In case you missed it, make sure to familiarize yourself with part 1 of the series.
Part 2: The World of PRCPTION Travel’s Reality
Society is largely affected by the media it consumes, and its media is predominantly distributed by its technological means. In today’s world, those technological means are all but monopolized in the form of a few select powerhouses: traditional cable/news networks, Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
Media is public consciousness. Put in the hands of a few, it is a fragile and dangerous matter. In 2019, traditional news networks are more and more known to be full of lies and propaganda, while Facebook is known to be a provider of “fake news” because of its easily-corruptible algorithms and soft-censorship tendencies. We are all starting to get a proper taste of what the “news” feeds think we want to see, as they algorithmically censor the rest of our social realities from us.
This has all hit the public eye up until now, but lesser spoken about is the blatant censorship occurring on platforms like YouTube or Twitter (although cheers to Joe Rogan for taking responsibility for the discussion to exist). Routinely, accounts are suspended or terminated based on the flagging by another user that disagrees with an opinion, or claiming to have copyrighted content that is being infringed upon. Often this happens automatically with the platform’s built-in algorithms, and not often enough does a real human being investigate the matter to see if the complaint was legitimate or not. Using “Community Guidelines” as a tablet of commandments, countless voices have been silenced simply because others disagree with them. (At times it has been said that, following the paper trail, it leads to the top.)
And the worst part? At the end of the day, these private companies can do whatever they want. It’s their platform, not yours, and you’re agreeing to use it (probably because there’s no fair, functional alternative). These profit-motivated companies have the power to hide information from you and they have the power to hide you from the rest of the world.
Isn’t that crazy enough?! But let’s not forget, they also exploit you. They track your almost every movement online, and either directly profit from selling that data or by other means to use that data to their advantage.
Be it through a lack of privacy, or an infringement on your right to hear another’s opinion, or a straight-up banning of your own words based on what is currently politically correct, personal freedom in the form of ingoing/outgoing information is disappearing in our society. So much so that we do not even realize it’s happening.
(Let’s take a breath for a moment to recall why PRCPTION Travel is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization: without a profit motive, it is truly meant to be a tool for the people, by the people. Non-profits in the USA are generally exempt from taxes because they fulfill a role that the government itself may not have resources (or foresight) to manage.)
Right now, there are two routes our world can take to see things through. Route 1 is all but evil, and despite certain superficial comforts it might offer, it perpetuates the paradigm of power hierarchies. Route 2 presents an alternate possibility, one that is far from impossible right now but will require concentrated efforts and attention to make it real.
Route 1: Exploitation & Big Brother
Right now, we find ourselves waking up on Route 1, asking ourselves what happened. Hundreds of websites collect our data on a regular basis, even when we’re not using them. Our phone apps know where we live, where we drive, and our average speed–even when we’re not using them. These apps’ companies harvest our data and sell it. At times, those databases get hacked and the data may be sold again, this time to countless more parties because the market becomes more accessible. (But we won’t hear about that as often as it happens because when they can, the companies keep it under wraps–executives will even sell stock before announcing the hacks publicly. To name just two in recent years, look up Dropbox or Equifax hacks to learn more about the reality of these kinds of things. Scary.)
Your cell phone provider knows the numbers you call, and when, and for how long you talk. All that information is stored in a big warehouse of NSA servers in the Utah desert. Edward Snowden is a refugee in Russia (Russia, for crying out loud) for trying to bring importance of metadata to the American people–and now this guy is considered a criminal!
Case in point: our lives are increasingly more transparent than we realize and we have virtually no say in it (other than completely opting out of using this awesome technology). Yet we live in some illusion of thinking everything is not as frightening as it is. For some reason, we trust third-party, profit-motivated, giant corporations with unquantifiable amounts of data about our lives. And we don’t care what they do with it, even when they’re busy censoring our perceptions of the world. (And while it’s a noble idea, please be wary about taking Apple’s word for it.)
