Thursday, January 3, 2013

What About the Internet?

                              Unless you are drunk all the time, and totally uncomprehending of the real world, then you must know that when you boot up your computer all privacy vanishes. It is amazing to me that there are people, very well known people, who think they can send Emails to their second significant other; and get away with it! Why do well known people persist in getting into jams? It can't be ignorance, else why would they be well known? In our present fruity world of money and fame the claim of intelligence may be specious, but how can they be that dumb?

Folksy monastery worker on internet machine.
   Doesn't any one think it is laughable to expect privacy even—especially—when Facebook or Google are busy claiming it? It is an amazing hypocrisy when without a visible tremor they claim privacy at the same time as they are turning privacy into existential data that they will sell to the highest bidder. Can it be that they honestly don't know what hypocrisy is? To the Zuckerbergs, for instance, hypocrisy must be such a rare and vague term that it is mysteriously beyond their intellectual capacity to define it. But there is nothing complicated about hypocrisy. When you would do to others what you would bitch and complain about the others doing to yourself, that is hypocrisy.
   Why would any busy technocrat complain when their system gets hacked? The hacking goes both ways. But that's not the sum of the issue. The important facts relate to this wonderment: why do people seem so eager to put up with it? Why are the most personal matters imaginable regularly discussed on Facebook? Why do the most incriminating Emails continue to be entered into Google Mail? How has it come to be that most people do not really care whether or not they are tracked from the minute they get up to when they finally shut off the electronics and go to bed at night? Even if they are guilty of some very embarrassing transgression, they seem nonplussed.
   Can it be that the claim of innocence is retained even amidst their transgression? I have often thought that criminals are how they are because they are incapable of seeing clearly enough to disclaim innocence in anything. I think it would be farfetched to think they don't understand evil; they just don't understand what they are doing, whether good or evil. They live in the fog. Either that or they think that what they are doing is something they have to do.
   The Zuckerbergs—yes, even they get burned—are not as much to blame as one might think. After all they are capitalists who want to make money, else why would they be capitalists? Who are to blame are the consumers who lie timidly in the middle of the road while a convoy of trucks rolls over them. Can it be that they want to get caught? Or can it be that there is no privacy any more anywhere, and no matter what you do or how you do it, you are going to get found out? This attitude may even effect the thinking of famous ladies who cannot escape being photographed. Still, though they are constantly one step away from internet notoriety, they get hardened to it, and they will survive. It is worse to watch children ruin their lives. They think their "friends" on the internet will really be there for them. Why should they understand that they won't? They are not old enough to understand much of anything.
   I remember the day I downloaded on the trusty old iBook the Swiss Army knife of all apps, that sprawling mansion of open source, dripping with a patina of nostalgia and hope, Emacs. Before that I had hardly any interest in the Internet. I thought that watching clumsy, silly You Tube videos all day was a total waste of time. Then all those You Tube videos and websites taught me how to use Emacs. I really did want to get Google and flash off my back, but they were teaching me. Eventually, I booted directly into Emacs and used it for everything. I hooked it up to WWW and an Emailer. I did everything on it, or whatever I could do, given the fact that my hardware had gone past. Then I gave up on OS X. Where did Apple get off trying to tell me to do this or that? Instead I installed a bed of roll-your-own Debian. When I had a question I emailed a Chinese comrade. My cloud was a 1G snap drive I carried around in my pocket. It was a simple world without distractions. For hour after hour I tapped out sentences, rolling back the darkness assaulting me, and since they couldn't fine me, I was of no interest to anybody.
  For me, the snap drive had been the game changer. I could finally backup easily and safely. I did not need to put my precious files at risk. But then there was Dropbox, and I began to use the cloud. The cloud! That mysterious feeling of Zen. That deep down feeling that somebody up there cares about me, and He will not let my precious files die. It was a service; it worked. Also, I evolve into solid state disk drives, which are much faster and more efficient. But unlike a platter disk drive, it is very hard to get any data off an SSD that has ceased to function. Back-ups have to stay up to date. Starting around 2009 my journals are full of enthusiastic notes about the wonders of Dropboxing. I didn't have to carry a flash drive around any more! I had been using Dropbox on my desktop since 2008. No matter what OS I was using it was very easy to install. It was cleverly done and although it tended to use quite a bit of juice just sitting there, it seemed fail safe. The best thing was: when I started to use SSD's, I could depend on Dropbox to give me a relatively instantaneous backup. Should the SSD—this in my experience is farfetched—suddenly quit, very little work would be lost, if anything at all.
