Ever since, years ago, I coined the expression “McFB way of life” and particularly since my intriguing FB articles (Is there life after Facebook I and II) have been published, I was confronted with numerous requests to clarify the meaning. My usual answer was a contra-question: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
Not pretending to reveal a coherent theory, the following lines are my instructive findings, most of all on the issue why it is time to go home, de-pirate, and search for a silence.
Largely drawing on the works of the grand philosophers of the German Classicism and Dialectic Materialism, it was sociologist Max Weber who was the first – among modern age thinkers – to note that the industrialized world is undergoing a rapid process of rationalization of its state (and other vital societal) institutions. This process – Weber points out – is charac-terized by an increased efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over any ‘threat’ of uncertainty. Hereby, the uncertainty should be understood in relation to the historically unstable precognitive and cognitive human, individual and group, dynamics. A disheartened, cold and calculative over-rationalization might lead to obscurity of irrationality, Weber warns. His famous metaphor of the iron cage or irrationality of rationality refers to his concern that an extremely rationalized (public) institution inevitably alienates itself and turns dehumanized to both, those who staff them and those they serve, with a tiny upper caste of controllers steadily losing touch of reality.
Revisiting, rethinking and rejuvenating Weber’s theory (but also those of Sartre, Heidegger, Lukács, Lefebvre, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Bloch), it was the US sociologist George Ritzer who postulated that the late 20th century institutions are rationalized to a degree that the entire state becomes ‘McDonaldized’, since the principles of the fast food industry have gradually pervaded other segments of society and very aspects of life (The McDonaldization of Society, a controversial and highly inspiring book of popular language, written in 1993).
Thus paraphrased, Ritzer states that (i) McEfficiency is achieved by the systematic elimination of unnecessary time or effort in pursuing an objective. As the economy has to be just-in-time competitively productive, society has to be efficient as well. Corresponding to this mantra, only a society whose forms and contents are governed by business models, whose sociability runs on marketing principles is a successfully optimized polity. Premium efficiency in the workplace (or over broader aspects of sociableness) is attainable by introducing F.W. Taylor’s and H. Ford’s assembly line into human resources and their intellectual activity (sort of intellectual assembly line). Even an average daily exposure to the so-called news and headlines serves an instructive and directional rather than any informational and exploratory purpose. Hence, McEfficiency solidifies the system, protecting its karma and dharma from any spontaneity, digression, unnecessary questioning and experimenting or surprise.
(ii) McCalculability is an attempt to measure quality in terms of quantity, whereby quality becomes secondary, if at all a concern. The IT sector, along with the search engines and cyber -social clubs, has considerably contributed to the growing emphasis on calculability. Not only the fast food chains (1 billion meals, everybody-served-in-a-minute), Google, Facebook, TV Reality Shows, and the like, as well as the universities, hospitals, travel agencies – all operate on a nearly fetishised and worshiped ‘most voted’, ‘frequently visited’,‘most popular’, a big is beautiful, matrix. It is a calculability which mystically assures us that the BigMac is always the best meal – given its quantity; that the best reader is always a bestseller book; and that the best song is a tune with the most clicks on YouTube. One of the most wanted air carriers, AirAsia, has a slogan: Everyone can fly now. In the world where everyone is armed with mobile-launcher gadgets powered by the micro-touch, soft-screen & scream tech to add to the noisy cacophony – amount, size, frequency, length and volume is all what matters. Thus, a number, a pure digit becomes the (Burger) king. Long Yahoo, the king! Many of my students admitted to me that Google for them is more than a search engine; that actually googalization is a well-domesticated method, which considerably and frequently replaces the cognitive selection when preparing their assignments and exams. Ergo, instead of complementing, this k(l)icky-Wiki-picky method increasingly substitutes the process of human reasoning.