If things continue the way they are, be it through standard database hacks or further deregulated data markets, all this personal information could be readily available to the common person a whole lot simpler than it is today. And then who knows who might show up at your house uninvited–or onto your Wifi connection. Not to mention the government agencies that will be watching you at the same time. Take a moment to Google your name. You may be off-put by what you find…
But the Orwellian, dystopic future has had enough airtime over the years. Let’s remember that the future is only a projection of the past, never for certain, and instead let’s see where a more optimistic route 2 leads us.
Route 2: Encryption & Decentralized Distribution
We awake on Route 1 and immediately start combing the internet for solutions. *Fortunately, in much of the developed world at least, we are still able to access information.) And we find… that there is still hope!
As privacy becomes a “thing” in our pop culture, we are now getting choices to opt out of our data being shared. That’s a step in the right direction, but we’re still not getting paid by Facebook for sharing our own data–the big companies are still the ones raking in that ad revenue, not us. We are still the product. (And with the number of billions of dollars these companies rake in, you can rest assured that the data you’re providing is far beyond what it would cost to cover the operating costs of the free service.)
With any luck, as today’s privacy turns into tomorrow’s encrypted decentralized applications, we will start to see options to take cuts from the data we choose to share–or hide. Just look at Brave Browser, for instance. Shares of the ad revenue that your data helps generate in their network will be channeled right back to you. Or you can just shut it off and not share anything, and not see ads at all. There’s a good book by Jarod Lanier in which he lays out the economic foundations for a society that is paid in micropayments for all the tiny bits of data they contribute to the larger scheme of a capitalist economy. (And meanwhile there’s a thousand and one decentralized social network experiments out there that pay you with its own cryptocurrency that I don’t care to link to.)
With Bitcoin’s blockchain technology and its never ending stream of open-source offspring, there are very exciting potential solutions to the privacy, censorship, and exploitation issues outlined earlier in this piece. By employing decentralized networks, throughout which participating nodes must agree upon the software they choose to run, we can cryptographically secure our private data itself (like a digital wallet, hidden in our pocket), while at the same time keeping a transparent record of the use of that data (like a transaction, out in the open)–forever. Compare that to a centralized server like Facebook, whose closed doors do not allow you to know what information it collects, how, or where it goes. With something like a blockchain, all that hiding-in-the-shadows can disappear. We can participate in the social networks we choose to with an understanding of how they work (cough cough Federal Reserve). In our future decentralized worlds, everything we do will be remembered.
Sound scary? Don’t forget that everything you do is already remembered on some server(s), somewhere, forever–except you aren’t aware of it because it’s not in front of your face and you’re not [always] given access to it. The idea of the blockchain and Web 3.0 smashes the illusion of privacy that we know today and brings to light the harsh reality of privacy: we must take responsibility for ourselves.
The point of Route 2 is that there’s hope. Decentralization inherently implies that there is no centralized nucleus to rake in the profits and define how things are run, like optional censorship; once hundreds of nodes are running an application hosting millions of users data, then all nodes must agree in order to change that application’s software. And all that code is readily available to be audited by anyone who wants to know what’s going on under the hood. And there will always, always, be another option.
A Fork in the Road: We’re Choosing Our Destiny
Presented with these two black and white routes, it becomes a simple choice. Life for the individual in relation to governance will be more and more about choices: we vote with our dollar, we vote with our energy, we vote with our attention. As to whether we choose to use a closed-source platform that allows the echelon of some hierarchy the blatant power to censor & exploit, or instead if we opt for decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) whose code, once agreed upon through its common execution, is immutable, is only up to us.
It will not be easy. It will not be presented on a silver platter. We must dedicate ourselves, step-by-step, slowly-but-surely, to choosing what we believe in, if what we want to make any sort of difference in our world and the world of our future generations.
PRCPTION Travel obviously chooses the second route, and our exploratory programs up until this point have demonstrated this amicably so. Just as society has been waiting for certain solutions to the aforementioned social connectivity issues, we have been waiting for a physical manifest of our vision in the real world.
And, as of spring 2019, we finally understand what that is.