Remember when we used to tell people that their phone is a computer? Guess what? They forgot. Now they are convince their phone is smart, and that a computer is this big bulky thing that comes with a desk. They forgot everything about computers.
This would be fine if computers were so great that they could solve every problems on their own while we go to a year long vacation at the beach enjoying a non-melting ice cream. Unfortunately that's not the case. Not understanding computers is the source of many problems today and many more soon to come. (Think DRM, tracking software, Walled gardens...)
Hold on to your horses, I said nothing about teaching every child how to code. That's like telling every driver they need to know how to build a combustion engine. Instead what I am proposing is the equivalent of teaching people how to drive in the age of self driving cars. It may sound ridiculous, but you will thank me the day your self-driving car refuses to take you where you want to go. You will remember me when you confidently hit that red button that switches to manual mode and you actually know how to drive. Then you can go where you feel like. This is a very powerful option to have.
Ok, self driving cars are not here yet, or are not the norm as far as when I am writing this. So instead I will talk about the current tech we have today.
Let's start with the most powerful tool that has been invented in my life time. The web browser.
The web browser.
Recently I heard something that bothered me deeply. I had two interns working on a menial yet tedious task at Renly. At some point they were trying to upload a very large CSV into Google sheet. In the process the browser froze. (Maybe the file was too big?)
"The Internet doesn't work", she said.
I could hear them from my corner so I opened the terminal and pinged mine own website. 4 packets were sent, 4 were received, and zero lost. "The Internet works just fine", I yelled back.
The other intern says, "The internet stopped working on mine too when I tried to do that. But now it works. Let me show you what I did."
I thought "Ah, he knows the problem and will help her."
"Close everything, and open a new Internet", he suggested. She did just that and the upload worked like it was supposed to right after. I gasped.
They called the browser "a new Internet." Yes, the browser is our gateway to the Internet, but it is certainly not the Internet. They were using Google Chrome and they called it the Internet.
In 2004, Internet Explorer controlled 91.35% of the browsers market share. It meant that Internet Explorer had virtually no competitor. In other words, Internet Explorer was the Internet. As a result, they didn't have to make their product any better. You could install Internet Explorer, leave the computer on for a day, come back and find it filled with viruses. It took a whole 5 years for Internet Explorer to upgrade from 6 to 7.
13 years later, Chrome has solved this problem by being more active when it comes to development and fixing their product. But by no means should we wait for Chrome to have 90% of the browser share to see what they would do with this great power. We don't want to be back to the dark old days. There is a plethora of good or better choices when it comes to browsers.
- Firefox (open source)
- Google Chrome
- Chromium (open source)
- Microsoft Edge
- Opera Neon
- Brave (I love you)
- w3m (that's right!)
This is not just to promote open source, closed source software can be very good at what it does. The key here is having a choice and knowing that you do have the option to switch.
The browser is not the Internet. It is merely a tool to surf the web (a small part of the internet) and browsers can be exceptionally good at what they do. Sometimes they are even better then Native Applications.
So this is a choice we can make. We can choose to install and use any of those browsers. And we also have the option to change them if they are not to our liking. If you are like me and sometimes feel like Google has too many grips on your life, you can easily download another browser and get on with your life. Your reasons don't have to be paranoia though.
Your option doesn't stop at the browser however. The first thing we do with our browser is search for information. And there lies the next biggest invention. Search Engines.
How tall is Mount Everest? I need the exact height for a project I'm building in my backyard. Oh, so you have to go through a search engine? Alright. Yeah I know, you went to Google. The number of Search engines today has decreased to the point where we can assume that Google is the only one. But it is not. There are other search engines. Well just a few that are relevant. But it is good to know that they exist and that you can switch to them any time.
- Yahoo (powered by Bing now)
- DuckDuckGo (ah that name)
Doing some more research will reveal even more engines, and using one or the other shows not so different results.
There is a reason why I think everyone should know more about search engines. Today, you don't need to go to google.com to start searching on their website. Simply writing your search query on the browser bar will search on the default search engine. Since all search engines use a similar layout, the user has grown blind to the actual service being used:
Question: Which Search Engine is this?
Answer: All of them.
We use the term "to google" not to refer to using Google's search engine, but as a synonym to searching using the default search engine set on the platform we use. We are blind to the logo on the top right corner since all search engines today use a very similar layout. As a result, every search engine fights for the right to be the default set on the browser.
Just recently, it was revealed that Google pays Apple 2 to 3 billion dollars a year to remain the default search engine on iOS. Sure it is a lot of money and they make this amount back many times over.
But what if Google fails to pay? Let's be nuts and say that Apple switches to DuckDuckGo. When you ask Siri how tall Mount Everest is, it shows you the answer and a small text in the bottom that says "Powered by the Duck".
As a user it makes no difference. You had a question, now you have an answer, you don't care how they get it. But let's say you do care how they get it and you prefer Google. All you have to do is switch the default search engine. That is all.
Imagine you were in charge of your default engine, if DuckDuckGo paid Apple the money instead to switch to them as the default it wouldn't be a big deal to you. You would just switch back to your own search engine and be done with it. And DuckDuckGo would be crying over the billion dollars wasted.
The reason Google would pay Apple this sum every year is because they know the user would never bother changing the defaults. I'd like to believe that we use Google today because they were the better option. If that's not the case, well it's time to switch to the better service not the one that bid highest.
