Well, I either just got trolled extremely deadpan, for which I offer my fondest salutes, or I encountered a person whose experience of life is genuinely extremely unusual but either way, I feel blocking was the appropriate response for me.

I know we get passionate on here and I know my own ideas can be fairly off-mainstream, so I try not to block and just avoid instead, but sometimes I just cannot with what I'm hearing.

There's a strain of authoritarianism in tech that worries me deeply.

The reason I rail so much about the dismal state of cyber-security is that I see everywhere the response by panicked organisations to the security disaster being more and more authoritarianism. And that scares me.

If we had inherently safe systems, we could have more open and permissive systems. That's probably a utopian dream now, but don't we need dreams?

I want to be kind AND honest online and sometimes I just can't be both.

Every block feels like a failure and I am sad.


I feel like there's an ideological cold war out there in tech (and possibly in tech education) between

1. "computers MUST be fully user-programmable or a massive social disaster will occur on the order of Fascism and Communism, but now with pervasive surveillance"


2. "computers are far too dangerous to allow users to control, so they MUST be centrally managed and filtered by a genius tech elite".

I stand firmly in camp 1.

Whenever I see people espousing Camp 2 ideas, I shiver and run.

So I'm sorry to the people I've blocked and who I will continue to block.

But if you come at me hard with Camp 2 ideas as if these are self-evidently "right", I'm sorry but no. Just no.

You are talking to someone who grew up in the 1980s reading Creative Computing magazines, which was drenched in hippie anti-centralisation sentiment. And then I became an adult in the world of BBSes, The Hacker Crackdown, the Cipherpunks.

That's me and I'm sorry but I find Camp 2 actually offensive to me.

@natecull i mean

they are self-evidently "right"
right-wing that is.

and we have known it for at least thirty years, tech.mit.edu/V105/N16/weisen.1

@meena @natecull There's the "tech privilege" argument to be made against Camp 1. "Decentralized user-programmable systems are hard to use for non-technical users, and easily manipulated by technical users. Camp 2 solutions are effectively more egalitarian than Camp 1 solutions."

I don't think it's entirely wrong. I'm still firmly in Camp 1, though.

@michiel @meena @natecull

Interesting thread. Bookmarked for later. Work to be done for Camp 1.

@michiel @natecull that's a problem of scale:

in the past decades we've built software that not only can scale up, but which has a basic scale of way too big and complex and which cannot scale down

it's a problem we have manufactured ourselves

you can see the same thing happening in the machofication of frontend development, much of which was firmly in the hands of women, and when guys moved, in they saw the need to tech it up a notch, to justify their own existence ("fullstack developers").
now everything is a single page app written in JavaScript and accessibility has fallen by the way side

both, in terms of user accessibility and new developer accessibility, i would argue

@meena @natecull When I did frontend development, I kept expecting it to get *easier*, something along the lines of 90s-style RAD tooling; that was fast, accessible and effective for prototyping.

Around the time Angular came out I muttered "gloves" to myself and got out of the webdev industry.


@michiel @meena @natecull Camp 2 solutions shouldn't have to be easier to use than Camp 1 though...

@natecull I think this really nails what I don’t like about most cyber security professionals these days. They’re prison guards.

Of course, it seems like the entire tech industry learned the wrong lessons, and instead of enriching humanity they focused on what could enrich themselves. I’ve hypothesized consultants pushing solutions which would generate billable hours ruined tech.

@jollyrogue @natecull congratz, you've discovered the source of most of our problems in this "modern" society "instead of enriching humanity they focused on what could enrich themselves"

@natecull working in the intersection of tech and education I for sure can tell you there’s a heavy authoritarian bent in the way that tech is handled (here’s a laptop but if you do anything clever with it you’re expelled) but then when we teach about it we’re all like “express yourself, control your data, change the world!” and I don’t know how we expect that to work out. I constantly butt heads with administrators and teachers over these issues.

Have you seen Obey (2013)? Its talks about and predicted how #universities are turning out the way they are.

@dsfgs @natecull no, I haven’t, but I’ll look it up later to see if I can access it

Last we checked, #filmsForActionDotOrg have it. Their server is a Microsoft one it seems but you should be able to get it over #TorBrowser, if we remember correctly.


