My End-User License Agreement

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013                1:56 PM

 

Okay, the world is becoming something else—something it had no conception of, even as little as thirty years ago. Yes, we had PC’s—we even had LANs (Local Area Networks)—but we didn’t have the Internet, wireless tech, or hot-spots. We didn’t imagine that geographic location would become moot. We still thought of machines, and even robots, as dumb compared to us. But the one-ton, nuclear-powered robot on Mars right now puts that attitude out of date.

Now we face the same upheaval of the norm that pervaded the early industrial revolution. They called autos ‘horseless carriages’, they called movies ‘moving pictures’, and they saw morphine and cocaine as ‘tonics’. The idea of young people driving to a secluded spot to pitch woo was a scandalous notion—people used to require a destination for love-making—automobile seats offered a magic carpet of ‘anywhere’ privacy. Crossing the oceans went from a months-long voyage to a matter of days. The concept of laying telegraph cable from one continent to another was as new-fangled as a trip to the Moon.

These changes thrilled the young, intimidated the aged, made some peoples’ fortunes and made others’ fortunes disappear. Factories, which began as urban phenomena, created hundreds of jobs overnight—the children of farmers flocked to the cities to make money, and to enjoy the excitement of cities. Populations shifted. And, for the first time, the exponential changes of technology were visible to one and all—new things, new ideas, new jobs—all were coming faster than was comfortable for the aging scions of the nineteenth century.

And we see similar effects today—the young are thrilled with each new gadget and innovation, and the old are awash in a sea of confusion. Many businesses that were doing fine have vanished overnight, sometimes without their absence even being noticed. New businesses such as Facebook have no visible merchandise, location, or structure. These modern companies are at their most vulnerable when they seek to change from ‘free-to-the-public’ to a profit-based, corporate configuration. This shift usually involves a change in privacy policy, and the hapless users, for whom the assumption of privacy was one of the reasons they began using the companies’ services to begin with, are left with the choice of dropping the app or the site, or allowing themselves to be sold for profit, in a digital sense, without a cut for themselves.

I have gone to the trouble of reading some EULA’s lately—and I was glad I did. Sites that offer a free forum or service these days usually tuck in a quiet little set of terms that basically cedes all ownership and usage to the supposedly ‘free’ website. Dover Publishing’s new ‘Pictura’ website, for example, offers free access to their database of Public Domain graphics—but their EULA specifies that everyone’s artworks, using such graphics, are under the copyright of the Dover’s website—not the artist/end-user’s.

So, is that free? If I create great works of art (I should be so lucky) and use Dover’s free service to add something from the Public Domain of old images—well, that’s not really free if I’ve ceded ownership of the final product to the ‘free’ service, is it? It’s more like becoming an unpaid employee.

Also, sites for online storage of images and videos can get at you if they decide that all the images on their servers are theirs to do with as they please. I don’t have any embarrassment over pictures of me and my family and friends. To be sure, if I wasn’t comfortable with an image, I’d never post it on the Internet, regardless of the site I use. I assume all uploads, posts, comments, etc. –are all accessible to any halfway-decent hacker who cares to seek them out.

Thus, I never upload any personal info, my own or another’s, in the first place. But that doesn’t mean I’d be OK with some third party using my home videos or family snapshots in a commercial, or a billboard, or any other public use of images.

I’m starting to rethink the whole ‘uploading’ business. I’ve posted a book of illustrated poetry on WordPress; I’ve posted one-thousand music videos on YouTube, and I’ve posted countless articles and essays on StreetArticles, plus my personal blogs at XperDunn and OneAspiration.blogspot . Originally, I imagined hundreds of people being curious enough to read, listen to, or look at my posts. But, to my knowledge, very few of the billion people online have washed up on my digital shores over the last four years.

Why? Because a billion people are all posting their own stuff, checking out their friends’ stuff and their families’ stuff, and being led to certain websites by search-engine prioritization and television promos. YouTube asks me every day if I want to ‘Monetize’ my channel—if I wanted to be a commercial artist, I wouldn’t be posting my stuff as ‘Public’, would I?

Poetry has become a loosely-organized ‘social app’ of its own—with contests, and themes, and discussions—so my static little post (even with the lovely pictures) of a book of poetry is just an anachronism. As far as music goes, I usually listen to other music than my own—hey, YouTube has pretty much any piece of music ever recorded. So my piano ditties get short shrift, even when someone is kind enough to listen to it once. And essays like the one you’re reading this moment? Well, people go online to read memes, quotes, and ad copy—they don’t want a five page essay by some modern-day Ambrose Bierce with a chip on both shoulders.

