Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Internet is Dead as We Knew It.

For two wonderful decades we didn't know we had it so good. The internets, the interwebs, the information coming down the tubes - as one US Congressman assigned to legislate the internet referred to the world wide Web or collaborative computer content.

The secret to the freewheeling, anything goes, ground breaking library of information and creativity came about for two reasons, first: the internet and the development of computers in general hurtled forward faster than anyone could imagine and the legislators and capitalists simply couldn't keep up.

Second: People hate change, so the people in power, the power generation that ruled before computers, couldn't conceive of the old ways being superseded so completely in such a short space of time.

It takes an incredible force to sweep out the powerful on the back of new innovation. Take the oil companies for example. New energies are out there, but the majority of the money for research, development and public relations messages are spent on the fossil fuel industries.

Even name changes like clean energy and clean coal have received countless billions to ingrain them in popular culture, but until someone develops an electric, wind powered, garbage converting engine that matches the current models and costs less and is more convenient to Jill and John Public - Oil, coal and gas will be here to stay.

That smaller, faster, less expensive engine is exactly what happened in the computer industry. Someone built a better mousetrap and they did it in a very short space of time.

In 1987 I bought my first personal computer. An XT with 128mb of hard drive memory. The salesman assured me I could never fill that much space in my lifetime.

Fifteen years later I was downloading TV shows while working in Poland and each downloaded show was around 250mb.

Telephone, TV, Email, Music, Accounting, Graphics and everything related to it from films to games, the stock market, wifi, bluetooth, smart phones - the list is endless and ever growing.

Most of us, certainly me, couldn't imagine a day without waking up and checking at least three online communication sites. Everything we do and say is now, in some way, governed by computers.

And the creative, nerdy geniuses who tried so valiantly to create a new world order of shared information have now been figuratively and literally (Julian Assange, Edward Snowden), locked up and shoved to one side as the lawyers, accountants and monetizing profit chasers have moved in and set up camp at the gates to the internet.

I believe we should pay a fair price for product, be it creative content or productivity software. Just as we pay for the hardware we should have to pay/reward the creators of software. But there's a limit to what we should have to pay and how, and also to the way we pay it and when. It is getting increasingly harder to do anything other than doing it in the prescribed way as dictated by those billionaires now coding the machine.

Before I tackle this wider question I need to make special mention of the extremist group within the computer community. Those who fall just short of knocking on your door to tell you to change your ways, to let him into your heart and give yourself over to his many wonderful gifts.

Of course we are talking of the late and great Steve Jobs and his devout Apple/Mac followers - who simply can't conceive why the whole world hasn't converted to their way of thinking. If they just started killing non believers they would qualify for a tax break as an organised religion. But Apple have always had an eye on the bottom line and that was part of Jobs' genius. If you are an Apple/Mac user you are a slave to doing things their way. And yes, I know, 'Their way is a really good and easy way where everything just works, but it is still their way. No exceptions. You play, pay and even cache their way and you pay for it. Admittedly Jobs knew the simple rule to make people pay - make it as simple as possible and he did and has for a long time. The Iphone and associated Apps being his perfect model.

Foxconn has employed an extra 90,000 factory workers to build the iPhone 5S
But even through the rhetoric, many of my friends who are born again Apple addicts still bit torrent the shit out of everything and anything and thanks to the pirates (bay) of the internet who are fighting the good fight to allow everyone the right to share, use and participate in the global economy, it is still possible to work around the system - even a great system like Apple.

And while these Pirates may not have found a way to stream food and water to the starving and sick, they have found a way to get Mylie Cyrus into the calloused hands of the eight year old Chinese garment workers.

Meanwhile, back at Bill Gates' house, Windows 8 has arrived to make life easier for brain dead tablet users who simply want to point and tap and have the computer do what they want it to do. Microsoft word 365 can now set you back $9.95 a month for life. Any older Office version is now obsolete on Windows 8 as everyone down the line feverishly works at maximizing the dollar income for their product.

We live in a world where every person in the western world has bought Beatles' songs in a different format for every decade of their life. Ten years ago a cafe quality expresso machine cost three to four hundred dollars. Then someone saw what computer printing machine companies had done - the machine costs between $99 and $200 and the ink cartridges cost $35 each. Most cartridges last 800 to 1000 pages and for most home users this is 3 to 5 cartridges a year. Photo quality ink and paper is a little more - but inside a year you have paid more than you did for the printer and remarkably, flying in the face of industry best practice of planned obsolescence, a printer now miraculously - just keeps on working. Isn't that odd? And for every year of its life it pays for itself in cartridge costs over again.

Seeing this model and realising they were missing out on a revenue stream, Espresso makers incorporated whipped their fair quality/fair priced machines off the shop floor and replaced them with Espresso machines that take uniquely designed capsules, produced by the same corporation and costing about half of what a cafe coffee costs. This machine pays for itself many times over a year in capsule sales alone. Once again they have suckered millions into providing them with an ongoing revenue stream.

