Tag Archives: internet

To Anyone Who Wants To Avoid Getting Hacked: Use Two-Factor Authentication (And Set It Up Now)

How to Secure Your Apple Account with Two-Factor Authentication

The internet is a vast, crazy place. It’s full of wonders and horrors. It offers a wealth of knowledge, as well as an endless stream is lies, scams, and misinformation. You’ll wonderful, disturbing, beautiful, yet perverse place. You can meet all sorts of amazing people online, but you can also encounter some of the weirdest, creepiest individuals on the face of this planet.

The internet is remarkable, yet chaotic is what I’m saying. The same could be said for cars and highways. That’s why you wear seatbelts and make sure your side has airbags. That way, if something does go wrong, you have something in place that can save you.

In that same spirit, I’d like to offer an important bit of advice to anyone who uses a computer and regularly accesses the internet, which is increasing with each passing day mind you. It has to do with security, a topic that has become a lot more relevant in recent years.

It wasn’t that long ago that a single cyberattack shut down a critical pipeline that disrupted fuel supplies for the entire eastern United States. However, I feel like people have already forgotten about that incident and the lessons it had to offer.

There are a lot of things to be said about that attack and why it was successful. However, much of it came back to poor cyber security practices. That included little practices like not logging out of a secure network, using easily-guessed passwords, or using the same password for multiple logins. As more and more of our lives go online, these practices will become increasingly damaging.

I know this because I too have been guilty of doing this. Just recently, I had a few security scares for some email accounts that I still use. I didn’t make a big deal about it at first. Then, I realized just how much sensitive information I had in these accounts and I needed to be more careful.

That’s why I immediately activated two-factor authentication.

That’s also why you should activate it too.

No matter how small or large your presence is online, I cannot recommend utilizing this feature enough. Do it for your email accounts. Do it for your social media accounts. Do it for your online shopping accounts. You don’t have to do it for everything, but if you have the option, definitely take advantage of it.

It’s not that hard to utilize. If you have a cell phone that can receive texts, you can use it. Yes, it is an extra step to log in. You have to both enter a password and a code that’s sent to your cell phone. It’s a bit more tedious, but it assures that, even if someone steals your password, they still can’t log in without your phone. It’s not perfect security, but it makes a big difference.

The security at the Colonial Pipeline facility didn’t utilize it. A majority of companies don’t utilize it on a large scale. There are some legitimate reasons for that, but most people don’t use it because it’s inconvenient. It’s another step on top of having to remember a password. Some people just don’t like that.

I get it, but I also get the risks of being hacked or losing your data. If you have a choice between being slightly more inconvenienced or losing critical data, then the choice should be clear. Endure that little bit of inconvenience. It’ll protect you, your data, your money, your identity, and so much more.

I had a bit of a cyber scare recently and while I was able to fix it before anything happened, I made sure I was more proactive. Trust me. You don’t want to learn the hard way why you should utilize extra layers of security whenever you’re online.

I’ll say it again. If you can activate two-factor authentication for any or all your accounts, do it. You’ll spare yourself plenty of stress and frustration. The internet is still an amazing place, but it can be dangerous. Your password is just a seatbelt. Two-factor authentication is an airbag. Your odds of being safe are much better when you can rely on both.

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Filed under Current Events, rants, technology

Whistleblower Confirms That Facebook Is Harmful: So What Do We Do About It?

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There are certain products in this world that we know are harmful, but use them anyway. Cars kill thousands every year through traffic accidents. Thousands die every year by overdosing on drugs that were legally prescribed to them. However, we still use these products because they are essential for our way of life.

With that in mind, I think most people already know that certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be harmful. You don’t need to look that hard to find harmful or damaging misinformation on Facebook. Having been in college at the time Facebook really took off, I think most people understood to some extent that this product could be used for immense harm.

So, was it really that surprising when a whistleblower came out and revealed just how much Facebook was aware of the damage they were doing? Just like tobacco companies before them, they could see that harm unfolding in real time. They just weren’t willing to take the kinds of steps that would hinder their profits.

They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They want to keep making billions for years to come. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the nature/flaw of capitalism.

In case you haven’t been following this story, the fallout from this whistleblower’s revelations are still unfolding. If you want details on the story, here is what NPR reported:

NPR: Whistleblower to Congress: Facebook products harm children and weaken democracy

Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms [they] caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Haugen will urge lawmakers to take action to rein in Facebook, because, she says, it won’t do so on its own. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she will say.

There’s much more to the article, but I singled out this excerpt because it effectively sums up the situation. Again, most reasonable people probably suspected that a platform like Facebook was doing real harm to public discourse and the psychology of teenagers, especially girls. It’s still nice to have confirmation.

As someone who uses Facebook, I can attest to its harms. There is some pretty toxic crap throughout the site, as well as some equally toxic people. Sadly, some of that toxicity comes from friends and relatives sharing content, often of a political nature, that gets people upset and outraged. That’s not a bug, either. According to the whistleblower, that’s entirely on purpose.

