization to compete online without dipping in to the Google universe. YouTube — a Google property since 2006 — has actively invested in and supported a new career path entirely within their own platform that is rapidly becoming popularly aspired-to by young children, while the reality of existence as a full-time YouTuber is far less glamorous than the immediately-visible surface would indicate, and the effort already expended by my generation in its pursuit has already made us insane.

So, what would the internet look like if Google didn’t exist? We know they’ve been working with the government now on various projects, but what if some terrible exposed transgression of theirs suddenly warranted an immediate shutdown and seizure of all Google properties? Well, we know from a post on Quora by Googler Ashish Kedia that even 5 years ago, the sudden absence of Google for “2–3 mins” set the internet into a bit of a panic, reducing overall traffic by 40%. In the time since, we’ve all grown exponentially more dependent on Google properties: billions of people rely on Google Maps for directions and, thousands of companies (including the Pentagon and other government institutions) rely on Gmail and GSuites for intercommunication, file sharing, task management, etc., and more and more academic institutions rely on Chromebook devices running connection-dependent operating systems. It’s not much of a stretch to argue that Google’s sudden disappearance would constitute a Civil Emergency in the United States, which will only become a stronger and more serious incentive for regulatory bodies to look the other way.

Though the tangible results of advertising have been quantified significantly in the past 20 years, one can’t help but wonder after watching YouTube ads for the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class on toy unboxing videos if the companies who spend big bucks on Google advertising understand where their money is going, but they know that if they don’t advertise there, their competitors will. This, of course, is a fundamental practice of a monopoly, and it’s yielded Google so much fucking money that they cannot possibly spend it fast enough, as evidenced by their investments in life extension — so that, perhaps, they will have more time on Earth to figure it out.

When you build a collection of the world’s smartest people in a self-sufficient environment that discourages exploration of other lifestyles and ideas, and you sustain the society with a gargantuan, relatively low-maintenance revenue stream, you create a culture which is not only well-primed for isolationism, but is also extremely inefficient. In fact, with its vast collection of abandoned products and properties, Google must surely be one of the most inefficient companies in history. Thinking back on recent software releases along with its recent entries into the hardware space, Google is also one of the worst competing tech companies. Very little aside from Gmail, Google Photos, Google Maps, and Chrome have found their place or garnered significant usership. Google Play Music is unintuitive and impossible, Google Allo and Google+ are all but forgotten addendums to other services, and Google Search — its core, original function — has been out of control for years, and all of them are designed blandly and excruciatingly tiring to look at.

Google Shun

If this all has stirred nothing more in you than a desire to eliminate Google from your own online life as much as possible, there are alternatives in almost every one of the sphere’s they dominate. As of late, DuckDuckGo has accumulated a fair amount of buzz and coverage as a private, more relevant alternative to Google’s plain old search engine. Though it is clever enough to list us as the first result for “extratone,” I’ve found it simply insufficient as a replacement in my own life because, essentially, it rarely delivers what I’m looking for. By contrast, Dropbox Paper is such an elegant cloud notetaking and word processing software that it makes Google Docs look simply idiotic (and warrants its own review very shortly.) For getting around, know that MapQuest is not only still around — it’s now a very competitive mobile navigation app.

I, myself, have allowed Google as complete of access to my information and behavior as possible because I believe “privacy” is a completely futile endeavor if one wishes to be a part of society, though I do often use alternatives to Google services simply because I fucking hate the way they look. If you want a more complete list of services and software that allow one to shun the Google God entirely, you’ll be forced to seek out less dignified sources like Lifehacker and Reddit and decide if the additional time you’ll spend using most of them to accomplish the same tasks is really worth your digital angst.

If Google were to be more explicit with its users and staff about its aspirations to take over control of our lives, there will be little to do but accept the future they intend to create because they’ve long been too powerful to control. In the meantime, I’d suggest you continue to use whatever software works best for you and refrain from wasting your time fretting on conspiratorial suppositions of what the tech industry may be doing to “invade your privacy,” because there is no longer any such thing, nor will there be ever again. However, I would also urge to you worship your own Gods, whomever they may be, for Google will never be worthy. I, for one, shall only pray to our Mother Sun.

#spectacle