Sunday, March 25, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.3.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Spain
  • The Catalan saga rolls on, with more local politicians jailed on weekly basis. God knows how Madrid thinks this is going to make the problem go away.
Life in Spain
  • It's Palm Sunday, and it's sunny. So the terrace cafés are overflowing earlier than usual. And there's a crowd listening to the priestly oration from the front of nearby San Francisco church. And watching the heavily drummed procession. But, in numbers, nowhere those for real fun events. Or any event, I dare say.
  • Talking of fun . . . There can't be much of it if you're a priest in modern Spain. Especially if you have several parishes to look after.
The EU
  • European leaders are poised to expel Russian spies across the Continent tomorrow, after Theresa May won promises of concerted action despite vocal resistance to confronting Moscow from leaders including Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. He really is a first class pillock. Or gilipolla, as the Spanish say.
The USA
  • Want to know how Fart came from (right) behind everyone else to win an election he didn't actually want to win? Click here for one informed view. Bolton has since become Fart's National Security Adviser. And several of the folk named have departed the White House.
  • In contrast . . . Fart's spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway – has been inexplicably put in charge of fixing the problem of opioid addiction in America. Well, she has been remarkably loyal to him and is a very skilful liar. So, bound to appeal greatly to Fart. I wonder if she ever fears the future opinions of her 3 kids. I did it for you. To finance your healthcare and education. And to pay for your guns.
Social Media
  • Good question: How can Facebook change when it exists to exploit personal data? It comes, as the following snippets do,  from this article in The Guardian:-
- The tech giant’s astonishing growth is entirely based on drawing on what it knows of its users, whatever its CEO might sorrowfully tell us. 
- The bigger story behind the current controversy is the fact that what Cambridge Analytica claimed to have accomplished would not have been possible without Facebook. Which means that, in the end, Facebook poses the problem that democracies will have to solve.
- TechCrunch listed 11 separate controversies that resulted from Facebook being caught taking liberties with users’ data or trust. In most of these cases, the Zuckerberg response has been the same: sorrowful contrition followed by requests for forgiveness, topped off with resolutions to do better in future.
- Facebook can’t reform without changing its very nature.  
- Facebook’s core business is exploiting the personal data of its users. That is its essence. So expecting it to wean itself off that exploitation is like trying to persuade ExxonMobil that it should get out of the oil and gas business.

Time to quit it? Not convinced? Check out the articles below.

Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Galicia has a reputation for man-made ugliness (feismo), to set against the natural beauty of her countryside. No wonder, when you can see things like this as you drive into and out of Vigo.

  • I walked past this dreadful flat block in Poio the other day:-


The thought I had was that, ugly as it is, it's got nothing on some of the buildings in central Oporto . . 

Finally
  • If, like me, you're an elitist, this is a podcast that should make you think.

© Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 25.3.18

ARTICLES

1. One day our grandchildren will ask what Facebook was. Here’s what we’ll have to tell them:

Personally, I look forward to being old. How instructive it will be for the youth of tomorrow to gather at my feet, and listen eagerly as I recount the wisdom my generation has gleaned.

