I guess the question that occupies my mind a lot these days is:

Can we build a healthy, positive, life-affirming Internet?

I feel like large parts of our Internet infrastructure are toxic to mental health and social freedom and were designed that way on purpose, because the system seeks money, and you get more money by controlling people than by allowing them to flourish and reach their full potential. This has always been capitalism's big problem (and socialism's too).

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But: apart from the problem of 'active engineering of our information and communication environment for short-term concentration of massive oligarchical wealth, leading to mental addiction and social collapse as unfortunate but mostly irrelevant side effects',

I think there are many other possible failure modes of networked personal computing. Many of them probably emergent effects.

I guess I want computing to be emotionally and mentally uplifting... and my frustrations come when it isn't.

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In fact a lot of the things which I get constantly angry about in today's computing environments, which all seem to be 'tiny, trivial things'... like dialog boxes which steal your key focus, or laggy keystrokes, or system messages that don't give you time to read them...

All these things maybe aren't actually trivial. They're all signs that I am not the customer, that the experience is not being optimised for me.

I think that's what I worry about a lot. That computing is leading us, but where?

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@natecull i sometimes wonder if the reason for this is that programming is more accessible, and app dev has become more of a production line. focus is more on shipping fast than ensuring that the software is any good. companies have been making software for a long time, but outsourcing customer facing apps to software sweat shops is a more recent phenomenon.

@natecull Computers and networks are the means of production.

Things ended up more in common than they otherwise would be because of the foresight of some of the technical founders of our current computing and network systems, as well as the practical needs of our military and academic institutions. However, there's a strong systemic force towards enclosure of our public property into private property. It has to be resisted or it will happen.

Linux is communism! :ac_amazed:

@natecull It’s a little emotionally uplifting to hear people like you wanting that sort of thing!

Nice not to be the only one.


I'm not sure how to read "people like you", since I'm just a random guy on the Internet. I don't have any levers I can pull to make anything happen.

It's just that I guess my first exposure to computing was Creative Computing Magazine in the 1980s as a kid so I sort of inhaled kind of that aspirational, late-hippie, educational idea of what computing could be, rather than the business view of a better way of doing accounting.

I think a lot of people maybe grew up with that too.


For perspective: when I was a kid/teenager in the 80s, lots of adults at the time were absolutely *scared* of computers. To them, computers were the tool of The Man or Government, they were something alien and dehumanising. I kept trying to explain that to me, they were like this neat Lego set that just buzzed with creative possibility. We didn't need to fear computers! We could use them!

But now that I'm an adult, I find myself worrying that those adults were right after all.


and that fear seemed to set in for real right around the time the iPhone came out. I think up to then I still thought that there might be a direct path through Open Source and RSS and blogging to the sort of dreamy Buckminster Fuller kind of future in those 1970s 8-bit microcomputing magazines. Computers for the people, by the people. No central authorities making everyone line up in rows.

The iPhone was a neat toy but it pushed us back into that centralised future, and I don't like it.

@natecull The internet isn't inherently good or evil. That's determined by what people do with it. If you want to create an internet that can't be used in bad ways, I don't think that's possible, at least not if you want it to be useful at all.


"The internet isn't inherently good or evil. That's determined by what people do with it. "

No, I don't subscribe to that view of technology at all.

The idea that technology is "value-neutral" is itself an idea (and ideas are themselves technologies), and it's an idea that I don't think is value-neutral.

I think every technology has a shape. It imposes that shape on us, making some acts/thoughts easier, and others harder.

Our tools shape us. We should care about what that shape is.


To take one axis of many by which to measure and describe the Internet:

Our computing environment can be decentralised, or centralised.

Each of these options might not be strictly describable as 'good' or 'bad', but they are certainly *different*.

If everything you say online is filtered by a central authority (as in China) ... then that shapes society in a certain way.

If everything is filtered by Apple, that is also a shape.

If there is random chaos and viruses, another shape.

@natecull @mansr Technologies definitely aren't good or evil for the most part, eg a knife can be used to murder, hunt, prepare vegetables, save lives in surgery. In some cases the type of knife is specialised but even then, surgical tools have been used for evil based on their design not in spite of it.

I vastly prefer decentralized tech but centralized isn't evil; each offers a trade off. Centralized is simpler for users, and faster to develop.

@natecull @mansr A big part of this is the nature of people, and we see the differences via the pandemic.

There's always tribalism and culture but people also have innate personality differences. Some people care a lot about independence; others, being part of something big and socially validating.

Some value security and comfort a lot; others like to take more risks in order to achieve or experience things.

We don't all want the same things.

@byron @natecull On the centralised vs distributed topic, consider the public library. An institution largely regarded as good, is is nevertheless without a doubt a centralised solution. A distributed "library" would mean asking random people in the street if they happen to have the book you're looking for and if you might kindly be allowed to borrow it. I don't think that would work very well.