Computers are using this model.

Imagine if you got into your car one morning, turned the key and had a message light up on the dash board - "Your car's engine and wheels are no longer compatible. We can upgrade your engine, but you will need to purchase new wheels before your car will run. Do you want to update and purchase now?"

This is the model we have allowed the digital hardware and software giants to confuse and bluff by us with arguments of an ever changing, highly complex and expanding digital age.

I am sure it would be impossible for anyone to create a new operating system that was compatible with software that worked perfectly on an old version. Of course it's not possible - these guys are only good at creating brand new products that are as bold as anything any of us can dream of - who dreams of compatibility? The latest interesting feature is that Windows 8 doesn't recognize POP email. Huh? It seems however if you swap to Gmail - then the G-mail App apparently works. I didn't try it - I simply found a free app - downloaded it in about 10 seconds and found my email fly into its organiser. Amazing isn't it that these independent App designers could do so simply what all the billions of dollars worth of coding talent in Microsoft couldn't manage. Do they own G-mail? No, I'm sure Microsoft wouldn't be trying to force that on people. That's just me being a conspiracy nut. Oh, wait - they do own G-mail.

Their suggested solution, as provided within Windows 8 help, is to ring your email provider and ask to be changed to the new IMAP format. But then none of your old devices reading POP would work, so you'd have to upgrade them as well. Squeak, Squeak. We are the hamster on this digital wheel of innovation and they are seeing how long we will run with no reward.

Their system does work without any glitches if you follow their instructions and integrate all your online activity into one giant, self exposing binary blurt of information about who you are, what you like and what you do. Can't imagine how that would help them make money - oh yeah, facebook, using exactly that technique is now worth 100 Billion.

I am not against Windows 8 by the way. It's a great system and straddles the current hurdle between touch devices and genuine PCs. I am a writer. I need Office or Pages - I need Final Draft because companies who hire me specify Final Draft scripts be used, I need Google and all its reference capabilities.

The cloud storage is great - I'm happy to have a backup, but I am often not online. I get sent all over the world to work and it often takes a while for me to set my base up and get wifi or cable to be online. I like to work and I always work while travelling on a plane or in a car/bus in a foreign land. Can I pull a file I need to work on from the cloud while in a cloud on a plane? No.

I am not the only one - I know this because Apps have appeared - Cloudon - etc that help you quickly transfer files from the cloud to your computer. My understanding of computers means I don't need cloudon - it was very easy, but still not obvious, unless you had even a basic understanding of how computers worked, on my new laptop that came equipped with Windows 8. But then that's the trick. The new press and play mentality means many users no longer have even this elementary understanding of what's going on behind their welcome screens.

I like knowing how to format things and make them play and store the way I want them done - not their way. Because when I first got the computer, almost every single thing I pressed took me to an option to pay for more service, to enroll, to sign up to 'needed' software that would be provided for an ongoing payment. None of it was needed, all of it would have cluttered up my machine and made it run slower down the line.

I don't want ongoing payments. I don't want ongoing messages asking me to use product I haven't yet used. I have a security preference and regardless of the fact you came with the package - I am ignoring you for a reason - I have made a choice not to use you.

So that brings me full circle to my point. My 30 month old Nephew is a whiz on Apple. Loves his iPad. He looks at magazines and thinks they are broken iPads, but he's not my child - so that's funny to me. He can make his not broken iPad do anything he wants because he's learnt what it wants him to want.

I am sure there are Apple users out there who do some things their way rather than just accepting it must be done as the instruction manual says - please let me know if you are such a rebel.

For me, I am happy to pay for product I need and will use all the time, but I believe I should be able to buy it once and use it until the world has made it antiquated and in need of an update - not because a company tells me its time for their ongoing fee. I will join what I want to join and go where I want to go - I won't do any of it because you are forcing those choices on me. In short - make it worthwhile to pay the fee you ask or expect someone with an original mind to help the rest of us find an alternative way to use and abuse your product.

That's the way software and the internet have always been, but I fear the corporations are snapping all the original thinkers up and pretty soon they'll have more brain power than that geeky sixteen year old neighbour who spends his life at his computer trying to help the rest of us stay free from ongoing fees.

My only solace is sixteen year old social rejects have more time on their hands than anyone could possible imagine - and that's the original formula that created the digital revolution to begin with, so, fingers crossed, it's my hope that the revolution has just hit a hiatus and is not irretrievably lost.

Don't pay the ferryman,
Don't even fix a price,
Don't pay the ferryman,
Until he gets you to the other side




  1. You are using my copyrighted photo on your website. Please remove. Thank you.

    1. Happy to remove it - but which picture - your link is dead.