@jackivan88 @natecull

I fell foul of this in 1992, just trying to explore the Internet - it doesn't surprise me little has changed...

@vfrmedia @natecull I actually didn’t think I was that “progressive” until I was working closely with other professionals and it very suddenly became clear that there was a chunk of Ed IT that basically were living out a surveillance-military fantasy through their school IT position. One of my predecessors literally used military ranks for OU names in Active Directory.

@jackivan88 @natecull

I suspect a lot of them (particularly in America) may have got bullied for being "nerds/geeks" in high school and are now exacting their revenge on the next generation (so addressing and preventing this bullying is also *very* important, and would of course benefit IT education as a whole)

@vfrmedia @jackivan88 @natecull There's a particular problem here with formal education, though; it seems to aim at preparing you for a job, which means it has a narrow focus on "useful" knowledge.

In that sense, formal education tends to be at odds with aimless exploration of ideas in general.

Also, formal teaching tends to happen from old to young, so a new technology that allows free exploration in ways the teacher doesn't (yet) know how to keep under control - that's downright dangerous.

@jackivan88 @natecull there is another (better for type 1s) approach, that's proven to work: davelane.nz/different-approach The problem, sadly, is that we're in a digital dark age.

@lightweight @natecull thanks for sending the link, I’m listening to it now 👍🏻

@lightweight So I finished listening and really appreciated your thoughts. I have wished for years that schools could move away from ill-fitting corporate models for software and services and embrace open-source tools instead. I know it's not all perfect in the open-source meadow and that there are still areas where either legally or out of wisdom we do need to put some fences (filters on the network come to mind) but there's a much less controlled path to digital citizenship available.

@jackivan88 I like the idea of starting from a position of trust. To me that seems far superior to the status quo most places.

@natecull what is the danger people in camp 2 see? The danger that anyone could be able to reach out and touch any other system and cause damage, or the danger that it's very easy to be overwhelmed by a con artist working with your computer and able to scam you out of thousands of dollars?

The end result is probably the same but the motivations are pretty different


Yes, and the danger caused by the current ransomware and scammer chaos is very real. It's not an illusion. Our computers have been unsafe for decades and the bill is coming due.

I don't know if we have any easy solutions, and the people in Camp 2 are in that camp with the very best of intentions.

But we're marching straight into the jaws of global cybernetic totalitarianism in order to save ourselves from cybernetic terrorism and I think in the long term the results will be worse.


Oh wait, you were asking which of those two options camp 2 fear? I think it's both.

Being able to damage other systems is possible because we've now shipped billions of broken, unfixable devices. That's bad. So the emphasis is now shifting to stopping users from running arbitrary software including learnable programming languages, limiting what information can be sent or accessed, and massive surveillance.

The danger of scams is subtly different but also leads to censorship.

@natecull I'm more exploring the possibility of camp 3, which posits that fundamentally tech has fucked up and we need to protect some users from their machines, while at the same time helping users who want to become skilled enough to help fix things, get there

@natecull can you refer to a thread where people are espousing camp 2 view? not sure i've seen this said by anyone other than politicians or crazed CISOs.

@simon @natecull
I'm also interested in the steelman view of camp 2.

An idea might be whether locked bootloaders on phones and mandatory updates really do protect an average user who has no interest in running anything but the stock OS.

I don't know, I'm not on that side but I'm curious what I'm missing.

@natecull it's amount like computers are the new means of production and who ever controls them has the power... Seize the means of production!

@natecull I'd disagree about the precise wording of camp 1, but would fit within that

I don't understand camp 2 people at all

@natecull idk, i guess i'm a camp 1 but i do think there's a limited role for less-programmable computer-like objects; embedded devices, videogame consoles, toys for young children, macbooks, that kind of thing

@natecull Oof. I don't think I fall into a single camp. I generally agree with Camp 1, but there are certain times where Camp 2 makes more sense.

At work, I centrally manage devices. Not to surveil them, but because I'm lazy and just want to hand them a blank pc that boots and installs everything. Does that count as camp 2?

And at home, I do strictly control access to both devices and internet for my kids until they can adequately learn the inherent dangers of the internet.


