Computers & Optimism – Then vs Now

Looking back at the optimism I felt about computers and technology when I was young

Ever since I was very young, I was enamoured with computers (and this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me). But from the very beginning, I was also excited about the potential of computers – of computing in general – to improve the world and to help people.

Even as a little kid playing pretend (because I couldn’t afford a computer; they were too expensive back then), I realized how world-changing computers could be.

I looked forward to the day when we’d be able to have the complete sum of all human knowledge instantly available to everyone, to being able to communicate almost instantly with one another regardless of distance – all for free or at virtually no cost, because why wouldn’t you?

As a side note, this is why I was so excited when Wikipedia first started up – in many ways it is a realization of at least part of the dream I had, to bring together all the knowledge that humanity has and share it freely for the benefit of all.

Now it’s been some 30 years since I was that naive little kid playing pretend computer – but I still hold on to that same belief, that computers (and all the technology that goes with them) can – and should – be used to solve problems and improve the world.

Indeed, I think we have a responsibility to do so, which is why it pains me so when I see computers and technology used to create problems rather than solve them, to hurt people rather than help them, to hold on to systems of the past rather than new and better systems for the future.

There is a moral aspect to computers and technology in general that I think I missed when I was a kid – but maybe that’s just what being naive means – you don’t think about how things could be used for evil; it never enters your head that someone would even want to take something so fantastic and twist it in that way.

As I grow older, I continue to think about these things, about how we can learn from our failures to use computers in the way that most benefits us all… and I hope other people think about these things as well.

Democracy & Despotism

How to tell if your community or country is sliding towards despotism – a useful guide both then and now.
I ran across these two videos, created by Encyclopedia Britannica back in the 1940s, and I can’t share them enough as they seem perfectly (and terrifyingly) appropriate for today’s political and social climate:

In 1945 and 1946, immediately following the end of World War II, Encyclopedia Britannica’s films division produced two educational short films, one on democracy and one on despotism, exploring how societies and nations rank on the spectrum from democracy to despotism by measuring the degree to which power is concentrated and respect for individuals restricted.

A community is low on a respect scale if common courtesy is withheld from large groups of people on account of their political attitudes, if people are rude to others because they think their wealth and position gives them that right, or because they don’t like a man’s race or his religion. Equal opportunity for all citizens to develop equal skills is one basis for rating a community on a respect scale.

I highly recommend watching both of these videos – being from the era they are, I think they know better than we do what they’re talking about.

The March to Tyranny

How quickly a country can fall…
If you’ve ever wondered how a democratic country can become a dictatorship, just look around you right now. The current “president” of the United States has:

  • Tried to ban immigration
  • Arrested journalists for covering events unflattering to him
  • Tried to silence the media
  • Told people to ignore the media and only listen to him
  • Fired people for daring to challenge him
  • Uses his own private security force, loyal only to him personally
  • Trying to concentrate power in a small group of people and bypass the legislative branch
  • Removed military leaders from decision making about national security
  • Describes people who disagree with him as having “betrayed” their country

These are not the actions of a free and democratic society, they are the actions of a despot.

We do not have a president anymore; we have a tyrant, and he deserves to be deposed as one.

The Statue of Liberty’s Poem in 2017

I never thought this’d become real…
I wrote this as satire a few months ago, and had it saved as a draft – but I never thought it would become the literal truth.

“Give me your tired – but not your poor (we don’t want any more moochers) – your huddles masses (as long as they aren’t from Mexico or Muslim countries) yearning to be free (as long as they aren’t here to take our jobs).”

I honestly don’t know how much further this country can fall, or how much more it’s going to take before we realize how wrong we are and the hurt we’re directly causing to ourselves, our country, and our reputation.

This Seems Oddly Familiar

Disturbing dystopian similarities.
I was making a list of the way things are going around here and I suddenly realized I’ve seen this before…

  • Mass surveillance of citizens
  • Small, wealthy ruling party
  • No speaking out against the ruler
  • “Truth” defined by what the party says
  • Prosecution of those who speak against the party/leader
  • Figurehead larger-than-life leader

Maybe George Orwell got it wrong – it’s not English Socialism in Oceana, it’s American Socialism.

ingsoc wallpaper (red)down with big brother