How to be a free-thinker, part two

Following on from last week’s wibblette, my intent with this one is to try to persuade you to consider using tools other than the ones that you probably use because everyone else does (apologies if that’s not the case). There are alternatives to ‘googling’ for your information – although I do have to admit that ‘duckduckgoing’ is unlikely to ever make it into any dictionary.

But before I attempt to do that, allow me to digress a little….

There’s a sucker born every minute

Once upon a time, back when Windows 3.1 came out, the improvement over MS-DOS led me to consider Microsoft the best thing since sliced bread. I devoted myself to learning as much as I could about this marvellous new OS. I even (shock, horror!) RTFM. And I sang its praises, encouraging others to use it – and I helped them out enthusiastically when they ran into trouble. I wasn’t just a fan, I was a fanatic. To this day (naturally), Microsoft never acknowledged me, and thousands like me, for either my loyalty or my advocacy (of Win3.1 and variants since); it never rewarded my salesmanship and endless hours of unpaid product support on its behalf.

I was a naïve fool. These days, I no longer hold the word ‘microsoft’ in such high esteem; it no longer even warrants even the initial capital. And as for the once-richest-man-on-the-planet Bill Gates: well, don’t get me started.

When the Internet began to rise in popularity, microsoft dismissed it as a fad (not long afterwards, of course, they did a complete U-turn and announced that they were going to ‘own’ it). Here in the UK at that time, a company called ‘Demon Internet’ arose. I was in thrall to its ‘tenner-a-month’ connection ideal. I spent a lot of time providing the company with error reports and feedback. I did my best to convince my friends to sign up to it; and I willingly helped those folks when they had trouble… again, all unpaid. (Are you beginning to spot a theme, here?)

When the company’s co-founder, Cliff Stanford, sold the company in 1998 for £66 million, I thought, “Oi! Where’s my share of that?”

Along came the Google search engine. I soon grokked that it was streets ahead of its competition (such widgets as Infoseek, Ask Jeeves, Altavista, WebCrawler, Lycos and their ilk). The biggest advantage I saw in Google was its focus on pure search: whereas all its competitors had blinking, flashy, irritating adverts on their pages slowing things down to a crawl, Google’s search engine loaded quickly because it had none of that baggage. Also, Google’s slogan ‘Don’t be evil’ appealed to me. And so, I promoted it to all my friends… again, totally unacknowledged, unthanked, and, of course, unpaid.

Fast forward to the present. Google reinvented itself as ‘Alphabet’ in 2015, and subsequently quietly sidelined the ‘Don’t be evil’ motto. Personally, I think they just removed the “Don’t,” having succumbed to the evil inherent in the pursuit of money.

There’s a sucker born every minute, and once upon a time that sucker was me. I like to think that I’m wiser now, even though some say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I wouldn’t know about that, having never been a dog. And, besides, I’m more of a cat person anyway.

All this taught me valuable lessons, such as:

  1. Things Change.
  2. Advocates are Rarely Rewarded.
  3. All Upgrades include a Deleterious Dose of Downsides.


Four things to know about misinformation
(Inoculate yourself: download the free Debunking Handbook 2020)

Echo chambers, filter bubbles and FAKE NEWS!!!!1

When you have a notion that most people near you consider crazy, such as, oh, I don’t know, ‘the Earth is flat’, or maybe ‘the lunar landings were faked’, it’s wise to keep schtum if you don’t want to be ridiculed. Pre-Internet, it was pretty hard to find folks willing to listen without laughing you out of court, so such lunatic memes gained little traction.

In the Internet era, however, it’s quite easy to hook up with like-minded others and bounce barmy ideas around. In your new-found echo chamber the zaniest hypothesis can all too easily blossom into a fully-fledged belief, and before you can say “the moon is made of green cheese” you and your inner circle of allies have gone forth and multiplied, spreading falsehoods and misinformation willy-nilly.