(iii) McPredictability is the key factor of the rationalized McDonalds process. On the broader scale, a rational (rationally optimized) society is one in which people know well beforehand what (and when) to expect. Hence, fast food is always mediocre – it never tastes very bad or very good. The parameter of McFood is therefore a surprise-less world in which equally both disappointment and delight are considerably absent. McMeals will always blend uniform preparation and contents, as well as the standardized serving staff outfit and their customized approach. In the end, it is not about food at all. What makes McDonalds so durably popular is a size, numbers and predictability. (All three are proportionately and causally objectivized and optimized: a meal, who serves it and those served – until the locality and substance of each of the three becomes fluid, obsolete and irrelevant. And what would symbolize this relativization and /self-/trivialization better than a clown – well-known mascot Ronald of McDonaldland). In such an atmosphere of predictability or better to say predictive seduction and gradual loss of integrity, the culture of tacit obedience (ignorance of self-irrelevance through the corrosive addiction) is breeding, even unspotted. Consequently, more similarities than differences is the central to a question of predictability, on both ends: demand (expectation, possibility) and supply (determination, probability). No wonder that even the Pirates offer just a routinized protests under only one simplified and uniformed, ‘anonymous’ mask for all.
(iv) McControl represents the fourth and final Weberian aspect for Ritzer. Traditionally (ever since the age of cognitivity), humans are the most unpredictable element, a variable for the rationalized, bureaucratic systems, so it is an imperative for the McOrganization to (pacify through) control. Nowadays, technology offers a variety of palliatives and tools for the effective control of both employers (supply, probability) and customers (demand, possibility), as well as to control the controllers. A self-articulation, indigenous opinionation, spontaneous initiative and unconstrained action is rather simulated, yet stimulated very seldom. Only once the wide spectrum of possibilities is quietly narrowed down, a limited field of probabilities will appear so large. To this end, the IT appliances are very convenient (cheap, discreet and invisible, but omnipresent and highly accurate) as they compute, pre-decide, channel and filter moves, as well as they store and analyze behavior patterns with their heartless algorithms. (The ongoing SOPA, PIPA and ACTA fuss or any other rendering stringent regulative in future does not constitute, but only confirms and supplements its very cyber nature.)
Aided by the instruments of efficiency, calculability and predictability, the control eliminates (the premium or at least minimizes any serious impact of) authenticity, autonomous thinking and independent (non-consumerist) judgment. Depth and frequency of critical insights and of unpredictable human actions driven by unexpected conclusions is rationalized to a beforehand calculable, and therefore tolerable few. Hyper-rationalized, frigid-exercised, ultra-efficient, predictable and controlled environment subscribes also a full coherence to the socio-asymmetric and dysfunctional-emphatic atmosphere of disaffected but ultimately obedient subjects (‘guided without force’, ‘prompted without aim’, “poked, tweeted & fleshmobbed for ‘fun”, ‘useful idiots’, ‘fitting the social machine without friction’). Hence, what is welcomed is not an engagement, but compliance: a self-actualization through exploration challenges while consumerism confirms – status quo. Veneration of nullity!
Ergo, the final McSociety product is a highly efficient, predictable, computed, standardized, typified, instant, unison, routinized, addictive, imitative and controlled environment which is – paradoxically enough – mystified through the worshiping glorification (of scale). Subjects of such a society are fetishising the system and trivializing their own contents – smooth and nearly unnoticed trade-off. When aided by the IT in a mass, unselectively frequent and severe use within the scenery of huge shopping malls (enveloped by a consumerist fever and spiced up by an ever larger cyber-neurosis, disillusional and psychosomatic disorders, and functional illiteracy of misinformed, undereducated, cyber-autistic and egotistic under-aged and hardly-aged individuals – all caused by the constant (in)flow of clusters of addictive alerts on diver-ting banalities), it is an environment which epitomizes what I coined as the McFB way of life.
This is a cyber–iron cage habitat: a shiny but directional and instrumented, egotistic and autistic, cold and brutal place; incapable of vision, empathy, initiative or action. It only accelerates our disconnection with a selfhood and the rest. If and while so, is there any difference between Gulag and Goo(g)lag – as both being prisons of free mind? Contrary to the established rhetoric; courage, solidarity, vision and initiative were far more monitored, restricted, stigmatized and prosecuted than enhanced, supported and promoted throughout the human history – as they’ve been traditionally perceived like a threat to the inaugurated order, a challenge to the functioning status quo, defiant to the dogmatic conscripts of admitted, permissible, advertized, routinized, recognized and prescribed social conduct.
Elaborating on a well known argument of ‘defensive modernization’ of Fukuyama, it is to state that throughout the entire human history a technological drive was aimed to satisfy the security (and control) objective; and it was rarely (if at all) driven by a desire to (enlarge the variable and to) ease human existence or to enhance human emancipation and liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless operationalized by the system, both intellectualism (human autonomy, mastery and purpose), and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.