“Grandad, what was Facebook?”
“Well, lad, Facebook was a wonderful thing. Marvellous, it was. Basically, it was a system where you merrily handed over all your private details to one of the most powerful corporations on Earth, free of charge, and then a load of unseen opportunists used those details to con you into voting for dangerous lunatics.”
“But, Grandad, why did you sign up to that?”
“Well, that wasn’t our original reason for joining. We joined Facebook because we were excited about a new thing called ‘social media’.”
“What was social media?”
“It was a brilliant invention that made sure you never had to bother speaking to your friends ever again. In the old days, before Facebook, people actually used to phone their friends, to ask them how they were, and what they’d been up to.
"Some people, believe it or not, used to like their friends so much that they even wrote letters to them. Facebook meant you didn’t need to waste your time doing any of that any more. From then on you didn’t so much as write your friends an email.
"You’d just see a picture that a friend had posted of their legs on a sun-lounger, think, ‘Smug so-and-so, never liked him anyway’, and then scroll listlessly down the feed for another couple of hours or so, while ignoring your spouse and children.”
“Was that all you did on Facebook, Grandad? Stare at people’s holiday photos?”
“No no no, lad! Mainly we used it to stalk people we’d had unhealthy crushes on at school 25 years earlier. Oh, and to spread conspiracy theories, lies and propaganda from hyper-partisan political blogs and fake news sites, resulting in the undermining of democratic elections, the death of trust in public figures, the unstoppable rise of extremism, and the eventual collapse of civil society. Ah, those were the days.”
“Was Facebook the only form of ‘social media’, Grandad?”
“Oh no, there was lots more. Like Twitter. Twitter was different. You didn’t use Twitter to publish your holiday photos. You used Twitter to publish ill-advised rants and drunken abuse, thus unwittingly ruling yourself out of more senior employment for decades to come. Ah, I miss Twitter.
"It was wonderful, the way it irreparably reduced our society to savage tribalism. Did you know that of all the hundreds of millions of people who signed up to Twitter, every single one was at some time or another accused by complete strangers of being a transphobe?”
“Grandad, I’m not completely sure what ‘the internet’ was, but it doesn’t sound very nice.”
“Not very nice? The internet was tremendous, lad. So gloriously democratic. Before the internet, rabid antisemites, Stalin apologists and white supremacists hardly had a voice in this country. The poor creatures were almost completely shunned.
"But thanks to the internet they were all able to build enormous followings of the vulnerable, angry and ill-informed. And that wasn’t the only thing the internet was good for. It was also good for putting countless employers out of business, killing the music industry, closing every magazine and newspaper on Earth, and concentrating 98 per cent of the world’s wealth among a handful of sociopaths in California.”
“This has been really interesting, Grandad. But I’m starting to get a bit hungry. Do you mind if I eat that last piece of rat?”
“Hands off, lad. We’re saving that for next week’s dinner.”

2. Mark Zuckerberg is watching you, out of greed not fear: Niall Ferguson

Facebook is a more powerful surveillance tool than any imagined by Orwell

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the telescreen is the primary tool of totalitarian surveillance. It is, in Orwell’s words, “an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the wall . . . The instrument could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment . . . You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.”

Winston Smith (“6079 Smith W”) knows to keep his back to the telescreen as much as possible (“though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing”) and, when facing it, to wear an “expression of quiet optimism”. Under its unblinking gaze he has to participate in mandatory physical exercise — and the telescreen shrieks at him if he bends his knees when touching his toes.

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen . . . To wear an improper expression on your face was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: FACECRIME, it was called.”

For most of my life, ever since I read Orwell as a teenager, I have thanked God that I didn’t end up as a citizen of Airstrip One, living my life as a helot in thrall to Big Brother. It was not long after the actual year 1984, when I made my first visit to the Soviet Union, that I realised a significant part of humanity was in precisely that situation.

The Soviets lacked the technological skill to create the telescreen, but their system of surveillance — based on countless concealed microphones and cameras — did the job. Everything else about Soviet life was straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, particularly the disconnect between the strident propaganda (the pig-iron statistics and the military parades) and the dispiriting shabbiness of everyday life. How relieved I felt to return to capitalism and democracy.

Little did I know that the freest society in history — that of northern California — was already hard at work on the technology that would not only match but exceed the telescreen as a tool of surveillance.

The internet and the worldwide web, according to Silicon Valley pioneers such as John Perry Barlow, were supposed to create a libertarian paradise where netizens could roam free, beyond the reach of Big Brother and his ilk. As for making money . . . dude, the whole idea was just to connect the world.

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg, its chairman and chief executive, on the eve of its initial public offering. “It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.” He had told The Harvard Crimson in 2004, only five days after the launch of Thefacebook, that his aim was not to make money: “I’m not going to sell anybody’s email address.”