The enormous audience has another drawback—I can’t police it. If someone plagiarizes from me, I may never know it. There is just too much stuff on the internet—only a big corporation, like YouTube, can have a filter to catch duplicates and ‘covers’—and even they have trouble keeping pace with the endless flood of uploaded videos.

The Internet is now the sole focus of many entrepreneurs—anyone, like myself, who still clings to the early idealism of freeware, shareware, and the like—will eventually be taken advantage of by those who are busy converting the Internet into a marketplace.

So, read those EULAs, folks—you’d be surprised at the nerve of some of the terms. And remember, promotion is still necessary for anyone trying to build an audience—no amount of ‘tags’, ‘categories’, or ‘shares’ will bring flocks of like-minded people to your sites. And beware of these self-promotion tutorials—most of them are just a roundabout way of getting ambitious people to compile spam-lists of their friends’ email addresses for the web-site’s parent company.

For the foreseeable future I intend to curtail my various uploadings. It is a double-edged sword—I’m disappointed that people don’t see my works, but I still must be creating something intended for public exhibition. I think I’ll spend some time just amusing myself, without the pressure of wondering if something of mine is ‘good enough’ to broadcast to the whole world—that’s a lot of unnecessary pressure. Plus, if anyone should decide that my digital-footprint’s (‘xperdunn’s) search-results are the least bit interesting, there is four-year’s worth of my best efforts already online.

I should have hit on this idea a while ago—but it was camouflaged by the fact that all my social interactions have been online these past years. I can still hang out on Facebook or YouTube without feeling obliged to contribute to the upload-stream. So, this year, retreat and re-group, get organized, get caught up on all those things I never get to… yes, this will be much less stressful than putting myself ‘out there’ and then worrying if anyone will see it or not. Excellent—OK, so that’s the plan.

Now, back to the topic. What has changed so drastically? Well, top of the list—job security. And that is bound up with business security. When I was younger, the top businesses in the world weren’t going anywhere—and if you got hired to work there, you weren’t going anywhere either. Now we see businesses like book publishing, encyclopedias, magazines, and newspapers all dropping like flies. And we’ve already lost businesses such as typewriter and adding machine manufacture, book stores, broadcast radio, and many others. All these segments of industry were assumed to be permanent—and the people that were employed in these industries had no incentive to move from one job to another.

Secondly, our sense of time has contracted—lunch hours are often half-hours; gathering research is expected to take mere moments, rather than the endless man-hours of looking up data in reference books, copying out notes by hand, re-typing it all; buying retail merchandise no longer takes several minutes at a check-out counter—it should take only seconds for the bar-coded items to be laser-scanned into the register and for the customer to swipe his or her credit card through the reader. We aren’t even satisfied to get our news read to us any more—now we have additional news crawling across the bottom of the screen, just in case you want more news than one voice can speak.

Minutes and seconds are bought and sold by phone-service providers billions of times every day—video games require a level of hand-eye coordination and focus that only a youngster’s nervous system can endure—even our slow-motion sequences in ‘action’ movies are only there to show the incredible speed at which things are happening—faster than we can follow by simply watching in real-time at normal speed.

A third big change is the modern adjustment to finding oneself communicating with a machine when calling a business. This includes fringe events like self-check-out at the supermarket, ATM withdrawals, and touch-screen maps in the lobbies of theme parks and malls that direct us to the store we’re looking for. As this computer interaction is used extensively in children’s museums and such, we can expect even more examples as our kids become the adults of tomorrow.

And then there is the ultimate interaction with a machine—Google, and its competitors. Ask Google anything, and it will give the answer—word definitions, wikipedia articles, movie credits, travel routes—from the most trivial to the most obscure, any question is only seconds from an answer. We’ve effectively removed ‘I don’t know’ as a response to any question, and replaced it with either ‘I don’t care enough to Google it.’ Or ‘Nobody knows, not even Google.’

You’d think there would be more interest in this Google phenomenon—and the same effect from Facebook. We once lived in a world where questions went unanswered, where old friends faded from memory and were never seen again. Now we live in a world where all questions can be answered, where we can contact anyone we ever met, from pre-school playmates to grad school alums. And GPS—GPS has made it impossible to get lost—and made it possible to get directions to anywhere—even a given latitude-longitude coordinate.