Now, in the interest of maintaining some kind of perspective, I’m inclined to remind everyone where that content on Facebook comes from. Remember, they’re not the one’s producing it. They’re just the platform. It’s the users and the people who are creating that. It’s people willing to lie, denigrate, demean, and troll who create the content that makes Facebook and social media so toxic.

To blame Facebook entirely for these harms is like blaming car manufacturers for traffic fatalities. At the end of the day, the car itself doesn’t cause the harm. It’s the person using it.

That being said, Facebook is not a car, nor should we treat it like one. It’s also not a tobacco company and we shouldn’t treat it like that, either. Facebook doesn’t create a tangible product that we can hold in our hands to harm ourselves, nor is it a chemical we willingly put in our bodies. It’s a digital service that we engage with and, in turn, it engages with us.

From that exchange, real harm is possible. This whistleblower confirms that and, based on the available information, I think the data presented is valid. That still leaves one question to ponder.

What do we do about Facebook and other companies like it?

That’s still an unresolved question and one that too many people try to answer bluntly. Shortly after this story came out, the ever-popular #DeleteFacebook hashtag started trending. However, I doubt anything will come of that. I’ve seen that hashtag trend on multiple occasions and it has done little to affect Facebook’s growth.

These revelations are bad, but I doubt they’ll be enough to bring Facebook down completely. They may lose subscribers and revenue in the short-term, but they’ll adapt and grow in the long run. You don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without being able to adapt in lieu of bad press.

At the same time, I think we should take some action to mitigate the impact of Facebook and social media. What could that entail? I’m not smart enough to offer a comprehensive answer, but I do know the extremes people are throwing around just won’t work.

For one, Facebook can’t be banned or shuttered. It makes too much money and it would set a dangerous precedent for every business, online or otherwise. It’s also probably grossly unconstitutional, at least in western democracies like the United States and Britain.

Even if it were banned, people would find a way to get around it. Just look at the countries that have tried to ban porn. People still find a way to get it.

Others have thrown around ideas like splitting up Facebook, just like America once did with oil companies and phone companies. That would certainly be extreme and there are precedents for doing so. However, would that really change how Facebook and social media are utilized by real people? Would those not satisfied with the newly broken up Facebook simply create something similar under a different name?

The most logical recourse might just involve demanding that Facebook make the changes they refused to make, according to the whistleblower. They could also be subject to major fines and taxes, as we’ve done before with tobacco. Will those measures be effective? I don’t know, but I’m skeptical, to say the least.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. I also think that, even if governments did implement new measures on social media companies to combat their harms, both the companies and the users would find a way around it. Both sides are just too motivated at this point.

I still believe there’s a better solution. I just don’t know what it is and if anyone has one to offer, please share it in the comments. In the meantime, I guess the best recourse we can all do is to just be careful about what we place on Facebook and be more mindful of the content we consume.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, technology

OnlyFans Reverses Its Decision To Ban Porn (But They Deserve No Praise)

OnlyFans bans adult content in drastic move to reshape its business -  SlashGear

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just a couple days after OnlyFans announced that they were banning most of their pornographic content, and after I’d commented on it as well, they’re reversing course. For reasons I’m sure had nothing to do with the massive backlash they received online, as well as the reminder of what happened to Tumblr, they announced they’re not going forward with this new policy.

In fact, they didn’t even wait to make an official press release or anything of the sort. The announcement came in the form of a tweet, which is very revealing in its own right.

Now, without trying too hard to read between the lines, I’d like to make a few comments.

I’ll try not to speculate too much into what went into this decision or why it was made so quickly after their previous announcement. For now, I think it’s reasonable to assume that it all came back to money. OnlyFans realized that it was going to lose way too much money banning porn from their site rather than fighting the legal battles waged by those who hate it.

In the end, money usually wins out and sex still sells, last I checked. It’s the primary reason why prostitution is the world’s oldest profession.

Whatever their reason, let’s not overlook the bigger picture. This whole ordeal revealed a lot about the sex industry, sex workers, and the moral crusaders who seek to destroy both. Remember, OnlyFans didn’t make their initial decision because they suddenly became Puritans and believed anything overly sexy would trigger the Apocalypse. They did this because their payment processors threatened to cease their service, thereby preventing them from paying their content creators.

It was basically a mafia shakedown, but the mafia in this case were being pressured by the organizational equivalent of Ned Flanders. Much of that pressure came courtesy of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. They may sound noble, but don’t be fooled. This organization is basically a tool of the religious right. They’re primary goal is to rid the media of all forms of porn, sex work, and anything that wouldn’t be censored in a 1950s sitcom.

These people are basically on the same level as he Taliban. I know that’s a poor choice of words, given recent events, but it fits too well.

That’s why OnlyFans deserves no praise for changing their minds.

That’s why their payment processors deserve just as much criticism, if not more so.

These people gave into pressure from a bunch of religious radicals who won’t rest until the world is as unsexy as possible. They may claim they’re doing it to protect children and victims of sex trafficking, but that’s just the sugar they mix in with the bullshit to make it more palatable.