@mansr @natecull Totally! Although also, tech oscillates between more centralized (mainframes, proprietary clouds) and more decentralized (PC revolution, early smartphones) as it changes.

Libraries are centralized by being a government- run single system, but they're also federated. I can request a book at my local branch from any in the city and return it anywhere.

With tech change, maybe we could see P2P libraries with individuals! But probably not.

@mansr @byron @natecull that's a myopic view of decentralization and an inaccurate description of libraries. Librarians communicate between libraries where neither library is the "central" library. Decentralization is about decentralized control and access, and in the case of libraries, control of information - if you can visit two libraries with different collections and policies, I don't see that as "centralized"

@2ck @byron @natecull Sure, and you can choose between Facebook and Twitter too.

@mansr @2ck @natecull LOL That was funny. Of course the key diff is that Twit/Face are social networks that are anti-social with each other.

I think by decentralized we generally mean not "choose which fiefdom to be a serf in, multiple choice allowed" but that you can actually be part of the network in any of several nodes.

@byron @mansr @natecull i call that "peer-to-peer", ad hoc, or mesh . the latter tend to have more hardware feel, but avoids asshats like me being butting in 😉

@mansr @2ck @byron

I do, and I remember it dying, I think because of spam and abuse.

It was a sad day when ISPs stopped providing Usenet service, and it was a sadder day when Google stopped being the Usenet provider of last resort.

I remember FidoNET too, and how the BBS scene pivoted to become ISPs and that's how America Online happened.

@natecull @mansr @2ck One thing I liked though about the spam era of Usenet, which was around the time I started using it anyway, was that the spam measures were all on the user end. You had to learn how to manage a kill file, which on the one hand is a negative because it excludes less technical people. But the idea of choices of who to filter and mute, being in the hands of individual users, was a good path.

We only see remnants in the "safe search / all results" of search engines.

@byron @natecull @2ck I never experienced a spam problem on Usenet. Maybe the server I used filtered it. I gave up when there were only a handful of people still posting in comp.unix.programmer. Everybody else had just gone away.

@byron @natecull @2ck I think what killed Usenet was its governance. Although the operation was decentralised, the group hierarchy was tightly controlled. When internet use exploded, anyone who wanted to create a new discussion group was forced to turn to mailing lists or web based solutions, and Usenet dwindled as a result.

@mansr @byron @natecull nope. before my time. we were facebooking and ... making myspace pages by the time i started on the internet

@mansr @2ck @natecull Hell yeah. Usenet actually stayed good surprisingly long. We even had some private usenet groups for our uni. I remember when IRC was a zoo, too, instead of a ghost town like most of it is now.

@2ck @mansr @natecull YMMV. The big local library is literally called the CENTRAL library. You can reserve books from any branch and pick them up at your preferred branch, and then drop them off at any branch. They use one central web site for all branches.

Roughly the same deal in the last city I lived in.

It *is* decentralized, partly: you have many branch options and books are distributed.

Strictly it's federated in the original sense of multiple elements under one umbrella organization.

@byron @2ck @natecull Same situation here, including the Central Library name.

@natecull Is a hammer good or evil? You can use it build a house (good), but also to kill people (evil).


Again I'm trying to tell you: "good" or "evil" are not the useful terms here. But "shape" and "affordances" are.

A hammer is a device for applying sharp mechanical force.

It is not going to be very good at, maybe, stirring mud. So it's going to make certain types of construction techniques more likely than others.

Metal tools may have been the first step that led to the climate change cataclysm we now face. Was that inevitable? Perhaps only if we never ask 'is this next step ok?'


It turns out that we can commit a genocide or kill an entire planet with a long chain of very small steps. People don't jump immediately to "let's kill all the whales" or "let's kill all of <people group X>", but they can do it slowly.

We probably need to get into the habit of questioning even small steps, each of which seem improvements to our lives and the logical outcome of the last one. At least to be aware that there may be alternate steps and unexpected outcomes at some points.

@natecull By that reasoning we should never do anything at all, because anything we do just might, 10 million steps later, result in something horrible happening. Then again, not doing something might also have unforeseen catastrophic outcomes. I don't think fear of the worst possible indirect consequences is a particularly good basis for decision making.

@natecull The internet is just a bunch of computers wired together. It has very little inherent shape. Indeed, various uses of it present very different shapes. Pick those you like and ignore the rest. I can't help getting the feeling that your real gripe, whether you realise it or not, is that people at large don't share your personal values. No technology is ever going to fix that.

At the 30c3 (2014?) there was a really nice lecture "No Neutral Ground in a Burning World", where the presenters argued that technology is not good, or bad, or neutral.