Consequently, all cyber-social networks and related search engines are far away from what they are portrayed to be: a decentralized but unified intelligence, attracted by gravity of quality rather than navigated by force of a specific locality. In fact, they primarily serve the predictability, efficiency, calculability and control purpose, and only then they serve everything else – as to be e.g. user-friendly and en mass service attractive. To observe the new corrosive dynamics of social phenomenology between manipulative fetishisation (probability) and self-trivialization (possibility), the cyber-social platforms – these dustbins of human empathy in the muddy suburbs of consciousness – are particularly interesting.
Facebook itself is a perfect example of how to utilize (to simulate, instead of to stimulate and empathically live) human contents. Its toolkit offers efficient, rationalized, predictable, clean, transparent, and most intriguing of all, very user-friendly convenient reduction of all possible relations between two individuals: ‘friend’, ‘no-friend’. It sets a universally popular language, so standardized and uncomplicated that even any anonymous machine can understand it – a binary code: ‘1’ (friend) ‘0’ (no-friend), or eventually ‘1’ (brother/sister), ‘1/0’ (friend), ‘0’ no-friend – just two digits to feed precise algorithmic calculations. Remember, number is the king. Gott ist tot, dear Nietzsche – so are men.
Be it occupied or besieged, McDonalds will keep up its menu. Instead, we should finally occupy ourselves by de-pirating enormous tweet/mob noise pollution in and all around us. It is a high time to replace the dis-conceptual flux on streets for a silent reflection at home.
Sorry Garcin, hell is not other people. Hell are we!!
In his emotionally charged speech of December 2011, President Obama openly warned the US citizens: “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists (…) the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century (…) Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One per cent! (…) The free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can…”
(The Oswatomie High School, Kansas, 06 December 2011, the While House Press Release).
Two months before that speech, the highly respected, politically balanced and bipartisan Budget Office of the US Congress (CBO) released its own study “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income between 1979 and 2007” (October 2011). The CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by: 275% for the top 1% of the US households, 65% increase for the next 19% of households, less than a 40% increase for the following segment of households of the next 60%, and finally only an 18% income increase for the bottom of 20% of the US households. If we consider an inflation for the examined period of nearly 30 years, then the nominal growth would turn to a negative increase in real incomes for almost 80% of the US households; a single digit real income increase for the upper 19% of households; and still a three-digit income growth for the top 1% of population.
According to the available internet search engine counters, this CBO study has been retrieved 74,000 times since posted some 3 months ago. For the sake of comparison, an average clip of great-granddaughter of ultra-rich, billionaire Conrad Hilton is clicked on YouTube over 31 million times. Roughly 3 million Americans would represent the top 1% of its population. Who are other 99% – pardon, 28 million individuals – interested in trivial clip/s (with obscure but explicit lines: They can’t do this to me, I’m rich) of Miss Paris?
Remember what I asked at the beginning of this article: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
* This is the so-called FB3 article (Is there life after Facebook? III – the Cyber Goo(g)lag Revelations). Its early version was first published by the US Journal of Foreign Relations /12 January 2012/.
1. Weber, M. (1951), Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Grundriss der verstehenden Sociologie (Economy and Society), Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck)
2. Ritzer, G. (1993), The McDonaldization of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
3. Zappa, F.V. (1989), The Real Frank Zappa Book, Touchstone (1999 Edition)
4. Schlitz, M. (1998), On consciousness, causation and evolution, Journal of Parapsychology (61: 185-96)
5. Fukuyama, F. (2002), Our Posthuman Future – Consequences of the Biotech Revolution, Profile Books, London (page: 126/232)
6. Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Environmental Ethics – Four Societal Normative Orders, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria
7. Mumford, L. (1967), Technics and Human Development – Myth of the Machine (Vol. 1), Mariner Books (Ed. 1971)
8. McTaggart, L. (2001), The Field, HarperCollins Publishers
US Blacklist of Chinese Surveillance Companies Creates Supply Chain Confusion
The United States Department of Commerce’s decision to blacklist 28 Chinese public safety organizations and commercial entities hit at some of China’s most dominant vendors within the security industry. Of the eight commercial entities added to the blacklist, six of them are some of China’s most successful digital forensics, facial recognition, and AI companies. However, the two surveillance manufacturers who made this blacklist could have a significant impact on the global market at large—Dahua and Hikvision.