Five years later, by which time Facebook had about 200m users, Zuckerberg was asked by the BBC: “So who is going to own the Facebook content? The person who puts it there or you?” He replied: “The person who puts the content on Facebook always owns the information.”

BBC: “And you won’t sell it?”

MZ: “No, of course not.”

This was a disingenuous reply. To be sure, Zuckerberg has not — strictly speaking — sold Facebook users’ data. But he did not become a multibillionaire because all 2bn users mailed him 20 bucks to say, “Thanks for making the world more connected!”

In 2007 Facebook allowed users to build apps within its site — a decision that proved hugely popular as Facebook-based games proliferated. At the same time, users could sell their own sponsored advertisements.

Zuckerberg’s pursuit of advertising revenue nearly backfired with the introduction of Beacon, which gave companies direct access to the platform. It was Sheryl Sandberg’s job to make the transition to an advertising revenue model a success, as she had already done at Google.

The crucial difference was that Google simply helped people find the things they had already decided to buy, whereas Facebook enabled advertisers to deliver targeted messages to users, tailored to meet the preferences they had already revealed through their Facebook activity. Once adverts were seamlessly inserted into users’ news feeds on the Facebook mobile phone app, the company was on the path to vast profits, propelled by the explosion of smartphone usage.

The smartphone is our telescreen. And, thanks to it, Big Zucker is watching you — night and day, wherever you go. Unlike the telescreen, your phone is always with you. Unlike the telescreen, it can read your thoughts, predicting your actions before you even carry them out. It’s just that Big Zucker’s 24/7 surveillance isn’t designed to maintain a repressive regime. It’s simply designed to make money.

The only law of history is the law of unintended consequences. Is anyone — apart from Zuckerberg, that is — really surprised that, during the eight-year period when app developers had free access to Facebook users’ data, unscrupulous people downloaded and used as much as they could? Do we seriously believe that Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica are the only ones who did this? Can you give me one good reason why, after President Barack Obama and his minions smugly boasted about their use of Facebook in his 2012 re-election campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign was not entitled to try similar methods four years later?

So it goes, Mark. You set out to make the world more connected. You end up helping to elect President Trump, whose goal is — as we saw last week — the exact opposite. And all because you got greedy. You took Trump’s money. And you took Vladimir Putin’s, too.

The reputational damage has now been done. Regulation is coming, not to mention hefty fines. (As Zuckerberg himself said last week: “I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated.”) But the big question is how many people will actually leave Facebook.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, only members of the party elite are allowed to turn off their telescreens. For everyone else they are compulsory. But our iTelescreens are different, for we are addicted to them. As Sean Parker, the company’s first president, recently admitted, Facebook was set up to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology” by delivering “a little dopamine hit every once in a while”.

It took torture — followed by copious amounts of gin — finally to convince Winston Smith that “he loved Big Brother”. In that respect, too, Zuckerberg has gone one better than Orwell: “It was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He liked Big Zucker.”


THE END IS NIGH!

2 comments:

Perry said...

Colin,

The European arrest warrant is a very nasty piece of legislation.

By CARMEN PAUN 3/25/18, 1:46 PM CET

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was arrested on Sunday in Germany, his lawyer said.

German police stopped Puigdemont after he crossed the border by car from Denmark on his way back to Belgium from Finland, his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas tweeted. He has been treated correctly, and his legal defense has been activated, he said.

https://www.politico.eu/article/carles-puigdemont-catalonia-arrested-germany/

Perry said...

Facebook tempted the daughter of a friend to moan at length about her life & the stalled progress of her career. The daughter (now 51) has two degrees in mathematics, but has seen a younger woman promoted to a position to which the daughter had aspired. Intelligence is not wisdom. Wise people do not air their grievances to all & sundry. Potential employers read Facebook. Least said, soonest mended.

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