I think it’s also telling that some of the most vocal opponents of OnlyFans’ decision came from sex workers. The site wasn’t just a hub for their content. It became a lifeline for some people, some of whom were just in desperate need of extra money.

These were not people looking to harm children or exploit the vulnerable.

These were just people looking to better their lives, as is often the case for those who turn to sex work.

The problem is that, due to the influence of moral crusaders and religious zealots, they’re easy targets. Few politicians or companies are going to get much backlash for screwing over sex workers. These are people who already face significant stigma and shame from those who refuse to accept the world isn’t as pure as a 1950s sitcom. Attacking the very mechanisms they need to earn their living is only going to make things worse for them.

Banning the mechanisms that facilitate sex work aren’t going to make sex work go away. Moreover, shaming and denigrating sex workers or the people who patronize them isn’t going to make people less horny. It’s just going to make people more desperate, more frustrated, and more vulnerable.

Now, I get the importance of making sure that sites like OnlyFans don’t host content that features underaged sex workers or people who have been coerced into this life. That’s a serious crime. That’s also illegal and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

However, trying to address that issue by attacking sites like OnlyFans is like trying to prevent car crashes by demanding that car manufacturers stop producing cars. It’s misguided, counterproductive, and puts peoples’ lives and livelihoods at risk.

There’s no doubt that this will continue to be an issue. While I think it’s generally a good thing that OnlyFans walked back this decision, I have a feeling the anti-sex, anti-fun crowd will continue fighting their misguided fights. This ordeal demonstrated that sex workers do have a voice and they have some power. They would be wise to use it moving forward.

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Filed under Current Events, political correctness, prostitution, religion

Why Amazon Accepting Bitcoin Would Be A Game Changer (And Why They Might NOT Do It)

Jeff Bezos Directs Amazon to Accept Bitcoin and Other Popular  Cryptocurrencies: Report – Bitcoin News

In all the years I’ve been browsing the internet, I’ve never seen something so divisive or so disruptive as cryptocurrencies. Yes, that includes both video games and internet porn. Crypto’s impact has been that profound. That impact is likely to continue in unexpected ways for years to come.

However, there is still plenty of uncertainty and confusion surrounding cryptocurrencies. I recently had dinner with my parents and my mother asked me to explain it to her. I tried. I’m pretty sure I failed. I tried to simply frame it as digital money, but that didn’t even come close to explaining what cryptocurrency is, how it works, and why it has become such a huge industry.

There are far smarter people than me who can explain what cryptocurrencies are and how they work. This video here does a decent job of explaining it to beginners who aren’t particularly tech savvy.

While I’ve been following the rise, fall, revival, and growth of cryptocurrencies for years, I didn’t actually buy any until very recently. I even wrote about my experience, which ended up being somewhat mundane. It was no different than using an ATM.

That’s somewhat illustrative of where cryptocurrencies are right now. Buying currencies like Bitcoin has never been easier. You can download any number of wallets for free on your phone. If you don’t want to link your bank account to it, then finding an ATM like I did is very easy.

If you have any spare change lying around, you can turn it into Bitcoin. That’s where we’re at now with cryptocurrencies.

The harder part at the moment is actually spending Bitcoins. While you can find numerous online merchants who take Bitcoins, you can’t exactly use them to pay your bills, buy your groceries, or just purchase something on a whim. That’s one of the biggest barriers to cryptocurrencies in general. Using it is more cumbersome than regular cash. That’s why most see Bitcoin as an investment asset rather than a usable currency.

That could change very soon, however. The reason for that change could come from the largest retail entity on this planet, Amazon. If ever there was a company that could completely change the way we see and use cryptocurrencies, it’s this one. It may ultimately make Jeff Bezos even richer than he already is, but let’s table that concern for a moment.

This isn’t just me speculating. There was a recent rumor among the business world that Amazon was looking to start accepting Bitcoins as a payment method. While Amazon ultimately shot down that rumor, they did not say they would never accept Bitcoins.

In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s only a matter of time before Amazon starts accepting cryptocurrencies in some capacity. There’s just too much money to be made from doing so and Amazon, like all big businesses, is always looking to grow. This would be one way of doing that and it’s impossible to overstate the larger impact that would have.

For one, it would send shockwaves through all currency markets, crypto and otherwise, more so than a million tweets by Elon Musk. Suddenly, this asset isn’t just an investment vehicle anymore. It’s a form of money with an actual use.

Amazon is already the biggest retailer in the world. It’s also becoming one of the largest grocery chains. It still has some competition, mostly through companies like Walmart. None of them accept Bitcoin yet, but you can be reasonably certain that as soon as one of them takes that leap, the others will follow.

Beyond just being a novel payment method, Amazon accepting Bitcoins could have a far broader change. One of the main driving forces behind the development of cryptocurrencies is that this is money that has no boarders. It doesn’t matter where you are in this world. You could be in America, China, or the middle of Africa. So long as you have an internet connection, you can access this currency.

