Cory Doctorow: The Shitty Tech Adaption Curve – oppressive technology is normalized and distributed through all levels of society.
created a Tweetstorm that is worth including here.
For those who are unaware, he's a noted author and longtime activist fighting fights that we care about.
Without further ado: The Shitty Tech Adaption Curve
The Shitty Tech Adoption Curve describes the process by which oppressive technology is normalized and distributed through all levels of society. The more privilege someone has, the harder it is to coerce them to use dehumanizing tech, so it starts with marginalized people.
Microsoft Productivity Score graphic
Asylum seekers, prisoners and overseas sweatshop workers get the first version. Its roughest edges are sanded off against their tenderest places, and once it's been normalized a little, we inflict it on students, mental patients, and blue collar workers.
Lather, rinse, repeat: before long, everyone's been roped in. If your meals were observed by a remote-monitored CCTV 20 years ago, it was because you were in a supermax prison. Today, it's because you bought a home video surveillance system from Google/Apple/Amazon.
The lockdown has been a powerful accellerant for shitty technology adoption curve: the combination of an atomized polity that can't have in-person solidarity conversations and overall precarity has kicked off a powerful #shockdoctrine for tech surveillance.
Pre-pandemic, work-from-home call-center workers (mostly poor Black women) lived under surveillance that transformed "work from home" to "live at work." The tech preserved the fiction that these misclassified employees were "independent contractors."
Call Center Workers Pay For The Privilege
Within days of the lockdown, this technological oppression raced up the privilege gradient in the form of "invigilation" software like @proctorio, cruel surveillance tools inflicted on university students. The company is pursuing its critics in court.
Educator sued for criticising "invigilation" tool
Now, every remote worker is in line to get the treatment previously reserved for misclassified employees and college kids. Microsoft has rolled out on-by-default workplace surveillance for Office 365.
Microsoft has turned Office 360 into a full-fledged surveillance tool
The tool tracks every click and interaction by employees and presents managers with leaderboards showing relative "productivity" of each employee, down to how many mentions they get in workplace emails.
As @WolfieChristie points out in his thread, the arbitrary metrics that Microsoft has chosen will have a hugely distorting effect on workplace behavior. Remember Goodhart's Law: "Any measure becomes a target, and then ceases to be a useful measure."
This is the quantitative fallacy on steroids: software can't measure qualitative factors like whether your work accomplished "soft goals" like "a better product" or "a conceptual breakthrough."
So they blithely vaporize these qualitative elements and do math on the dubious quantitative residue left behind. It's the data scientist's version of looking for your keys under the lamp-post: "We can't do math on it, so we won't consider it."
It's a far cry from the early days of Microsoft, when Bill Gates mocked IBM for paying programmers by how many lines of code they produced, calling it "the race to build the world's heaviest airplane."
I wonder if the programmers who built this feature are subjected to it themselves? And if not, I wonder when they will be.
I mean, they won't be in the EU. This shit is radioactively illegal under the GDPR. But Americans have FREEDOM.
Now, you may be thinking, "I bet the managers who use this tool will regret it when THEIR bosses start using it on THEM."
You're thinking too small. Microsoft has ambition: they're not subjecting MANAGERS to this, they're subjecting COMPANIES to it.
Microsoft incentivizes companies to turn on an industry-wide comparison "feature" that sends ALL YOUR EMPLOYEE DATA to Microsoft and then gives you a chart telling you how your employees fare against their counterparts elsewhere.
You get a chart. Microsoft gets fine-grained data on your company's operations - data it can sell, or mine, or you know, just lose control over and leak all over the internet. That's some unprecedented Shitty Tech Adoption Curve accelerationism right there.
Not since the day when Amazon convinced Borders Books (RIP) to use it for all digital ordering and fulfilment (giving Amazon 100% access to all Borders' customer data) has a tech company offered a shadier B2B deal.
Last year, @FutureTenseNow and @imaginationASU asked me to write some fiction illustrating the Shitty Technology Adoption Curve. The result it "Affordances," a story that grows dismally more relevant with each passing day.
submitted by trai_dep
Questions from a democratic socislist wanting to learn more about libertarians
I tend to primarily frequent more left-leaning social media. Most my immediate family, friends and even co-workers identify at least as liberal, if not progressive or more rarely "democratic socialists," as Bernie Sanders helped popularize this election cycle.
