Free Expression and The Connecticon: can we lose what we never had?

Somewhere in the world, whether your idea of it evokes a rectangular shape with timezones and searchable landscapes, a blue sphere in decaying natural resources, a colorful design masterpiece for the newest global data analysis or simply the expanding life that we get to share with other human beings and creatures, they’re asking: where’s Tom? When Myspace was founded, in 2003, the internet was a swamp, but that’s a statement coming from a man in his early thirties who’s been around the web since 2003 exactly. That was also when I first knew what having a relationship was, and as much as I want to keep this part of my life private and have tried for a full decade to keep myself from telling one story after another, I think it’s enough to say I didn’t talk much, and resorted to my contact with reading, which was based on translated Harry Potter, though I’d played pretty much every Nintendo 64 game. Let me draw the landscape: globalization, books, relationships and games.

I can’t draw. Since George Friedman is too difficult for me and a man like Noam Chomsky probably doesn’t talk about tech in his newest titles, I would have to read on the web about Microsoft and its leading role in the 1990s to understand that development was significantly slow, and probably I’d hear a lot of people saying Yahoo! and ICQ were competitors in the messaging world, and I’m not smart enough to start talking about e-mail and why there used to be tons of options for this basic service – or is it a product? I have to assume you had different ways of looking at the web, and the telecommunications world understood we were witnessing change in significant proportions, but when I got a call from my first girlfriend at 6 years old, the landline was the size of my entire head. I guess there was something else happening in Gonzaga, and obviously or not, in America. When Bill Clinton was the president, Americans saw the Digital Millennium Copyright Act be approved, and 20 years later, the only reference people have of what the law consisted of is a common understanding that says: don’t share nudes. But since the market now has a slice of that pie in what we struggle to call entertainment, we have to sit with our open-minded cousin to understand what a token really is, and if you multiply it by one hundred, you won’t be getting to minimum wage. In other words, providers got sexualized, and worse, we’re using poorly articulated philosophical motives to write definitions of service based on cheap labor.

Here in Brazil, a recent ad shows a child explaining what Bitcoin is. Apparently, thinking about money is easy for her (yep, they picked a girl), and I bet she saw her teacher explaining the fall of the Lehmann Brothers with Lego, but you can’t mention tall buildings without context after 2001, and I have a hard time thinking we’re past that stage. When you’re a kid, you just want to keep yourself entertained (as in not bored, and if you follow me, you know I have a thing for this particular word); you listen to pop but you have no idea how much effort it takes to advertise for a music festival; you drink chocolate milk but you’re not asking your dad how the cows are being treated and how they turn a grain into soluble powder. But your dad isn’t busy looking at Nestlé stock either. And here’s where a lot of people draw the line: stock is for the rich, production is for the poor. I’m sorry if you expected to get an insight on the history of cocoa and the culture surrounding it, but I’d probably tell my kid it’s complicated after learning that the Mexican used to sell it as money, thanks to Kumon teaching materials, which are all on paper and drawings, by the way. But the point is: do we really know what’s going on?

Maybe we don’t and that’s okay, but not for the younger generations who are trying to understand so much at the same time, studying like hell to get accepted in a serious university. I don’t mean to demerit any educational institution, but I have to fire at someone when I realize cash can be evil, and when you pay for a diploma, you’re part of the problem. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and if we try to understand how it’s used on the internet, what the hell are we supposed to do except blame Amazon? People are drawing another line saying Wallmart is the real problem, but for different reasons which I’ll be happy to let the people at March For Our Lives talk about. Facts first: the discussion on technology today is nothing like robots who beat everyone at chess. It’s a more of a scary question: do we have control over our conscience?

Our conscience is alive if we understand inequality. Gathering information and making it available in other formats makes education an undoubtedly important part of the process, and that’s what I mean with the global analysis being connected to design, as I mentioned: here’s a graph on the ecological footprint per capita, let’s have a conversation about it. What a cool teacher, he made us see the world in a different way. A better teacher would make you think about how much planning takes into developing a game, which is what they really care about, from the plots to the characters’ bodies to the commands and the music, and if you look at the possibilities, maybe you’’ll be one of those optimists with an eye to innovation. But I’m still narrating.

After the first stages, messaging went through regulation (and I have a feeling the DMCA was part of it, but I can’t just give out an opinion on the American legal system considering circumstances), we saw a lot of changes, and one of them was YouTube, which wasn’t associated with Google at first. I was a teenager with a Fotolog account and testimonials on Orkut; Flickr was sort of a hype and we had no idea that Tik Tok would be possible (or even cool). We all know that Facebook came and stole the narrative, but that’s looking at the bigger picture, not the latest Snapchat update. Wait, is that the bigger picture? Few people know Mark Zuckerberg tried to make this acquisition, but fewer people remember he walks along with Sheryl Sandberg, a name every technology discussion should include. Pivoting to video, says the man betting on the brown horse; the future is private, says the one cheering for the unicorn; how much for freakshow, asks the middle aged man who thinks about a fairness of all things and bets on the smart golden retriever who makes stories.

It turns out video is a complex debate. What kind of video do you want to see? We have low res and HD, and that uses data, says Watto, at the junk shop in Star Wars Racer (they come here, they look around, they no buy, why nobody buy?). But for many people, it’s just how cool you are (because stories are cool). Also, what does your video contain? How do you label it? Who’s going to watch it first? And ultimately, do we have enough people to watch it? The last question is more important to advertisers than to moderators, and that’s a huge point right there, because honestly, who’s “we”? When Foucault wrote about the panopticon, he was paraphrasing the British dystopia we all hear about, with Huxley and Orwell, and let’s not even talk about Iron Maiden, because apparently people can make money off slime and filth and that’s totally okay. The idea was to make people aware, wasn’t it? But there’s nothing new with that: we all have a Catholic in the family who thinks you’re going to hell and makes a comment on your lifestyle purely with the intention to hurt. It’s even a meme in Brazil: God is watching. But what’s the divine preference: forests on fire, thousands on the streets and police barricades, girls being violated, hate groups threatening neighbors or Kermit the frog? We don’t know, we’ll never know, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Because if we knew, we wouldn’t be free to think of a better reality, and all the clues are saying our attempts to communicate are being analyzed exhaustively, since we’re young enough to celebrate a mustache or dread a period. Two more lines to be drawn: don’t talk about women’s body perceptions if you don’t make an effort to understand, and please don’t celebrate the fact that the internet connected people, but also merged ages, which is, for the reasonable people out there, a problem of mental health. Or do you want to explain that a daddy is a man with a job, a house and lots of answers to give you along with your food?

If privacy is the future, we need to understand – and make someone try to change their mind – that all the actions taken by big tech are what’s really inaccessible, and that’s what they’re saying. They don’t care about what’s at stake for us: monopolies are real, and so are power games, but we wanna be the kind of people who describe power relations, and not step up the game wearing a suit, walking into a building with a roulette and facial recognition at reception, and making loads and loads of big decisions nobody will know about. We need to understand that privacy is what the kids were asking, and the kids are the future. That’s what we really need to understand. And right now, we’re not on the same page, definitely not when it comes to messaging (you can find relevant data here). Opportunity is rare for kids and it’s not as much because of bad parenting as it is because of money. Nobody here is going to Sergipe to teach the verb to be, showing kindergarden an Opeth song or singing happy birthday in English since the first time you ever see a cake, and if that’s ridiculous for you, think about walking into the Rio with a Trump hat.

Featured Image: Tufts University, Massachussetts.

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