At the start of my life, I (and everyone else) could expect to wonder about a lot of stuff, possibly for one’s entire lifetime, without ever knowing the answer. And if one had a question important enough that it needed an answer, the best thing to do was go to the public library and ask a librarian’s help in researching the question. And even then, the odds were even that an answer could be found.

And I haven’t even mentioned modern social changes—this stuff I’m listing is just some of the practical aspects of modern change. Here’s a real new-ish one: cell-phones can now hear you speak English and repeat it in another language—then when the foreigner speaks, it can do the same thing in reverse. It’s new enough that it has a few drawbacks—it isn’t perfect yet. But that will come.

One of the reasons the digital age has become such a tidal wave of new opportunities is the infrastructure. When PCs were new, there was little programming other than the operating systems. And there weren’t archives of books and artworks and government statistics and television videos—the great worldwide data entry continues even now—but a lot of the heavy lifting

(        

GuttenbergProject.org,  [everything ever written, except for current]

Wikipedia,           [an encyclopedia that allows any article from any user]

Google Earth,      [a virtual globe that lets you pick a spot & zoom in to street level-magnification—I can look at Pago Pago—or my own house]

the Library Of Congress, [which includes audio recordings and videos]

and the tremendous database represented by YouTube           [this is a video library of nearly 1/3 of the world’s population]   

)

has been done. The millions of things we can now do online generate their own info, their own updates, and their own interconnections with other databases.

There are Ancestry sites that will soon rival the Mormon Church’s research, if they haven’t already. There are Cooking sites that contain instructions for any dish known to humanity. Please note that all such sites started as empty databases—which have since been filled with input from enthusiastic web-surfers over the last 20 years or so.

So let’s try an extrapolation. Assume another 40 years pass. Assume that the search engines, apps, filters, and interconnections between related databases are 40 years more sophisticated than they are right now. Here’s the hard part—what will change? How will the future manifest itself?

We already have the first evolutions in education. One is the posting of videos that recorded a series of professorial lectures in Ivy League schools—to watch these videos (plus doing the reading and course-work, that is) is to get the same course or courses as a Master’s Degree student in a certain field. This means that educational material is available for free now—anyone can access it, thereby receiving an Ivy League post-graduate education that includes everything but the sheepskin and the dorm experience.

A second, more recent change is the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These, too, are free (that’s the ‘Open’ part) but have the potential of crowd-sourcing the education of the future.

Crowd-sourcing, itself, will expand beyond Flash-mobs and Multi-player internet gaming. It’s potential is as huge as is its malleability—which makes crowd-sourcing a two-edged blade—able to do great good and/or great evil.

But what of the life experiences of the college campus? Surely being a part of something, and prepping for exams, and being responsible for your own laundry—surely all these things are as much a part of education as the courses? And, in many ways, more so—leaving the nest may be the largest part of higher education.

So the college campus would still play a part in a thorough education. However, the recorded lectures would be the same, or at least of the same quality. The educational input would not come from a staff of professors, it would come from the internet website that hosts college-lecture videos. And this would make the Bachelor’s Degree earned at Yale indistinguishable from that of your local Community College.

The administrators of tomorrow’s colleges will be souped-up RAs—guiding newly-adult students through the new environment, refereeing the social life on campus, answering technical questions and helping those unfamiliar with the school’s i-pads (or whatever they’ll be using).

Alright, enough already. But, as you can see, the next few decades have an infinite potential for the new, and an ever-accelerating tempo of change, whether economic, social, technological, or systemic, will make for one wild ride! The example above is just one possible change in one specific aspect of our culture.

6 responses to “My End-User License Agreement

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the same issues lately, thought without your degree of understanding of the technological aspects. I’ve come to some tentative conclusions, one of which is that in the end it doesn’t matter whether large numbers of people pay attention to what I do, because although it’s always nice to have external validation (not to mention financial reward), that’s simply not why I do it. I do it for myself, and for the half-dozen real or imaginary people whom I think of as my ideal audience, who are more or less my own wavelength, and who I imagine (correctly or not) might be interested in the same kind of things that I’m interested in. Renown is a false idol, and since I don’t do this for money it doesn’t matter whether it puts food on the table.