However, I've still gotten into it with a number of self-described libertarians online and I try to keep an open mind, but usually leave kind of baffled on a number of points.
I'll preface this by acknowleding the questions and impressions I share here are going to be based on anecdotal interactions almost entirely with randos online. Of course, libertarians are not a monolith, so no one libertarian speaks for all and I'm sure there's no one "kind" of libertarian. I'm genuinely interested in learning about those nuances to round out my knowledge of the political landscape. And I suspect to find we have more things in common than our respective stereotypes might suggest.
Mainly, I guess I want to ask about more economic topics. Generally, the libertarians I've chatted with seem to prefer as little government regulation on the market as possible, or even no government regulation. They seem to believe in the market's ability to self-regulate via factors like supply and demand or even corporations agreeing to mutually beneficial standards and practices.
My problem is I struggle to reconcile that with a lot of the inhumane business practices we've seen in the market over the course of history. Often it seems like government intervention is needed. Like slavery. We needed a Constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.* We even had a whole war about it.
But we even have modern day slavery very much perpetuated by American corporations. I forget the particular corporations or industry (think it might have been chocolate), but a while ago I read about how some Western companies had signed a pact to ensure all their products were slave labor free. I thought, "That's great! But also, holy shit, slave labor?!"
On the flip side, I recognize that's an example of the market self-regulating. Although I do wonder how much of a factor potential government regulation played in them saying hey, we may as well try to self-regulate first before the government comes in and imposes even harsher regulations. In some cases, potentially ones that are needlessly harsh. I think we've seen similar situations with the video game industry, such as ratings boards and loot boxes. I don't think I've seen like a coalition of video game publishers coming together to say no to loot boxes, but they do seem to be decreasing in prevalence (or at least repackaged) thanks in some part to self-regulation as a response to public outcry ... but yes, also government regulation, as I believe some countries like Belgium did pass some shit.
*Before anyone else points it out, let me acknowledge, yeah, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude "except as punishment for a crime." Which essentially means the US government possesses the sole authority to enslave American citizens, although they sure love contracting out the enforcement of said slavery to for-profit prisons.
Moreover, to tie into my other slavery example, I realize the existence of exploitable labor in other countries at least partly exists because of those countries' proportionally lax labor laws. However, therein also lies the implication that those countries' governments could abolish or at least mitigate those conditions. And that economic benefit from Western corporations might be a factor in why said countries drag their feet to improve worker conditions.
Where I usually arrive at when circling around this particular topic (and many others) is that neither libertarianism nor authoritarianism are perfect conceptualizations for any society. The image of the benevolent government and the benevolent corporation are both pretty BS. They can be mutually regulating and mutually corrupting. Maybe there's an argument to be made for which is the original source of all society's failings, but ultimately are we just talking about different manifestations of the same fundamental thing? That is, power?
I guess the libertarian argument might be that the market can be the key to your uncompromised individual agency, but how can that be true given its often abstracted valuation of currency? Currency which we do not equally share in the responsibility of valuing?
Is that really much different than government? Are votes, public opinion, reputation and fame not just in a way their own currencies by which an individual or organization might "buy" a favorable outcome to some kind of interpersonal transaction? Currencies that can be disproportionately distributed?
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm intentionally trying to be obtuse or anything. I really am trying to discuss this in good faith. This deconstructive approach seems like a logical exercise to me, but I'd be happy to hear real-world and conceptual counterarguments.
One other topic I wanted to address is unions, as I may soon be starting a union job and I've always supported unionization from afar. Now, I've always assumed unions were an exclusively socialist concept, but I talked to one self-described libertarian online who told me unions are totally consistent with libertarianism, so long as they're established by a collective of workers by way of the free market, rather than government regulation.
And I can see a lot of sense to that. My concern is that it's easier said than done for some fields than others. Like by and large, unions seems most common in more blue-collar lines of work. I wonder if that's because those businesses are more vulnerable to worker organization, as they're pretty in-person fields, maybe you have more unmonitored communication and they can literally stop working and have a pretty major impact.
That said, a lot of white-collar professions seem set up specifically to prevent such organization. Workers are a lot more compartmentalized, a lot more communication is monitored, and automation and remote contractors probably make it a lot easier to fill in temporary worker shortages in the event of a strike. Plus, as much as I'm totally stoked about how many office jobs have switched to work from home during the pandemic, I also see this as a perfect recipe for emboldening corporations' anti-union efforts.