For companies like Amazon, that means accessing a customer base that has been traditionally inaccessible. There are over a billion people in this world who have no bank accounts. In some parts of the world, their currency just isn’t usable for companies like Amazon. Converting them to other currencies is already a hassle. Bitcoin could change that.

By accepting Bitcoin, Amazon and other retailers like it have the potential to the entire world in ways that weren’t possible until recently. If they’re going to keep growing, they need those customers and, like it or not, these people need Amazon. Opening more people up to an accessible market can only help get goods to people who need them.

All that being said, I can also understand why Amazon and other large retailers might resist accepting cryptocurrencies. Beyond them just being too loosely regulated, their volatile nature could be a problem for large retailers.

I can attest to that volatility personally. When I bought my first Bitcoins, the price was around $35,000. Then, it shot up to over $60,000 for a while. A few months later, it crashed to the point where it was worth less than my initial investment. It eventually recovered, but that’s a lot of instability for a currency.

That’s something I’m sure Amazon is aware of. By taking Bitcoins as payments, they’re also accepting its wild volatility. All those Bitcoins that paid for all those goods could be worth a thousand dollars one day and worth a fraction of that the next. Even if Bitcoin represents only a small portion of payment, that’s sure to create some anxiety among investors.

Given the current state of the economy and the world, as a whole, I understand why Amazon would hold off on diving into cryptocurrencies. For a large, publicly traded company, anything that makes the stock price or the overall value of its assets less certain might just be too much to handle for now.

It may not happen this year. It may not even happen next year. However, I’m not among those who think all cryptocurrencies are a scam, a scheme, or a fad. These aren’t Pokémon cards or Beanie Babies. This is a valuable tool for the digital world that has the potential to open up exchange with everyone, regardless of where they live.

That tool still needs refinements. Bitcoin certainly has its flaws. That’s beyond dispute. Amazon is aware of those flaws, as well. As they are refined, currencies like Bitcoin will gain more acceptance. Amazon and other big retailers will be part of that process. When that day finally comes, expect a whole new world to emerge. I don’t claim to know what kind of world that’ll be, but I’m excited to see how it unfolds.

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Filed under Bitcoin, Current Events, futurism, technology

Why Superhero Secret Identities Are More Relevant Than Ever

Superman

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.

It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.

From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.

In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.

I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.

This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.

Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.

While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.

What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.

There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?

That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.

Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.

The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.

It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.

In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.

That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.

That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?

For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.

In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.

To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.

For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.

The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.

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Filed under Current Events, Marvel, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, Spider-Man, superhero comics, superhero movies

Ode To Zoom And How It Helped Me Get Through The Pandemic

Zoom for beginners: how to best use the app for your video calls - The Verge

A year and a half ago, not many people knew what Zoom was. In fact, if you asked someone if you wanted to set up a Zoom call, they would probably just stare at you blankly and wonder if you had been watching too many cartoons. They were more likely to respond to Skype calls or FaceTime. That seemed to do the trick for most video conferencing needs.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Need I say more?

Suddenly, we couldn’t just wake up, meet up with friends or family, and interact like we’ve always done. We had to rely more and more on technology, especially video conferencing, to fill that gap. In doing so, we realized that Skype and FaceTime just weren’t enough.

That’s where Zoom came in. We all learned quickly that this software wasn’t just much more useful. It was a vital link between friends, family, teachers, students, and so much more. We all came to rely so heavily on Zoom that it has basically supplanted all other forms of video conferencing in the span of a year. That’s a hell of a accomplishment.

Most people don’t fully appreciate the story behind Zoom. It’s actually really sweet in that it has a romantic sub-plot. Being a lover of romance, I certainly appreciate that. The basics are that the company’s founder, Eric Yuan, was struggling to maintain a long-distance relationship with his then-girlfriend, now-wife. He was familiar with video conferencing technology, but quickly realized its limitations.

Rather than lament on the frustrations of long-distance relationships, he decided to actually do something about it. That’s what led him to create Zoom. It really is a beautiful story and I just gave the bare basics of it. If you want a more complete story, check out this video by the YouTube channel, Company Man. Seriously, you’ll appreciate Mr. Yuan and Zoom even more.

Beyond the story behind this software, I can attest to how vital it has been to keep me connected with friends and family. When the pandemic hit, we had no idea how long it was going to last. I had still made plans to visit friends and family over the course of the year. As those plans were crushed by the pandemic, just maintaining contact became a challenge.

At first, we tried to use FaceTime, but that proved unreliable. It was also a pain in the ass to get multiple people on the same call. Once we discovered Zoom, an entire world opened up. It started simply with my mother organizing this big group Zoom call between the family and a relative who was getting married. It proved so successful that many of us started finding other uses for Zoom.

One of the most important to me, personally, came from my dad. While he’s usually reluctant to adopt new technology, he came to enjoy scheduling video chats with me and my brother every Saturday morning. We would just sit in our kitchens, open up a chat, and sip coffee while talking about this or that. It felt very much like a normal meet-up. Even after we’ve all been vaccinated, we still do it. It’s a much better way to keep up than a typical phone all.