Yep. I'm in the same category. At work, I'm a cog in the machine of Camp 2 (which is increasingly becoming more so as Cloud centralizes everything). And we lock everything down to provide the best and safest possible user experience. We don't do it just because we're on a control trip.

But I'm still very worried about what all this constant background assumption of central monitoring and control is doing to our heads.

So in my own space and time, I try to be as Camp 1 as I can.


But, well. I have a Linux desktop but I switched to a Windows laptop as my primary machine just because COVID meant we had to work from home, that meant I needed a laptop and Windows environment.

So I focus on cross-platform tools, and that's where Node is currently my last best kinda hope for a possibility of a personal programming and data environment between the cracks of the big platforms.


Already the Google banhammer is hovering over the future of Node on the Android platform. It's currently only available via Termux on F-Droid, because Termux got kicked off the Google Play store, and I can see Google very very easily moving to ban F-Droid entirely.

And I'm not happy about that.

@natecull two things: first, you should look at Deno. The creator of node is trying again to fix some things he thought he could do better.

Two: I'm also worried about things like f-droid. Especially with the recent announcement that Google is moving away from APKs and towards app bundles that they can control further.


Hmm, what would Deno give me as a user (apart from possibly more trouble installing it on Termux?)

I *very specifically* want the ability to enter and patch running code from the interpreter while running a session. That's why I use an interpreted language. If it forces out-of-session compilation on me, it is not going to fly.


Cause what I'm doing is writing fairly complicated database queries in Javascript. Have to have interactive feedback and full access to the system to see what the query is returning. Meanwhile, I'm eating my own dogfood and evolving the useful queries into a DSL over top of Javascript. This sort of thing is not fun to do with a forced compile/rebuild process between every query. I don't care how 'secure' a system is, if an interactive language can't interact.


(And in my case, the security comes from a) it's my own physical computer, b) I'm the only one at the keyboard, c) I am only running code from my own fingers not the Internet)

@natecull That's quite a bit. It's very new and probably missing some pieces to do what you're doing. It's effectively a rewrite of Node using Rust in stead of C++. It aims to be secure, use ES6 modules (import/export), promises everywhere, etc.

I listened to a podcast about it and thought it was interesting. changelog.com/podcast/443


Once I get to a useful state I'll think about Deno as an alternative platform, though I'm sure it probably won't run unaltered without any syntax errors (since eg the module import syntax is different).

I'm also hoping to be able to run it as a single page locally hosted webapp, for systems which don't allow Node.


The things I want (1: interactive construction and execution of native language objects/functions, 2: interactive text dialog with the running program in an interactive shell, 3: persistence of the session to non-volatile storage) really *aren't* "quite a bit", though. These used to be the basic fundamental primitives of Personal Computing, and all computing environments from the minicomputer through 8-bit era up through scripting languages offered these. As a *bare minimum*.


Camp 2 also happens to position a small number very wealthy corporations and investors as gatekeepers to the tech. But that's probably just a coincidence.

@natecull Camp 2 seems clearly to be corporate FUD.

Computers are dangerous, but I think a lot of that results from Camp 2 making severe inroads to computing. Implicitly, I also include comprehensibility and usability (not ease of discovery although sometimes this can be part of it) as part of Camp 1.

@natecull Camp 2 markets its products as easy to use, falsely coupling the idea that usability is opposed to Camp 1.

This is a great strategy because most people just want to use technology for consuming media and don't want to have the responsibility of managing their own security. And that's fine, that segment will always exist.

But true security and privacy come from having knowledge and tools that work, not from having trust in an authority.

@natecull @nytpu I think it’s a mistake to represent this as a binary choice. There’s lots of points on this spectrum that make sense in different cases.

@natecull Doctorow wrote two articles/gave two talks about this concept, The Coming War over General Purpose Computing and The Coming Civil War over General Purpose Computing, and I highly recommend seeking them out.

Whenever there's two opposing camps, even if one is significantly more wrong than the other, neither is completely right.

Meaning: There *are* scenarios where giving absolute power to all users is a bad idea. There is a security risk and a user support cost associated with letting incompetent users do whatever, on systems which no limits.

However: With well-designed software, that could be way smaller than the risk/cost caused by incompetent or malevolent admins/managers.

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