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The Next Great Digital Extinction (wired.com)
63 points by mooreds 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments





IMO "digital" world is a good mirror of society: we lost diversity, freedom, experimentation abilities in our society and IT reflect, maybe anticipate, that really well.

So a nice analogy far more "dark & real" can be about an imaginary corporatocracy like Continuum TV series, only without "game changing heroes" that are not much realistic. The realistic part can be "many little heroes" that protect themselves using free software as much as they can and thanks to their knowledge and propaganda they may change something not as single individual but as a "specie" :-)


"anticipate" is right. The computer security community is a good example.

He's basically copying Kurzweil's idea about the concept you get when you extend Moore's law into the past. But then he throws in something about being a bridge between the Japanese techno scene and the San Francisco rave scene, lol. I'm not sure if there's a point to the article. Maybe the point is that as technology advances we build more advanced things. Maybe the point is how the internet has been corporatized. But the whole article is kind of baseless. It's a story analogous to the reality we live in, at best.

I think this analogy is useful. However:

"the early cohort that set off the digital explosion is giving way to a new, more robust form of life"

At this point in time whatever creations mankind has brought to being can hardly be said to be robust. Everything digital is reliant on us to press the buttons, build devices and make decisions. And we rely on the old ecology. If we can no longer live in this world neither can anything digital.


In addition to being a massive extinction event, the oxygenation of the planet kicked off the evolution of multi-cellular organisms (620 million to 550 million years ago), the Cambrian explosion of new species (550 million years ago), and an ice-age that triggered the end of the dinosaurs and many cold-blooded species, leading to the emergence of mammals as the apex group (66 million years ago) and eventually resulting in the appearance of Homo Sapiens with all of their social sophistication and complexity (315,000 years ago).

Okay, so first of all, the oxygenation of the planet can't be held responsible for all of those things. The evolution of multi-cellular life? Sure. The Cambrian explosion? Probably. But oxygenation can't even be held responsible for the start of the dinosaurs, much less their end. The mass-extinction that set the stage for the dinosaurs was the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which killed off 96% of ocean organisms and 70% of land organisms. The current hypothesis for the P-Tr extinction is volcanism, or perhaps the spread of anoxic water throughout the ocean.

The dinosaurs, as we all know, were killed off by the asteroid that resulted in the Chixclub impact crater off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula. An alternative explanation is that they were killed off by effects of climate change from the Deccan Flats supervolcano. Neither has anything to do with the Great Oxygenation Event.

This isn't nitpicking, because it demonstrates that the author of the article is essentially muddled on what they're comparing the digital transformation of our lives to. Is it like the Great Oxygenation Event, causing pain in the near term in exchange for opening up new modes of production in the future? Is it like the P-Tr mass extinction -- poorly understood phenomenon that will wipe out most businesses today, replacing them with forms of life that could not be imagined beforehand? Is it like the K-T exinction? A massive hit from an "alien" technology that wipes out old, slow-moving companies are replaces them with smaller, faster ones?

Instead of treating all of these mass extinctions as separate, the author tries to treat them all as a single thing, leading back to the great oxygenation event. Similarly, they try to treat all the waves of digital technology as a single phenomenon, ignoring the fact that social networks today are substantially different from the way they were imagined when The Well was in operation. Yes, there are similarities, just as both we and dinosaurs were oxygen breathing creatures. But the difference between Facebook and BBS's are just as, if not more, relevant than their similarities.

As a result of this forced analogy, the entire piece reads like a muddled mish-mash of various events in the history computing, science fiction, and Silicon Valley culture all forced to map to various events in geological history. It's tiresome, and it does more to obscure the author's point than it does to illuminate it.


> The dinosaurs, as we all know, were killed off by [...]

> An alternative explanation is that they were killed off by [...]

Sounds like we don't 'all know' after all.


You seem to be tripped up on the difference between causality and necessary conditions, and also on analogies, generally.

As but one quibble: you can't admit oxygenation to be necessary for multicellular life but not dinosaurs. Unless there are some single-celled dinosaurs, which I am now liable to dream about, thankyouverymuch.


It’s great to have a first-hand account of how this mess started.

Large parts of the tech community seem to not just be blind to the consequences of their work, but to openly embrace and nurture the destruction of the fabric of society.

This used to find voice in utopian visions of a sort of libertarian, meritocratic revival of democracy: bloggers replacing journalists, "makers", liquid democracy, etc. There are two successful examples of this spirit I can think of: Wikipedia, and OSS.

Unfortunately, this movement also had/has a destructive streak. Partly because these new ideas had existing competitors that needed to be cut down to make room, and partly because they experienced opposition from existing players (sometimes only tangentially related) that quickly became branded as enemies.

Two sides of the same philosophy. Guess which one had more staying power? Just look at the fate of The Pirate Bay vs The Pirate Party to get an idea. Or take this quiz: (a) Name a website distributing scientific papers with no concern for copyright. (b) Name an Open Access journal.

With regard to the specific topic of the paper, namely information (and political news specifically) those ideas of the citizen-blogger have actually disappeared so thoroughly, you are likely to have no idea what I'm referencing if you are under 30 years of age. And while those ideas were initially coupled with a disdain for established institutions and the press because it was a storyline in need of a villain, the ideas died yet the rot feasting on our sources of shared truth survived.

The target of all this destructive energy is, as a first approximation, the very concept of trust. Trust cannot be trusted is a sort-of mantra, that not only gives sense to what would otherwise just be existential dread aimlessly seeking escape in vandalism (4chan). It also makes you appear cool & in the know: "I wonder who paid for this article", "everybody knows a study with n=20000 is underpowered", "<X> wouldn't do <Y> unless <convoluted way to reduce all human activity to a profit motive>".

On rare occasions, this destructive mindset still has the spark of creativity: Bitcoin, for all its flaws, is (was?) somewhat impressive. Yet it was always rooted in this sort of cynicism that distrusts institutions and the power of humans to have any positive impact with anything but the tools of physics and math: to wit, the endless conspiracy theories around the FED, the infatuation with Gold and land, etc. In the realm of politics, the destruction is just about total. Nothing of value was created. Meanwhile, the community gleefully watches the destruction of the free press, fine-tuning their adblockers because "information wants to be free", or because that newspaper whose articles they desperately want to read nonetheless made the fateful error of using the wrong JS framework, or something, but in any case, it's their fault if they can't survive. Plus they are just part of Soros' campaign anyway. Everybody knows that.


What pay-walled news source of the “free” press would you say is valuable to read? How would you define its value?

What is positive impact?

You dismiss people who see value in gold. You then lament over a lack in value creation. You must have quite an idea as to what value is. Can you explain?




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