On top of that, Zoom has helped me strengthen ties with siblings who don’t live nearby anymore. One of my favorite daily rituals during the week is to join my oldest sister in a Zoom call while she and her friends watch Jeopardy. It has been a great way to both meet new people and grow closer to her, even though she doesn’t live nearby anymore.

Without Zoom, none of this would’ve happened. It wouldn’t have even been possible, given how cumbersome FaceTime and Skype has been. For that, I’m grateful. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I imagine Zoom has helped plenty of people stay connected with friends and family in ways they wouldn’t have been able to do with simple phone calls. It has also helped people who usually resist new technology to embrace it. I consider that a good thing.

Even after the pandemic is over, I still plan on using Zoom to keep up with friends and family, especially during times of the year when it’s harder to travel. I hope others do the same. Connecting with loved ones is critical during a crisis. Staying connected when times are good is every bit as important.

To Mr. Yuan, on behalf of everyone who has benefited so much from Zoom, I sincerely thank you.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology, YouTube

What Keeps Bitcoin From Being A (Bigger) Part Of Our Future

I consider myself an enthusiast of technology. On many occasions, I’ve wildly speculated about emerging technology and expressed unapologetic excitement about certain trends. In general, I have the utmost respect and support for those who share this passion. I don’t always agree with their outlook or speculation, but I get where they’re coming from.

Then, there are Bitcoin enthusiasts. I’ll just come out and say I have mixed feelings about them.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to diminish what a remarkable technology Bitcoin is. It is a complicated and, at times, confusing technology. Even the Wikipedia page only does so much to explain what it is, where it came from, and why it matters. That’s not surprising. There was plenty of confusion about the internet too when it first emerged.

While I don’t consider myself an enthusiast, Bitcoin has sparked my curiosity. I do sometimes look into major news stories and developments surrounding the technology. The fact that it has lasted over a decade and made some people legitimate millionaires is proof enough that Bitcoin has real, tangible value. Those who keep saying that Bitcoin is just a fad or will crash are becoming increasingly scarce.

I’m convinced that Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies like it, are here to stay. They’ve proven that they have value in an increasingly digital landscape. As the internet becomes more prevalent and accessible, their role will only grow. That being said, I’m not yet convinced Bitcoin’s role will go beyond a certain point.

Those who say Bitcoin is the future of money are likely talking in hyperbole.

Those who say Bitcoin and the blockchain are the most revolutionary technologies since email are also likely exaggerating.

I don’t doubt for a second that these people believe in what they’re saying. I just haven’t seen enough to warrant that kind of enthusiasm. The issue isn’t as much about the merits of the technology as it is about how it’s being used. I’m not just referring to its role in the illegal drug trade, either.

At the moment, Bitcoin is fairly accessible. If you have a smartphone and an internet connection, you can download a simple wallet for free. If you do a quick search for a Bitcoin ATM, you can purchase Bitcoins with the same ease you would when purchasing a gift card. It’s what you do after that where the issues arise.

What exactly can you buy with Bitcoin that you can’t buy more easily through other means? That’s not me being facetious. This is where I tend to diverge with Bitcoin enthusiasts. I understand that some major ecommerce sites accept Bitcoin, namely Overstock. I’m also aware that more and more retailers are accepting Bitcoin.

However, the only ones taking advantage of that option are those who go out of their way to use Bitcoin. For most people, especially those who aren’t as tech savvy, there just aren’t enough benefits to warrant the extra effort. On top of that, Bitcoin does have some lingering flaws that are hard to work around. Then again, you can say the same thing about traditional money.

None of that even begins to highlight the growing issues associated with mining Bitcoins.

Now, that could change. It’s not a certainty, but it is a possibility. Like any new tech, the issue isn’t always about whether or not it works. Bitcoin clearly works and it’s been working for nearly a decade. It’s whether or not there’s a “killer app” to entice ordinary people to go through the effort of learning about, acquiring, and using Bitcoin.

The problem is that, thanks to incidents like the Silk Road, the primary use of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies like it have been for the purchase of drugs or other illicit services. Regardless of how you feel about the politics surrounding illegal drugs and services, that’s the reputation Bitcoin has. It’s just a way for criminals and their cohorts to operate.

That’s not a killer app. It’s also not sustainable.

In order for Bitcoin to play a bigger part in our future, it needs to have a good, meaningful use. It took cell phones decades to find that. Just being able to make phone calls, remember phone numbers, and occasionally host a game of solitaire wasn’t enough. Other apps like music, video chatting, and cameras had to get into the mix before the public and the market embraced them.

That’s what Bitcoin needs. I don’t claim to know what that entails. I think Bitcoin has to get to a point where using it is as simple as using a credit card or debit card. It also needs a particular use or product that will justify the physical and financial investment. That use also can’t be illegal. It’s no secret that the internet owes much of its early growth to the porn industry, but porn isn’t illegal.

