Class Action

Saturday January 23 19:53

Rough edges of perhaps more a near future design fiction story —

A data lawsuit/class action forcing Google to make recompense to those from whom it made money derived from their actions/activities that were subsequently stored, archived, or algorithmically manipulated as digital data. The suit might demand recompense for having generated operationally useful and productive data. The basis might be that exploitive companies made money on the data itself, or generated IP in the form of algorithms that were clarified by empirical data created by people doing what people do — like search/sort/shop/email/&c. People tilled the fields from which valuable data crops sprung, and this material was used to make search algorithms that work better. Uncompensated work, or something like this.

This might be like the legal suits that come up after a decade or more by the down-wind kin after activities from an earlier day are seen from the future as exploitive or morally abject. Like locking away US citizens who happen to be of Japanese ancestry. I mean — not that, but these kinds of looks-back and juridical apologies.

A back story might be that, in the near future, the things you do in a much more quotidian sense will have much more cultural weight and import — like your job might today, depending what you do. Like — the ways that you generate data that is then the fuel or blood or coal of the network. Your measure of achievement/success/status might be related to how effectively and cleverly you generate new networks or arterial channels to disperse data — new algorithms that other people hop on to create distinct data sets that then form new data sluices that are fun/intriguing/different/curious/engaging. The new data channels are like pathways ((or neural pathways if you believe that the Internet is a collective brain of some sort, angling toward the Kurzweilian wet dream of some sort of ridiculous singularity)) more intriguing and *more new than the old ones and commensurate with endorphin-high-like activities so more people jump on them and generate more data that machines *like Google chew-and-spew ((maybe not Google — that behemoth will eventually step on its own tail and look like the Italian government or Massey Energy does today — barely competent, too big to handle itself, overwrought with technocrats, corrupt, &c.)).

This near future is one in which one’s ability to swerve conversations or attention is more valuable than whatever we now imagine as a career.

Why do I blog this? I am trying to find ways to put today’s practices and expectations into productive relief from what might be. I’m curious about this idea that *data is the new oil — or will be, or that our data production is more than just making entries into databases based on searches, purchases, and so on. But, increasingly perhaps these bits of information are seen as alive rather than inert.

Sorry for the load of mixed metaphors.
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Pogoplug and The Rise of Network Fog


Pogoplug in the wild. Some edition of Linux in there, stripped down to basically require zero configuration. Plug it in to your network via an RJ45, and plug in your USB drive(s) and they appear online.
BTW lying under the tech is a first edition (1973) of the brilliantly quirky and prescientThe Velvet Monkey Wrench by John Muir (yes..related) with hippy-days illustrations by the talented Peter Aschwanden, who also illustrated the repair manual for my very first beater VW Rabbit. It has been recently re-issued. Chapter 8: “In Which Money Becomes Electrified”, complete with “E-Sellers” and “E-Cards.” Great future-past stuff.

Along with Augmented Reality, Cloud Computing seems to be one of the more thorough-going technology memes these days. The concept is consistent with the logic of the network. As bandwidth speeds level-up, and bandwidth costs go down (not free, just less, despite what Chris Anderson hypes) the asymptotic extreme approaches a curious quandary: where should “processing” be placed in relation to “data”?

Imagine if data can move (or appear to move) fast enough between where it is consumed and created such that it doesn’t actually matter where it lives? That might mean that I don’t have to lug around lots of big portable computing power — I can use a svelte device with just a sliver of CPU and enough screen to see what I need to see. No hot, power-hungry hard drive. Etc.

I’m curious about this intersecting graph and so decided to introduce an experiment using this newly available Pogoplug device. Effectively it’s a condensed bit of pre-existing technology wonderfully packaged into simple oneness. Simple oneness — my half-assed way to describe the Pogoplug without referring to it as either “smart”, as an “appliance” or a “smart appliance.” It’s only smart in the degree to which it does not make me feel dumb.

I have to say, it certainly appears clever in a number of ways. First of all, it does something obvious, and I mean that this way: the bits of technical kit required to make ones data appear close to one no matter where one is, within the constraints of reasonable access to networks and so forth — this has been around for quite some time. I can remember — and I’m sure every geek with an itch to not just speculate but live a bit in the future — I can remember cobbling together this and that to get my screen, my data and my command prompt to appear and be accessible from other places. It was all there, all the little packages and so forth — it was just an unpleasant, distasteful peasants stew. Pogoplug adds some robust seasoning. I didn’t have to touch a thing except to plug everything together, copy a unique identifier found in the box into a web form — and the Pogoplug mothership found my unit, prompted me to pick a username and password and then I saw a web interface to all the drives I had plugged into the unit. Nice, simple, surprising.

There’s a bit of software for Windows and OS X to allow the drives to appear like ordinary desktop storage, making drag-and-drop and browsing quite familiar. I can assign files to be shared to specific people — there are no global permissions it appears, which is just fine with me. Although, one interesting aspect of this is a possible shift in the locality of served data. I’m curious about this — rather than data living in the more typical, canonical places like data centers, does it distribute in a fashion, so that your data is accessed at its place of origin, or where you decide to keep it and perhaps you like to keep it close by or even under your mattress or the equivalent in the networked age. And perhaps it is served up and processed more locally, such as at my home, in my car’s computer, directly from my mobile computer or mobile phone or even from my camera.

It’s just a speculation, but a more distributed network of nodes is a peculiar inversion of the typical run and hype of cloud-y things, which implores us to move everything into one or two or many clouds run by cloud service providers. What about an infinity of highly localized service points? What about my front doormat? Should it be a service provider? Can the guys who insist on bringing door hanger adverts for the local Thai restaurant just upload it to my door handle instead? Save the paper? Can I unsubscribe to the inevitable digital version of the crappy real estate newspaper that appears on the lawn in the morning?

I don’t know the specific advantages this might offer when measured against the usual metrics of the technology business — faster, cheaper, more profitable — but I enjoy the concept of keeping my stuff — data, touch points, access ways — close to me, nearby, on me, in my devices, etc. There are times when I feel like I am too trusting when I put it off somewhere I don’t even have physical access to. Perhaps my furniture secures my stuff, hidden in the overstuffed arm rest of my reading chair or something?
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