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What does a pandemic say about the tech we’ve built?

There’s a joke* being reshared on chat apps that makes the form of a multiple-choice question — expecting who’s the leading force in workplace digital transformation? The red-lined punchline is not the CEO or CTO, but: C) COVID-1 9.

There’s likely more than a speck of truth underpinning the quip. The novel coronavirus is propagandizing a lot of figurative buttons right now. “Pause” buttons for beings and manufactures, as massive swathes of the world’s population face quarantine modes that can resemble house arrest. The majority of offline social and economic acts are abruptly off limits.

Such major pauses in our modern lifestyle may even turn into a full reset, over hour. The nature as it was, where mobility of parties has been all but taken for granted — regardless of the environmental costs of so much commuting and revelled wanderlust — may never return to” business as usual .”

If global leadership rises to the occasion, then the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to rethink how we organize our cultures and economies — to make a shift toward lower carbon alternatives. After all, how many physical intersects do you really need when digital connectivity is accessible and reliable? As millions more office workers log onto the day job from residence, that quantity suddenly seems vanishingly small.

COVID-1 9 is clearly strengthening the case for broadband to be a utility — as so much more activity is pushed online. Even social media seems to have a genuine community purpose during a moment of national crisis, when numerous people can only connect remotely, even with their nearest neighbours.

Hence the reports of beings poked at home flocking back to Facebook to speak up in the digital city square. Now that the actual high-pitched street is off limits, the vintage social network is experiencing a late second wind.

Facebook understands this sort of higher societal purpose previously, of course. Which is why it’s been so proactive about house pieces that nudge customers to” crisscros yourself safe” during astonishing phenomena like natural disasters, major accidents and terrorist attacks.( Or undoubtedly, why it supported politicians to get into bed with its data platform in the first place — no matter the cost to democracy .)

In less tricky eras, Facebook’s “purpose” can be loosely summarized to “killing time.” But with ever more sinkholes being drilled by the attention economy, that’s a function under ferocious and sustained attack.

Over the years the tech being has responded by engineering ways to rise back to the top of the social collection — including spying on and buying up challenger, or directly cloning rival products. It’s been attract off this manoeuvre, by hook or by crook, for over a decade. Albeit, this time Facebook can’t take any credit for the traffic uptick; a pandemic is nature’s obscurity decoration design.

What’s most interesting about this virally obstructed time is how much of the digital technology that’s been construct out online over the past two decades could very well have been designed for living through simply such a dystopia.

Seen through this lens, VR should be having a major moment. A face computer that swaps out the stuff your eyes can actually interpret with a choose-your-own-digital-adventure of virtual lives to explore, all from the convenience of your front room? What problem are you fixing, VR ? Well, the conceptual limits of human lockdown in the face of a pandemic quarantine right now, actually…

Virtual reality has never been a compelling proposition versus the rich and textured opening of real life, except within very narrow and niche bounds. Yet all of a sudden, now we all are — with our scopes drastically narrowed and real-life news that’s ceaselessly harrowing. So it might yet be brought to an end a wry punchline to another numerou hand-picked joke:” My next vacation is likely to be: A) Staycation, B) The give apartment, C) VR escapism .”

It’s videoconferencing that’s actually having the big time, though. Turns out even a pandemic can’t make VR go viral. Instead, long-lapsed love are being revived over Zoom group chats or Google Hangouts. And Houseparty — a video chat app — has identified surging downloads as barflies seek out alternative light life with their usual watering-holes shuttered.

Bored celebs are TikToking. Impromptu concerts are being live-streamed from living room via Instagram and Facebook Live. All kinds of kinfolks are managing social distancing, and the stress of being attach at home alone( or with house ), by remote socialize: signing up to remote book sororities and discos; affiliating virtual dance parties and exercise times from bedrooms; taking a few classifies together; the hushed tavern night with friends has morphed seamlessly into a bring-your-own-bottle group video chat.