Bitcoin, in my opinion, will need something bigger than porn. It might also need to wait until more parts of the world are connected to broadband internet. Maybe it involves voting, enforcing contracts, or the development of new peer-to-peer networks, such as Open Bazaar. I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to figure it out at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ll certainly keep an eye on Bitcoin. I don’t deny it has its uses in the current world. It’s just too limited right now. Whether it has a large or small role in the future that awaits us remains to be seen.

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Filed under Bitcoin, futurism, technology

Tales From The Comments Section: When Hypocrisy, Lying, And Trolling Converge

Even the most luxurious palace has a septic system that contains its foulest shit. It’s not just a fact of life. It might as well be a law of physics. In the same way the brightest light still casts a shadow, there’s always a dark underbelly to any world we explore.

The internet is no exception. If anything, the internet has more dark underbellies than most and I’m not just referring to porn sites or nefarious Google searches. Those are all plenty disturbing, but if the internet has an overflowing septic tank, it’s the collective comments section of many sites.

They’re not just the comments section to certain news sites.

They’re not just anonymous image boards like 4chan that pride themselves on excess shit-posting.

Even the comments section of mainstream websites like YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit have comments sections that will give your faith in humanity a hefty gut punch. They come in many forms, but they tend to follow the same patterns.

They’re degrading, insulting, whiny, vulgar, immature, and just plain wrong on multiple levels. I’m not calling for them to be censored or banned, outside the kind of comments that incite violence in the real world. I’m just pointing out that this is the ugly side of the internet and we can’t deny its stench.

I say that as someone who has spent many hours, much of them wasted, in comments sections and message boards over the years. Even during the early days of the internet, complete with dial up and AOL keyword searches, I’ve seen this ugliness firsthand. I also don’t deny that there are times when I’ve contributed to it. That’s something I genuinely regret.

While all toxic comments are different, they often employ similar rhetoric. It really hasn’t changed much from the AOL days. Just the other day, I made the mistake of browsing the comments of a YouTube video. I saw the same whiny, angry ranting that I saw on old message boards in 1999.

The topics may change. The verbiage may differ. Even the arguments made, if there are any, tend to be fairly similar. I could single out plenty of ugly comments I’ve encountered. However, I want to highlight one that I’ve seen a lot more of lately, especially among fans of superhero comics, Star Wars, and Star Trek.

They usually go like this.

“Everybody hates [insert character, show, actor/actress, etc.]!”

“Nobody likes [insert character, show, actor/actress, etc.]!”

It’s a sweeping, generalized statement. It’s usually said out of a mix of hate, resentment, and tribalism. Ironically, it’s often Star Wars fans who say stuff like this when talking about characters like Rey. It’s ironic because Obi-Wan Kanobi himself once said, “only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

It doesn’t help that these kinds of absolutes are total bullshit encased in wishful thinking that’s built entirely around head-canon. Certain fans want to believe that everyone agrees with them and those who don’t aren’t “true” fans.

No true Star Wars fan can like Rey.

No true Marvel fan can like Captain Marvel.

No true Star Trek fan can like “Star Trek Discovery.”

It’s basically the old “no true Scotsman” fallacy, but this one is laced with a mix of lies and hypocrisy. That’s because it’s demonstrably provable that these kinds of sweeping statements are wrong.

Not everyone hates Rey, Captain Marvel, or whoever else is the object of resentment at the moment. For one, Captain Marvel’s movie raked in $1 billion at the box office. Clearly, more than a few people liked her.

The same can be said for Rey. You can go onto Amazon and readily find merchandise featuring her. She may not be on the same level as Luke Skywalker, but that’s not a reasonable bar for a character who has only recently entered the franchise.

I can also attest that Rey has plenty of fans. It’s not just that I’m one of them. I’ve been to comic book conventions. I’ve seen women, young girls, and even a few men dress up as Rey. I’ve seen even more dress up as Captain Marvel. She clearly has plenty of fans.

That makes the whole idea that “nobody likes this character” or “everyone hates this character” demonstrably false. Those who say it aren’t just lying trolls. They’re hypocrites.

Now, I’ve made the mistake of arguing with these people before. I can safely conclude that it’s not a productive use of my time. These people will never be dissuaded. They still want to live in their head-canon where everyone hates exactly who they hate and anyone who thinks otherwise is just part of an evil conspiracy out to get them.

It’s a dangerous, toxic mentality that extends beyond fandoms and into politics. We saw just how bad it could get on January 6th during the Capitol riots. I’m not saying angry Star Wars fans are that bad, but the mentality is the same and it’s just as dangerous.

Again, I freely admit I’ve posted my share of dumb comments. I’ve said dumb things before, as well. Everyone has. We’re only human. We’re not perfect and never will be. I believe in free speech strongly and I understand that this is a byproduct of that. I’m willing to accept that.

I’m also willing to use that same freedom to point out the idiocy and hypocrisy of those kinds of comments. They’re not just a useless waste of bandwidth. They’re a symptom of a much larger problem. For now, the best thing to do is ignore these people and let them live in their fanciful head-canon. It may not fix the problem, but it’ll keep it from getting worse.