In this case, it seems like some sort of government intervention may be needed. At the very least, those industries could use some help ensuring workers the right to organize and rooting out corporations' deliberate attempts to prevent organization. Because there's probably a good case to be made a specific government regulation may not address the particulars of that industry well enough, so maybe it's best for a collective of workers to tackle those nitty gritty details.
Does any of this sound like it'd fly with libertarianism? Where do you stand on unions in general?
It just seems to me that we get so caught up in these government vs. individual rights, free market vs. regulated market debates, when the real problem is ... and probably has been throughout the majority of history ... up top. The detached politicians, the megalomaniac CEO. They're two sides of the CEO. They're a ruling class and they all need to be taken down a peg.
The US federal government is disproportionately composed of one-percenters and white-collar professionals. Then when a genuine working-class US representative comes along, she's demonized by half the country. Y'know who I mean. I literally have a Republican congressional candidate in my own state calling out AOC in her TV ads, even though AOC isn't even from our fucking state. She also calls out Pelosi, which I get, she's the speaker. But why AOC over literally any other Democratic representative? Why not the ones from our state? I know why: Because AOC is treated like a socialist boogeyman across the whole country, even though she's probably one in a relatively small percent of the federal government who can actually relate to the average US worker.
Sorry, that was a tangent, but I keep seeing those TV ads and they rile me up.
Anyway, the point is the government needs to better reflect its constituents.
On the market side, fuck billionaires. All of 'em. Even Bill Gates, who I get a lot of liberals like because he has cool liberal ideas that he gets to pursue with his billions, but I hate the idea of an unelected private citizen holding that much sway over our lives. Even if he might pursue things I like.
I know people argue he's self-made, Microsoft was his company, those were his profits, etc. However, I think when we're dealing with a corporation of that scale, there should be more ethical questions as to what that company owes to its employees, its community, our infrastructure and even the existing market?
Like why do we act like a business' only responsibility is to generate profit for its shareholders? Why do we not hold them equally responsible to keep their workers employed? Or to not harm the planet?
I know to an extent, we do give them some responsibilities in all of those areas. But in the US especially, they seem lax. And conservatives seem hellbent on freeing corporations from those regulations as much as possible. They claim it's because the market will work those things out on their own, but I don't know if they wiiiiiiiiiiiill. Companies sure don't seem to do a lot of things if they're not profitable and just because something's not profitable doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile endeavor.
Like why should we wait for market factors to be juuuuuuust right to solve world hunger, climate change, violence and diseases? Y'know how much food we waste every year? How many houses sit empty? How much medication is sold at outrageous prices?
There is a clear disconnect between the concrete reality of our resources and our willingness to distribute them to those who need them.
It might be argued that they're businesses, their sole purpose is to turn a profit. Why? To me, they seem like just another way to organize goods, labor and wealth. Why should we not set greater expectations for how a business, any business, serves the public good? Why should that not be at the bedrock of a corporation, rather than something they do to save face with consumers?
To me, it seems like the most important battle is for a redistribution of wealth AND political agency to the average American. And I do mostly think these things will have to work in tandem, because the market and government seem pretty inseparable at this point. An absolutist view in either direction seems like it'd probably be dystopic. Either the USSR or United States of Disney.
I used some labels for myself and for others in this post, but I know we all don't fit neatly into any label, much as we might want people and issues to be so simple.
I just think whatever labels we use, whatever policies you support, we're all mostly trying to arrive at the same fundamental goals. Less violence, disease, fighting, poverty, hunger, etc.
The difference in beliefs seems to be how we get there. I might say more regulation needs to comes from the government--that is, a government by the people, for the people, not one by one-percenter career politicians whose families probably haven't worked a day of genuine labor in their lives. Whereas a libertarian might say such power imbalances must be corrected through an unimpeded market.
The absolutists among us are bound to be disappointed. I don't see a way one school of thought exists without the other. We may have to work together on this shit. Which is why I'm reaching out.
I genuinely want to learn more from you. The issues you care about and how you might approach them. What you see as the follies of the "other side."
As a bonus, what the fuck do you want? For yourself, your families, your country, our planet, and the future of all of it.
We're all people and I assume we generally have positive intentions. I just want to narrow the communication gap so we can spend less time hurling partisan rhetoric at each other and more time trying to understand.
submitted by Serdones