This is not regular — but nor is it surprising. We’re living in the most extraordinary time. And it seems a very human response to mass disruption and physical dissociation( not to mention the damage of an ongoing public health emergency that’s killing thousands of people a era) to reach for even a moving pixel of the human rights convenience. Contactless human contact is better than none at all.

Yet the fact all these tools are already out there, ready and waiting for us to log on and start streaming, should send a dehumanizing shivering down society’s backbone.

It underlines fairly how much customer engineering is being designed to reprogram how we connect with each other, individually and in groups, in order that uninvited third parties can chip a profit.

Back in the pre-COVID-1 9 epoch, a key concern being attached to social media was its ability to hook useds and urge passive feed intake — supplanting genuine human contact with voyeuristic screening of friends’ lives. Studies have connected the tech to loneliness and dip. Now that we’re literally unable to go out and converge friends, the loss of human contact is real and stark. So being favourite online in a pandemic actually isn’t any kind of success metric.

Houseparty, for example, self-describes as a” face to face social network” — hitherto it’s quite the literal opposite; you’re foregoing face-to-face contact if you’re getting virtually together in app-wrapped form.

The implication of Facebook’s COVID-1 9 commerce protrusion is that the company’s business framework thrives on societal dislocation and mainstream destitution. Which, frankly, we knew once. Data-driven adtech is another way of saying it’s been engineered to spray you with ad-flavored dissatisfaction by spying on what you get up to. The coronavirus time hammers the moment home.

The fact we have so many high-tech implements on tap for forging digital communications might feel like amazing serendipity in this crisis — a freemium windfall for coping with dreadful global damage. But such reward points to a horrible flip side: It’s the attention economy that’s infectious and insidious. Before ” normal life” hurtled off a cliff, all this sticky tech was named” everyday consume ;” not” break out in a world emergency .”

It’s never been clearer how these attention-hogging apps and services are designed to disrupt and monetize us; to embed themselves in our friendships and relationships in a way that’s subtly dehumanizing; re-routing emotion and alliances; nudging us to swap in-person socializing for virtualized fluff designed to be data-mined and monetized by the same middlemen who’ve positioned themselves unasked into our private and social lives.

Captured and recompiled in this way, human relationship is reduced to a series of dilute and/ or meaningless business; the programmes deploying infantries of operators to knob-twiddle and pull strings to maximize ad possibilities , no matter the personal cost.

It’s also no accident we’re realise more of the massive and intrusive underpinnings of surveillance capitalism emerge, as the COVID-1 9 emergency reels back some of the obfuscation that’s used to shield these business sits from mainstream deem in more normal times. The trackers are rushing to impound and colonize an opportunistic purpose.

Tech and ad giants are coming over themselves to get involved with offering data or apps for COVID-1 9 moving. They’re already in the mass surveillance business, so there’s likely never felt like a better moment than the present pandemic for the large-hearted data lobby to press the lie that individuals don’t care about privacy, as governments cry out for tools and resources to help save lives.

First the people-tracking programmes dressed up strikes on human agency as” relevant ads .” Now the data industrial complex is spinning police-state levels of mass surveillance as pandemic-busting corporate social responsibility. How speedy the pedal turns.

But scaffolds should be careful what they wish for. Populations that find themselves under house arrest with their phones playing snitch might be just as quick to round on high-tech gaolers as they’ve been to sign up for a friendly video chat in these strange and unprecedented times.

Oh, and Zoom( and others) — more parties might actually speak your” privacy policy” now they’ve got so much time to mess about online. And that really is a risk.

Every day there’s a fresh Zoom privacy/ protection fright narrative. Why now, all at once?

It’s simple: their own problems aren’t brand-new but unexpectedly everyone is forced to use Zoom. That intends more beings discovering problems and likewise more irritation because opting out isn’t an option. https :// t.co/ O9h8SHerok

— Arvind Narayanan (@ random_walker) March 31, 2020

* Source is a private Twitter account called @MBA_ish

Read more: feedproxy.google.com

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