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Filed under Current Events, psychology, rants, Star Wars, superhero comics, superhero movies, television

Why We Should Treat Our Data As (Valuable) Property

Many years ago, I created my first email address before logging into the internet. It was a simple AOL account. I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was creating anything valuable. At the time, the internet was limited to slow, clunky dial-up that had little to offer in terms of content. I doubt anyone saw what they were doing as creating something of great value.

I still have that email address today in case you’re wondering. I still regularly use it. I imagine a lot of people have an email address they created years ago for one of those early internet companies that used to dominate a very different digital world. They may not even see that address or those early internet experiences as valuable.

Times have changed and not just in terms of pandemics. In fact, times tends to change more rapidly in the digital world than it does in the real world. The data we created on the internet, even in those early days, became much more valuable over time. It served as the foundation on which multi-billion dollar companies were built.

As a result, the data an individual user imparts onto the internet has a great deal of value. You could even argue that the cumulative data of large volumes of internet users is among the most valuable data in the world.

Politicians, police, the military, big businesses, advertising agencies, marketing experts, economists, doctors, and researchers all have use for this data. Many go to great lengths to get it, sometimes through questionable means.

The growing value of this data raises some important questions.

Who exactly owns this data?

How do we go about treating it from a legal, fiscal, and logistical standpoint?

Is this data a form of tangible property, like land, money, or labor?

Is this something we can exchange, trade, or lease?

What is someone’s recourse if they want certain aspects of their data removed, changed, or deleted?

These are all difficult questions that don’t have easy answers. It’s getting to a point where ownership of data was an issue among candidates running for President of the United States. Chances are, as our collective data becomes more vital for major industries, the issue will only grow in importance.

At the moment, it’s difficult to determine how this issue will evolve. In the same way I had no idea how valuable that first email address would be, nobody can possibly know how the internet, society, the economy, and institutions who rely on that data will evolve. The best solution in the near term might not be the same as the best solution in the long term.

Personally, I believe that our data, which includes our email addresses, browsing habits, purchasing habits, and social media posts, should be treated as personal property. Like money, jewels, or land, it has tangible value. We should treat it as such and so should the companies that rely on it.

However, I also understand that there are complications associated with this approach. Unlike money, data isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You can’t easily hand it over to another person, nor can you claim complete ownership of it. To some extent, the data you create on the internet was done with the assistance of the sites you use and your internet service provider.

Those companies could claim some level of ownership of your data. It might even be written in the fine print of those user agreements that nobody ever reads. It’s hard to entirely argue against such a claim. After all, we couldn’t create any of this data without the aid of companies like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. At the same time, these companies couldn’t function, let alone profit, without our data.

It’s a difficult question to resolve. It only gets more difficult when you consider laws like the “right to be forgotten.” Many joke that the internet never forgets, but it’s no laughing matter. Peoples’ lives can be ruined, sometimes through no fault of their own. Peoples’ private photos have been hacked and shared without their permission.

In that case, your data does not at all function like property. Even if it’s yours, you can’t always control it or what someone else does with it. You can try to take control of it, but it won’t always work. Even data that was hacked and distributed illegally is still out there and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Despite those complications, I still believe that our data is still the individual’s property to some extent, regardless of what the user agreements of tech companies claim. Those companies provide the tools, but we’re the ones who use them to build something. In the same way a company that makes hammers doesn’t own the buildings they’re used to make, these companies act as the catalyst and not the byproduct.

Protecting our data, both from theft and from exploitation, is every bit as critical as protecting our homes. An intruder into our homes can do a lot of damage. In our increasingly connected world, a nefarious hacker or an unscrupulous tech company can do plenty of damage as well.

However, there’s one more critical reason why I believe individuals need to take ownership of their data. It has less to do with legal jargon and more to do with trends in technology. At some point, we will interact with the internet in ways more intimate than a keyboard and mouse. The technology behind a brain/computer interface is still in its infancy, but it exists and not just on paper.

Between companies like Neuralink and the increasing popularity of augmented reality, the way we interact with technology is bound to get more intimate/invasive. Clicks and link sharing are valuable today. Tomorrow, it could be complex thoughts and feelings. Whoever owns that stands to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the user.

I know it’s common refrain to say that knowledge is power, but when the knowledge goes beyond just our browsing and shopping habits, it’s not an unreasonable statement. As we build more and more of our lives around digital activities, our identities will become more tied to that data. No matter how large or small that portion might be, we’ll want to own it as much as we can.

It only gets more critical if we get to a point where we can fully digitize our minds, as envisioned in shows like “Altered Carbon.” At some point, our bodies are going to break down. We cannot preserve it indefinitely for the same reason we can’t preserve a piece of pizza indefinitely. However, the data that makes up our minds could be salvaged, but that opens the door to many more implications.

While that kind of technology is a long way off, I worry that if we don’t take ownership of our data today, then it’ll only get harder to do so in the future. Even before the internet, information about who we are and what we do was valuable.