Personally I agree with, or at least concur with @natecull 's statements. Technology, protocols, language all moderate what we can do - sometimes limiting even our ability to imagine how things could be different.

Why are we using HTTP client/server model, is that the best we can do ?

@cjd @natecull A tool enables certain actions and not others. If a given tool fails to enable an action deemed good, does that make the tool evil? No, IMO, it merely makes that tool limited. The existence of one tool does not preclude the construction of another.

@mansr @natecull
Personally, I've pretty much cut the words "Good" and "Evil" out of my thought process. Concept of ethics/morality exists to provide guidelines for co-existing in a society. I'm all for being a collaborative member of society but considering Good and Evil to be universal truth means almost always stretching metaphors beyond their usefulness.

@natecull @mansr

I would only add that we choose to interpret technology in the way we do. I'd say technology is a conspiracy between ourselves and the technologists. No one is forced to use Facebook, after all, but we get what we want whether we realise it or not.

Another example is the fall of QWERTY phones. They're more practical than touchscreens in many ways, but Steve Jobs hated buttons, and the punters wanted to be cool.

@natecull @mansr the way the stories we tell ourselves shape us. There's an old Situationist slogan, knowledge is inseparable from the use to which it is put. I used to have a button of that on my jacket. Motive counts. And there's only so many things you can physically do with a hammer. Everything starts to look like a nail if you're not careful. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

The problem is that we may not be taking about the same internet.

Interconnected computers?

Social networks?

Extremely racist right wing YouTube channels?



Somewhere along the line the capitalist giants took control of the internet and shaped it their way, like zerg colonies filling everything with creep.

The question is, how can we take it back?

@yuki @natecull @mansr the word you are looking for is the Web. The Internet is the hardware itself, the Web is whatever was built on top of it. By technical definition the Internet is a public utility and has no inherent morality, it's physical wires. Web on the other hand is defined by the people operating it.

@yuki @natecull @mansr you take it back by creating new protocols and ideas that work on the foundation that is the Internet, at this very moment you are using a platform that's attempting to supplant Twitter for example, using the ActivityPub protocol operating over HTTP.

@yuki @natecull @mansr the ActivityPub Federation is of course not immune to corporate takeover, e-mail was the grandfather of this very idea (most people were supposed to run their own mail server), yet was taken over by MS and Google. Convenience trumps all, and Mastodon is using the same tactic corporates do, before they became infinite money machines. Mastodon is wrapping the complex protocol into a convenient package just like Google did with e-mail and its GMail service.

@yuki @natecull @mansr since Mastodon follows the tail of convenience, it will be way harder to take over; however a different problem is slowly arising, something akin to eternal september of Usenet.

@yuki @natecull @mansr In this case lots of general populace is starting to use Mastodon, which generally is turning more communities into cesspools, yet the same people are also moderators, which is now leading to fracturing of the Federation, where blanked domain blocks are being applied because someone didn't like something someone else said. This is leaving general populace up to the mercy of the moderator, instead of their own will.


The fragmentation of the fediverse is inevitable.

The question is how can we make sure *our* instances are less toxic?

Federating with conditions (code of conduct, number of mods per 1K users, etc) is a good idea, IMO. Creating new levels of privacy (circles vs followers) would be a nice addition, too.



Yes the fragmentation is inevitable, my point is that the fragmentation is happening at a scale where the implications are heavier, as a single moderator can ghost an instance of 10k+ users out of half the federation based on one case they didn't like.

I believe the goalpost must be moved to individual responsibility of filtering, not blanket moderation. Not everyone is a good moderator, not everyone has the time to do it, but everyone can filter their own content.



Reminder that cancel culture exists, giving the same people power over thousands of users is _not_ good practice.

@natecull @mansr

With that I agree. Big instances are ALWAYS a bad idea.

With more instances, the damage moderators can inflict upon communities diminishes.



In general it comes down to the same takeover issue. Google won because at scale they serve most of the users, so they simply stopped federating with the rest of the mail servers, assuming them all to be spam. This is the issue I would like to get rid of, and why I do not believe instance moderators are actually functional at scale.

@natecull @mansr


Or at the least, I dont think instance blocking is practical whatsoever

@natecull @mansr

It's practical against rogue instances. Gab and friends are still out there.


since most people are incapable of making their own instance (lack of know-how or resources), large instance growth cannot be prevented. Gab would still not be a problem in a user filtered context, as they can ignore the domain or individual users themselves.

@natecull @mansr


gmail took over exactly due to mail being problematic to host for most people

@natecull @mansr


(as well as existing attempts at convenience being terrible)

regardless, i plan to test some of my ideas on moderation and federation in practice, in the following years

@natecull @mansr

Yes, it's a problem. IMO defederation is the lesser evil compared to massive harassment.

Perhaps we need another paradigm? Like instances being put on top of servers and not being the servers themselves?


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