Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.


content warning: rampant cynicism, tongue-in-cheek metaphor

Today, I was going through my morning newspaper feedreader[1], saw a few links I liked, socked some away for Friday's linkwrap, dropped some others in my blog's reading feed, on the off-chance that I -- or someone else trawling the archives of Faults -- would want to revisit them later. Another one was an annoying article on Bloomberg about how the FCC's Title II reclassification of Internet Service Providers will raise rates by $X and thus price Internet access out of the reach of Y million households.

And I closed it, and didn't show it to anyone, and hoped that that would mean that fewer people would look at it. Yes, I could have pointed at it for the purposes of dissent, but I've got a post about vaccines to write, and blogging confrontationally makes me sad, so I decided that it was easier to flush it down the memory hole that is ctrl-W[2] instead.

Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four occasionally seems like one of those books that missed slightly in meme-space and fifty years temporally, but nevertheless was disturbingly prescient. Of course we've all ported ourselves off paper and nothing's truly lost forever on the Internet, but all the same...the real question is becoming less "is the record around" and more "does anyone remember it?"

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston's arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

Nowadays, whatever papers we put in the "for newspapers" hole get magically copied and distributed to a few hundred other people, "written messages" get copied for later inspection by one or two Ministries of Love, and anything that goes down the memory hole is, in fact, remembered -- albeit by being dropped on the top of an ever-growing heap of memories. Sure, it might be dug up again by someone trawling through the memory room's files, but once everyone's hardcopies have been relegated to the pile, exactly how likely is that?

The social web is a billion linked echo chambers, and very often, it tells us exactly what we've cultivated our local networks to tell us, but mechanically, the effect is created by two dual actions:

  • Signal-boosting certain messages, and
  • Memory-holing others.

I bear no illusions of being otherwise than entirely complicit in the process -- after all, I'm not giving you a hyperlink to an Net-Neutrality-critical article today because it's easier to discourage you from reading it than to debate it, and on Friday, I will signal-boost seven or so things that I liked and thought people should read more of.

So maybe the dystopia is upon us. But if there's a good reason to think that it's not, maybe it's this: There isn't one Ministry of Truth, but a billion of them. And true, some of them are awful and all of them are wrong sometimes, but at least there's some hope that any one of us with good ideas and a way to send IP packets over the network can set up our own, attract a few listeners, and make the Truth a little more true.

And, thankfully, that remains true in our Net-Neutral world.