    The other thing I’ve been thinking about is how to preserve and cultivate exactly those things that can’t be easily converted into a format that’s easily digestible by technological means. I’m still working this out in my mind, but it seems to me that we have to do more to recognize the value of things that aren’t fungible or quantifiable, whether that means talking a walk in the woods or reading a book slowly, painstakingly, in a foreign language and in print form when it would be more “efficient” to just download a translation (or better yet, watch the movie).

    Relying too much on technology tends to give undue weight to the kinds of solutions and processes that technology is good at, and it tends to deprecate anything that isn’t easily reduced to series of zeroes and ones. And because the latter are hard to measure, we often can’t prove that they matter.

    And I think there’s something to be said for silence as a necessary element in any kind of understanding or learning. The fact is that we’re biological entities, not computer programs. We don’t really understand how we ourselves work, and all we have to do is fall asleep and start dreaming to realize that there are all kinds of unfathomed depths in all of us that resist scientific description. (If I were religious, which I’m not, I would be calling this “spirit.”) I think it’s important to be able to think things, sometimes, and not say them, to say them aloud, but not write them down, or to write them down, but not share them on Facebook or Twitter or whatever platform you’re inclined towards. (And then there are things that you want to proclaim, publicly, deliberately, because you want to make a statement or just because you think other people would be amused.) I think shallowness — the kind that comes from living entirely on the surface and in the moment — is one of the underlying issues behind many of our problems. Otherwise normal people are doing ridiculous things in part because they lack perspective; they’re so carried away by the stream that’s flowing around them that they never stop to ask themselves if any of it makes sense.

    • Hooray for the non-fungible! I’ve never been able to give a damn about money–which only started to seem selfish when Claire became the primary breadwinner. But we do seem to sprint towards the brass rings of humanity. And we seem to have nothing but a dim fondness for some of the wonderful things we’ve lost along the way–the quiet, the night’s darkness, the mystery of not having every fact at our fingertips, the willingness to ignore the sweep second hand on a watch–or even the minute hand, or the use of ‘hands’ on a clock, for that matter!

      When we lose the charm of the old to make room for the benefits of the new, it can be very difficult to object. Indoor plumbing, toilet-paper–we may have given up the beautiful ceramic washing bowls and ewers, and the chamber pots–but I still choose the modern. And not all the old was so charming–I saw something on PBS lately about an ancient copper mining and smelting center–when the docu-host tested the ground, it was still showing harmful, even deadly, levels of metals in the soil, thousands of years later.

      Perhaps it’s as simple as having a talent for savoring everything. All food is delicious when we’re starving–but some people retain that appreciation even when they’re getting three squares a day. Most of us see beautiful landscapes, sundowns, shapes, colors, textures all day, every day–but only some look at it with an eternally renewed freshness of perception. The same piece of classical music will bore one and transport another.

      And this is the true-est value of living, to appreciate our feelings, our loves, our friends, our memories–some use the phrase ‘be in the moment’, but I think that puts too much emphasis on the chronological. And ‘counting ones blessings’ seems way too trite. Perhaps the best way to express my thought is to say ‘get lost inside your life’–most of life’s worst parts come from worrying about the future, worrying about other people’s opinions, and worrying about money. That’s why I think society’s aim should be to move away from capitalism and replace it with something more in synch with our feelings and less obsessed with data processing. Anyhow, thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      • I’m not sure that things have changed that much from the time of the ancient mining you mention. We’re still producing toxic or radioactive byproducts that will be a hazard for thousands of years; we’ve just done a better job of shunting them out of sight. People don’t have to crawl on their bellies to dig out veins of coal; now we just take the whole mountain off and destroy the entire area. No doubt there are more and less efficient ways of obtaining resources, but much of what we’re doing is just shifting the damage onto the third world (where mining is still practiced in horrible ways), the environment, and the future. I’m all for indoor plumbing and fresh fish, but until we come up with virtual food and virtual fuel, which I don’t expect to happen, all of these are going to come at a cost, all the moreso as population continues to increase.

      • Yes, we have this image of ‘humanity’, or ‘civilization’, as a sentient being–but in the aggregate, we are more like a dog that doesn’t stop eating until it gets sick.

        We work, as individuals, to control our impulses and think about our choices–but as a group, we go with impulse every time.

        If humanity had a mind, it would have stopped reproducing (at least for a time) when it hit 7,000,000,000. If I had seven billion kids, I know I’d stop!

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