Putting geopolitics aside, Dahua’s and Hikvision’s positions within the overall global digital surveillance market makes their blacklisting somewhat of a shock, with the immediate effects touching off significant questions among U.S. partners, end users, and supply chain partners.
Frost & Sullivan’s research finds that, currently, Hikvision and Dahua rank second and third in total global sales among the $20.48 billion global surveillance market but are fast-tracking to become the top two vendors among IP surveillance camera manufacturers. Their insurgent rise among IP surveillance camera providers came about due to both companies’ aggressive growth pipelines, significant product libraries of high-quality surveillance cameras and new imaging technologies, and low-cost pricing models that provide customers with higher levels of affordability.
This is also not the first time that these two vendors have found themselves in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. In 2018, the U.S. initiated a ban on the sale and use of Hikvision and Dahua camera equipment within government-owned facilities, including the Department of Defense, military bases, and government-owned buildings. However, the vague language of the ban made it difficult for end users to determine whether they were just banned from new purchases of Dahua or Hikvision cameras or if they needed to completely rip-and-replace existing equipment with another brand. Systems integrators, distributors, and even technology partners themselves remained unsure of how they should handle the ban’s implications, only serving to sow confusion among U.S. customers.
In addition to confusion over how end users in the government space were to proceed regarding their Hikvision and Dahua equipment came the realization that both companies held significant customer share among commercial companies throughout the U.S. market—so where was the ban’s line being drawn for these entities? Were they to comply or not? If so, how? Again, these questions have remained unanswered since 2018.
Hikvision and Dahua each have built a strong presence within the U.S. market, despite the 2018 ban. Both companies are seen as regular participants in industry tradeshows and events, and remain active among industry partners throughout the surveillance ecosystem. Both companies have also attempted to work with the U.S. government to alleviate security concerns and draw clearer guidelines for their sales and distribution partners throughout the country. They even established regional operations centers and headquarters in the country.
While blacklisting does send a clearer message to end users, integrators, and distributors—for sales and usage of these companies’ technologies—remedies for future actions still remain unclear. When it comes to legacy Hikvision and Dahua cameras, the onus appears to be on end users and integrators to decide whether rip-and-replace strategies are the best way to comply with government rulings or to just leave the solutions in place and hope for the best.
As far as broader global impacts of this action, these will remain to be seen. While the 2018 ban did bring about talks of similar bans in other regions, none of these bans ever materialized. Dahua and Hikvision maintained their strong market positioning, even achieving higher-than-average growth rates in the past year. Blacklisting does send a stronger message to global regulators though, so market participants outside the U.S. will just have to adopt a wait-and-see posture to see how, if at all, they may need to prepare their own surveillance equipment supply chains for changes to come.
After Google’s new set of community standards: What next?
After weeks of Google’s community standard guidelines made headlines, the Digital Industry Group Inc. (Australia based NGO) rejected proposals from the regulating body based in the southern hemisphere. The group claimed that regulating “fake news” would make the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a moral police institution. In late August, Google itself forbade its employees from indulging in the dissemination of inadequate information or one that involved internal debates. From the outset, the picture is a bit confusing. After the events in Australia, Google’s latest act of disciplinary intrusion seems all but galvanizing from certain interests or interest groups.
A year earlier, Google was shaken by claims of protecting top-level executives from sexual crimes; the issue took a serious turn and almost deteriorated company operations. If anything but Google’s development from the horror of 2018 clearly suggests a desperate need from the hierarchy to curb actions that could potentially damage the interests of several stakeholders. There is no comprehensive evidence to suggest that Google had a view on how the regulations were proposed in Australia. After all, until proven otherwise, all whistleblowing social media posts and comments are at one point of time, “fake”. Although the global giant has decided to discontinue all forms of unjustifiable freedom inside its premises; however, it does profit by providing the platform for activism and all forms of censure. The Digital Industry Group wants the freedom to encourage digital creative contents, but Google’s need to publish a community guideline looks more of a defensive shield against uncertainties.
On its statement, the disciplinary clause, significantly mentions about the actions that will be taken against staffs providing information that goes around Google’s internal message boards. In 2017, female employees inside the Google office were subjected to discrimination based on the “gender-ness” of working positions. Kevin Kernekee, an ex-employee, who was fired in 2018, confirmed that staff bullying was at the core of such messaging platforms. Growing incidents inside Google and its recent community stance are but only fuelling assumptions about the ghost that is surrounding the internet giant’s reputation. Consequently, from the consumer’s point of view, an instable organization of such global stature is an alarm.