And then along come AI algorithms cultivated by avaricious megacorporations such as Google (sorry, ‘Alphabet’) and Facebook (sorry, ‘Meta’) that grow fat on producing almost nothing at all.†

When you go to Google and type in ‘climate change is’ you’re going to see different results depending on where you live and the particular things that Google knows about your interests. That’s not by accident; that’s a design technique.

Google’s search engine learns your preferences and offers you results accordingly. If it ‘knows’ you enjoy shopping for shoes then it’s primed to offer you, er, ‘shoppy’ and ‘shoey’ results. And if (for instance) it has you flagged as a flat-Earther and you go looking for evidence for that, it will merrily offer you exactly what you’re looking for whether it’s based on scientific fact or the musings of some misguided fool (I almost added ‘like me’ there, but thought better of it). Your preconceptions get reinforced by such filter bubbles, and the natural tendency is to go looking for more, dismissing any information that contradicts your worldview on the way.

From here it’s “one small step for mankind” (to misuse a phrase) and a single letter change, to turn misinformation into disinformation. There are those who seek to pervert information to their own ends, and we are blindly handing them the keys to the kingdom.

For far too many, money – and its acquisition – is akin to a religion. Money means power. Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The powerful already have a firm grasp on the global purse strings – and they are tightening the screws.

When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.

Frank Herbert, ‘Dune’

Though it may already be too late, the only way out I can see is for each and every one of us to place more value on our own data privacy. We can sit back on our laurels and be seduced by the dark side, or we can choose other paths, such as those offered by tools like Signal (an excellent alternative to FacebookMeta’s WhatsApp), Proton (emails in envelopes? who’d’a thunk it?), Sync (cloud storage that’s secure, encrypted, unlike Big Tech’s offerings) and search engines such as DuckDuckGo that promise not to track you.

And, yes, I’m not blind to the fact that here I am pumping a pulpit yet again, advocating others’ widgets. Even those who make a big song and dance about their highly ethical pro-privacy stance might at some point change tack. But I do like to think that forewarned is forearmed, and doing nothing at all about the problem is, for me at least, not an option.

† … unless you, like most of today’s crop of economists, consider consumerism a worthwhile pursuit, and ‘economic growth’ a noble addition to humanity’s aspirations. (In case you hadn’t already guessed: I do not consider trashing our home planet to make the wealthy even more so anything but reprehensible.) Software development doesn’t come cheap, I admit: it needs smart minds, resources, and plenty of time (especially if you want to do it right). But once you’ve written the code, making copies costs bugger all. The trick is to persuade the punters to cough up the dosh to pay back that initial investment (and then some, naturally). And then again. And again. And… well, you get the picture. Having built a megacorporation, you have to find some way to keep the lights on.

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, Education, Phlyarology, Strategy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How to be a free-thinker, part two

  1. Well said. 👏👏 many all tarred with same corporate brush, including msm and national newspapers. Follow the money tree.
    And yes don’t get me started on Mr B. G.

    Many got sucked into the system. And many in thes changing times ahead will be shocked when real information becomes public knowledge.

    In the meantime we all have to be free thinkers, and discern for ourselves truth from fiction. Which isn’t always easy given the actors we are seeing all following the same play and narratives around the world.

    Great read thank you .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your statement “a single letter change, to turn misinformation into disinformation. There are those who seek to pervert information to their own ends, and we are blindly handing them the keys to the kingdom.*.
    A lovely read and an eye opener to the fools like me.
    But then fools are fools. They never learn.
    “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
    Soren Kierkegaard
    Thank you my friend for all the ‘free services’ being rendered to the fools who are dominating the world😄😂😂
    How safe is Duckduckgo? I understand that it’s associated with MS for monetary benefit.
    Good morning from India


  3. Great post! My MO is to be wary of almost everything online.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. greatvampire says:

    Vancouver, Canada, here.

    Well, Pedantry, you’ve done it again with a fine post. I feel for your unappreciated advocacy. Look at it this way: you got the emotional rush associated with obsession, and you got it over a long period of time. That’s not a bad trade-off, even if no money exchanged hands.

    — Great Vampire


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