This information forms a big part of our identity. If we don’t own that, then what’s to stop someone else from owning us and exploiting that to the utmost? It’s a question that has mostly distressing answers. I still don’t know how we go about staking our claim on our data, but it’s an issue worth confronting. The longerwe put it off, the harder it will get.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, politics, technology

The Future Of Telework: A Trend That Transcends Pandemics

In early 2020, which might as well be another lifetime, I speculated on the lasting impact of increased telework and distance learning due to the pandemic that uprooted our entire society. At the time, I didn’t know just how bad this pandemic would get. In my defense, my hopes were still intact. Now, they’re charred ashes, but that’s beside the point.

In essence, I speculated that once people got used to teleworking, they would not be eager to go back, even after the pandemic had passed. That wasn’t exactly a bold speculation. You don’t have to be a world class psychic to surmise that people will come to enjoy working in their underwear, not having to commute, and enjoying the general flexibility that telework affords.

I’ve been stuck in enough traffic jams to appreciate that kind of flexibility. I know I’m not the only one who might become too fond of telework.

Well, that all-too-obvious insight is starting to take hold in many sectors. It’s not just related to typical office work in cubicles. Everyone from the United States Military to big tech companies to law firms are embracing this new normal for the workplace. Even though it’s more out of necessity than innovation or good will, it’s still happening and there may be no going back.

The pandemic has already forced a mentality shift among the workforce. According to research done by Pew, telework was mostly seen as an optional benefit reserved for an affluent few. That’s not surprising. That kind of flexibility just felt more like a luxury, one that someone had to earn by establishing trust and credibility from an organization.

Now, it’s not just a necessity. It’s unavoidable. The world we’re living in now just cannot accommodate the same professional environment we once knew. I’ve worked in many professional environments before. I can attest that some of them are not built with pandemics in mind.

At one point, I worked at a company in which my desk was crammed into a closet-sized space with three other people. If even one of us caught a cold, we’d all be sick by the end of the week. It was that bad.

I doubt that’s an isolated case. In some of the jobs I’ve had, I have been able to work from home, but it’s only as a last resort. The only times I actually had to do it involved an emergency that occurred on a Saturday morning and one instance where the office was being renovated. In both cases, I still got plenty of work done. I just did it in my underwear.

In that sense, I get why many organizations reserve telework as a luxury rather than a norm. There’s this underlying sentiment that people will abuse it. If they can work from home, they just won’t get as much done. They’ll be too tempted to just grab a bag of chips, lie down on the couch, and watch game shows.

While I don’t doubt there are people who do that, this pandemic has revealed that most people aren’t assholes on that level. In some cases, it’s increasing productivity. Apparently, when workers are comfortable and afforded flexibility, they can get more done. That shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s still remarkable in its own way.

This has born itself out in subsequent studies and surveys. For some industries, telework is probably more productive in the grand scheme of things and that shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who has ever had a lousy commute knows why. If a good chunk of your day is spent waking up, putting on itchy clothes, and spending hours in traffic, you’re not going to be in a very productive mood.

That won’t be the case for certain industries. If you’re a doctor, a police officer, a fire fighter, or a trucker, you just can’t telework. The nature of the work doesn’t allow it. That’s still going to be the case, at least until we have robots capable of doing those tasks, which we are working on. However, there’s also sizable chunk of work that could probably be done remotely.

I think the impacts of this emerging truth will extend far beyond the pandemic. I’ve already seen it with people I know. They enjoy teleworking. They don’t want to stop, even after the pandemic becomes a bleak footnote in history. Some are willing to still go into the office some of the time, but they would prefer to telework. I suspect that’s going to become the new normal.

Last year has proven that people can, for the most part, be responsible with the flexibility afforded by telework. As long as they’re getting the work done, who cares if they do it in their underwear while Netflix plays in the background? Considering how costly commutes can be and how expensive office space can be, it might just make more fiscal sense in the long run.

Like it or not, businesses and various organizations tend to err on the side of reducing operating costs. It may mean more employees waste time at home, but if the difference is made up by better productivity, then it’s a net gain overall.

That shift could have impacts that go far beyond business operations. If people have to commute less, then that makes living out beyond urban and suburban settings more feasible. Given how expensive it is to live in those areas, this could spread people out even more, which is an objectively good thing if you’re looking to prevent future pandemics.

It might even help those in depressed rural areas in need of human capital. I can easily imagine some people preferring the quiet, less crowded environment afforded by a rural setting. If they can live in that environment while still getting their work done via internet, assuming they have a reliable connection, then that’s another big benefit that goes beyond the business itself.

This is likely to be a trend. That’s not a fanciful prediction. We’re already seeing it happen. The pandemic just forced it to accelerate. There will likely be other impacts. It may very well change how cities, suburbs, and rural areas are planned from here on out.

I don’t claim to know the specifics, but we’ll likely see it continue in the coming years. I, for one, welcome this change. If I can reduce the amount of time spent in traffic and increase the amount of time I spend in my underwear, then my overall well-being improves considerably.

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Filed under Current Events, futurism, human nature, technology