The dissidents at Google are not to be blamed entirely. As many would argue, the very foundation of the company was based on the values of expression at work. The nature of access stipulated into Google’s interface is another example of what it stands for, at least in the eyes of consumers. Stakeholders would not wish for an internal turmoil; it would be against the enormous amount of trust invested into the workings of the company. If google can backtrack from its core values upon higher forces, consumers cannot expect anything different. Google is not merely a search engine; for almost half of the internet users, it is almost everything.
“Be responsible, Be helpful, Be thoughtful”. These phrases are the opening remarks from the newly engineered community guideline. As it claims in the document, three principles govern the core values at Google. Upon closer inspection, it also sounds as if the values are only based on what it expects from the people working for the company. A global company that can resort to disciplining its staff via written texts can also trim the rights of its far-reaching consumer groups. It might only be the beginning but the tail is on fire.
How to Design Responsible Technology
Biased algorithms and noninclusive data sets are contributing to a growing ‘techlash’ around the world. Today, the World Economic Forum, the international organisation for public-private cooperation has released a new approach to help governments and businesses counter these growing societal risks.
The Responsible Use of Technology report provides a step-by-step framework for companies and governments to pin point where and how they can integrate ethics and human rights-based approaches into innovation. Key questions and actions guide organizations through each phase of a technology’s development process and highlight what can be done and when to help organizations mitigate unethical practices. Notably, the framework can be applied on technology in the ‘final’ use and application phase, empowering users to play an active role in advocating for policies, laws and regulations that address societal risks.
The guide was co-designed by industry leaders from civil society, international organizations and businesses including BSR, the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, IDEO, Deloitte, Omidyar Network and Workday. The team examined national technology strategies, international business programmes and ethical task forces from around the world, combining lessons learned with local expertise to develop a guide that would be inclusive across different cultures.
“Numerous government and large technology companies around the world have announced strategies for managing emerging technologies,” said Pablo Quintanilla, Fellow at the World Economic Forum, and Director in the Office of Innovation, Salesforce. “This project presents an opportunity for companies, national governments, civil society organizations, and consumers to teach and to learn from each other how to better build and deploy ethically-sound technology. Having an inclusive vision requires collaboration across all global stakeholders.”
“We need to apply ethics and human rights-based approaches to every phase in the lifecycle of technology – from design and development by technology companies through to the end use and application by companies across a range of industries,” said Hannah Darnton, Programme Manager, BSR. “Through this paper, we hope to advance the conversation of distributed responsibility and appropriate action across the whole value chain of actors.”
“Here, we can draw from lessons learned from companies’ efforts to implement ‘privacy and security by design,” said Sabrina Ross, Global Head of Marketplace Policy, Uber. “Operationalizing responsible design requires leveraging a shared framework and building it into the right parts of each company’s process, culture and commitments. At Uber, we’ve baked five principles into our product development process so that our marketplace design remains consistent with and accountable to these principles.”
This report is part of the World Economic Forum’s Responsible Development, Deployment and Use of Technology project. It is the first in a series tackling the topic of technology governance. It will help inform the key themes at the Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit in San Francisco in April 2020. The project team will work across industries to produce a more detailed suite of implementation tools for organizations to help companies promote and train their own ‘ethical champions’. The steering committee now in place will codesign the next steps with the project team, building on the input already received from global stakeholders in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.
The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network brings together more than 100 governments, businesses, start-ups, international organizations, members of civil society and world-renown experts to co-design and pilot innovative approaches to the policy and governance of technology. Teams in Colombia, China, India, Israel, Japan, UAE and US are creating human-centred and agile policies to be piloted by policy-makers and legislators, shaping the future of emerging technology in ways that maximize their benefits and minimize their risks. More than 40 projects are in progress across six areas: artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, blockchain, data policy, drones and the internet of things.
The Network helped Rwanda write the world’s first agile aviation regulation for drones and is scaling this up throughout Africa and Asia. It also developed actionable governance toolkits for corporate executives on blockchain and artificial intelligence, co-designed the first-ever Industrial IoT (IIoT) Safety and Security Protocol and created a personal data policy framework with the UAE.
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