When you download your next web browser, the first thing you should do is go to the settings and set your favorite search engine as the default. And every time you search, pay attention to the logo in case someone paid to have it changed. I hope duckduckgo is your default. I like duckduckgo, but my God, that name.
If you spend enough time searching on the internet, there is a gravitational pull toward social networks. Facebook, twitter, Instagram. Although they all started as a way to keep up with a circle of people you probably knew and were too polite to decline their invitation, today social media is more so a disconnection network.
Anyway, social media wouldn't be the same without the content it allows users to publish. But these days its becoming harder and harder to decide who the content belongs to.
I don't really know who you are but if you read this far, I mean wow. Thank you for coming into my humble little place.
I hope you were not offended by anything I had said on this blog, because if you were, there isn't much you can do about it. Let's say you think that whatever I am talking about is a dangerous idea and it could corrupt young minds. And you would rather keep people ignorant. (I know you don't think that, we are just role playing, yeah?)
The thing is, you can't flag my article. You can't report me to the W3 Consortium (it does sound authoritive). You can send me an email, and maybe I'll respond, or maybe not. It's my website.
This is not a special power I have. You too can have your own website and talk about whatever you want, I can like it or be offended but I can't take you down. Not legally at least. Or if I want to legally take you down I would have to go through the court system, hoping you are in the US and aaaaahh dammit, you are not in the US. Too complex.
But, if I were to post this same content, let's say on Facebook. People can complain, and I'm out. In fact people don't even have to complain, Facebook can take me down in their own right. It's their service after all and they get to choose to do whatever they please with it. The same way I get to do whatever I please on my own server.
Youtube gets to remove videos that violate their terms and conditions. Those terms can change without my consent. It's says it right here.
Although we may attempt to notify you when major changes are made to these Terms of Service, you should periodically review the most up-to-date version https://www.youtube.com/t/terms). YouTube may, in its sole discretion, modify or revise these Terms of Service and policies at any time, and you agree to be bound by such modifications or revisions. Nothing in these Terms of Service shall be deemed to confer any third-party rights or benefits.
Keeping up with the Terms of service of any platform is a job on its own. And you have an account on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium, Youtube and many more. That's a whole lot of reading even for me, and I have read the whole collection of A Song of Ice and Fire 3 times! When you post your content there, you only hope it is in their guideline.
No no, I am not saying you should not post on these platforms, all I am saying is that you have options. There are many options to post public content. For videos there is Youtube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, facebook, yourown.
For pictures there is not just Instagram, but also Flickr, Google Photos, Pixabay, imgur, yourown.
For your articles there is Wordpress, Blogger, Medium, facebook, not twitter, yourown.
For each there is much more but all I want you to know is that you have options, and I hope you noticed the one recurring option. Your Own. You can host these on your own and it's the one option that offers the most protection.
Hosting things on your own however is a little more involved and it is not free. You have to pay for bandwidth at the very least. The more people you get on your platform, the more expensive it becomes. But in the end it gives you more options.
Exercise your powers
We sent men to the moon with computers as powerful as a calculator. Today, we have computers that can do miracles in comparison, yet you can't serve 10 simultaneous connections on a Wordpress website. Why? Because of the default options. Change them and you have the power to serve millions.
We came very far when it comes to design. Every developer is working to make his or her app as easy to use as possible, but in the process, they obscure your options or make them harder. They know through collective research that the user will choose the path of least resistance. And they take advantage of it. Anything that they have to include due to law and regulation will be there, but very hard to do. Paying for the service is one click away.
Chances are if you want to change your browsers default search engine today, you have to use the current search engine to find how to do it. Here is what you find when you ask Google on Chrome:
change chrome default search engine:
Asking how to change the default, instructs how to set google as default.
It tells you how to set Google as your default search engine. Is that a short coming from Google’s algorithm or deliberate design? I think if they can pay Apple, their competitor in some regard, 3 billion dollars, I think I can safely assume they don't want me to switch.
I'm not here to say that Google is bad and suggest you use a competitor. What I want from you, dear reader, is to learn to ignore the default suggestion and take the extra time to look at your options. Someone shouldn't be able to pay their way into your settings.
Humans are creatures that like being rewarded. No matter how big or small the reward is, as long as there is one. Look, I contributed 900 answers on stackoverflow just so I can get a badge... I needed it, ok! The problem is, there is no badge for changing your defaults. When you switch from Google Maps to mapquest. Nothing happens. No points, no badges, no fanfare. I'm sorry, but that's how it is. It's like quietly making a difference.
You won't feel your new powers until, well until you open your web browser and notice that Windows loaded Edge instead of the one you normally use. You know that you can revert back. When you install this free screen recorder then decide it's time to know how tall is mount Everest only to see you are on AOL search by default. You know that you can revert back to your favorite search engine. When you use your computer's local search and notice that it is showing you ads from amazon, well, you know that you can turn it off.
When the Internet came to be, we dreamed to be connected 24/7 in all sort cybernetics way. Well, now we are connected and as a results computers are constantly calling back their mother-bases awaiting for commands. Commands that change crucial settings, update software, disable software, all as part of a business decision. Since I can't tell you to disconnect from the Internet for good, I will at least tell you to pay attention to these changes they make. When one person is quietly modifying his machine to be his own machine, no one cares. But if we all do, then business decisions that change our systems will make no difference to us at all, because we can simply revert back to our own options.