   Then the famous Google ad came out. In this ad laptop after laptop was destroyed in numerous egregious ways by a weird looking person in order to demonstrate how Google, custodian of our precious files, still remained for another day. Of course, on the other hand, wifi in the outback of Australia? 3G? I think, as I remember, the scenario was a safari in Africa. Google has always considered itself omnipresent, sort of like God. I guess you would be dumb to miss the point. Why should they have to tell you? Google is the web; Dropbox is a disciple.
   Now I was actually using Dropbox. It seemed like a good idea. I could use the desktop back home in the monastery and the laptop on the road. The theory was that if what I was working on was in the Dropbox—Why wouldn't it be?—the files would be the same (synced, another buzzword) whether desktop or laptop.
   Then I began to hear rumors? I couldn't have been the only one. Security was easily breached; valuable files were lost. They disappeared into the digital never land of flickering, multicolored bytes. This went along with the news about keystroke identifiers—spyware—and Email thefts and password hacks and all the other stuff. And, seriously, who is in control of my files? And why would he be more worried about my files than I am? Why should he be less prone to error than I am?
   Suppose I am an important person. Why would I want some innocent peccadillo to be bandied about via the internet? Needless to say, my fellow Americans, we do not tend to be monks in monasteries. Surely a computer shouldn't make anyone want to be a monk in a monastery! Our laptops now have powerful batteries. We are off to visit this person and that. What about the wifi at the airport, or in that truck stop you had lunch at? Or suppose no wifi at all. Pencil and paper? What's that?
  The answer must be that 3G dongle. Be serious. (They say 4G is better.) (And incidentally, you're running 4G on, say, Linode or even Amazon. You had better be prepared to get up off your wallet. Dropbox can get expensive too.) Set up an SSH tunnel to the monastery at home? A possibility I guess. Really, how much faster is 4G when you have a hundred or so files to transfer? It's a big tangle and confusion. The privacy issues make me extremely nervous. There was all this other stuff too. It began to remind me of fishing in a swamp. Why would you want to go there?
   Now, at some point I made a difficult decision to organize my data. There was so much of it, what could I do? After much thought, because my database was going crazy and I was going crazy trying to organize it, I invested in a very nice search and organizer app. It certainly wasn't Emacs, but it had a lot of cute frills. You know how they do. So it happens that it runs only on OS X, (boy am I dumb, that is so dumb!) and certainly not Chromium or Zoho writer. Anybody who thinks they are going to get serious work done on Chromium or Zoho writer will soon be disillusioned. Richard Stallman is all over the internet warning people of the dangers of proprietary software. Stallman gave away Emacs. I hate painting myself into a shadowy corner, but I bought into commercial software. In fact, I am writing this on DEVONthink rather than Emacs. In five years DEVONthink may be in the toilet while Emacs will be sailing merrily along. If I have a couple of terabytes of files organized on DEVONthink, which goes belly up, how commercial companies often manage to do, then what? Or suppose I take a disliking to Apple hardware? All my carefully organized files have suddenly become a chaos. Fortunately, U*NIX has Sed and Grep, should the very worst transpire. My excuse is that in writing you tend to collect things. I don't know why; you'd think I'd develop a better memory.
   One day I picked up a bug in St. Paul. It takes a half hour to boot up. Now what? I can't afford another MacBook. I'm trying to fix it, via the internet (wifi in truck stop restaurant), and I need to download 2G's of files from the monastery. It's a jungle out there. Was it the bug, or did Dropbox mash my files? But is that really the issue. The issue is: I gave up possession of my files. Why would I do that? It's convenient. There's a Zen thing. Me and my little touch tablet on the road. I am me, spiritual wanderer. "If I get burned, I get burned." I have thought that in innocence quite a few times in my life, and it never worked out.
   So there I am. The new man at work, outsourcing my backups, and, I might add, attempting to outsource a load of other things, too. It doesn't work out very well; nice in theory. If I stayed in the monastery and didn't have to actually go to work, it might have been all right.
   It was such a relief to get off the Dropbox. I still have it in my arsenal, and might sneak in a file now and then, but I don't depend on it. I have to pack a little extra junk—an external drive and a little safety case of snap drives. But it seems to me I sleep better at night.

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