Reddit Might’ve Just Saved Net Neutrality

Reddit is one of my primary information feeds.  Perhaps needless to say, I’m a fan.  Over the last week or so, I’ve observed something rather significant.

First, the gaming community mobilized against EA and their release of Star Wars: Battlefront 2.  EA’s new progression system meant that most of the game’s best content had to be earned.  Doesn’t sound too bad at first, until you find out that to unlock all the game’s content, it would take over 4500 hours, or $2,100.  To put that in perspective, if you were to play for 3 hours a day, 365 days a year, it would take you just over 4 years to unlock all the content.  To put that in perspective, the next generation of consoles is expected out before then.  And that $2100 that they’re hoping you’ll spend?  That’s above and beyond the $80 price tag for the game itself.  Short-sighted greediness for sure, but something was different this time.

Someone on Reddit had a rant, and EA replied with a classic, corporate speak, disingenuous answer.  I won’t bother repeating the entire reply as the opening sentence says it all:

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”

I’m tempted to pick it apart, but I’d just be pointing out the obvious.  The response though, was something special.  That reply, became the most down-voted comment in the history of Reddit, earning over 600,000 demerits within just a few days.  Not only did this make the news across several major outlets and cause the execs at Disney to check in on EA, but EA also froze the in-game payment system until further notice.  A win?  Maybe,  but the gaming community isn’t buying it (literally) as they suspect EA will just unfreeze the payment system once enough gamers have caved in.  Well fortunately for the gamers, sales are down significantly compared to the game’s first installment and that’s starting to weigh on EA’s stock price.  Effectively, the gaming community found a way to mobilize on Reddit to deny EA the opportunity to make a really dumb decision.  All within a few days.  All with a few clicks.  Very interesting.

Among all the gaming hoopla, I saw a post that said something to the effect of, ‘If we cared half as much about Battlefront 2 as we did about net neutrality, we wouldn’t have to worry about net neutrality’.  Well, Reddit responded.  Earlier this week, for about 48 hours straight, Reddit’s entire front page was entirely dedicated to the mobilization for net neutrality.  This wasn’t a banner, or an ad, or front page image, it was what seemed to be thousands of posts, across thousands of sub-reddits, all being up-voted by the masses.  I was almost a little annoyed that for 2 days, I didn’t have normal access to one of my news feeds, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of what I was seeing.

I don’t know if the effort by Reddit or any of the other tech majors will be enough to stop this repeal.  Senators don’t pay nearly as much attention to internet chatter as they do to phone calls to their office.  Assuming an average call takes 10 minutes, an office could theoretically take 144 calls over a 24 hour period, or 1008 calls over the course of a week.  There are 100 senators, meaning a little over 100,000 calls would completely occupy the senate’s phone lines for a week.  If that happened, it would probably be the documented as one of the greatest public protests of all time.

At this point, I don’t have a clue how many up votes were cast across how many posts.  If I had guess, somewhere between 2-5 million, suggesting that the support is somewhere between 20-50 times what it should probably take to get the government to reconsider their position.

There are a few problems here.  First, why is it that in a democratic framework, where the people have not asked to repeal net neutrality, is the Chairman of the FCC introducing measures to repeal net neutrality?  The second problem is that internet community, arguably the constituents of this decision, are protesting this decision more fiercely than anything they’ve ever done – and it might be ignored.  Finally, and perhaps the worst problem is that we’re encouraged to think that calls into our senators’ offices are what will make the difference here but at this point, we know that’s bullshit.  They listen when they have to, and they use public backlash as a measure of what they can get away with while still being able to get re-elected.  In all likelihood, there are only two calls that would make a difference here:  If Ajit Pai received a call from the president, or if received a call from the chairman of Verizon.  Unfortunately for us, both have vested financial interests in restricting how the general population accesses information… so I don’t see it happening.

Doom and gloom, I know.  But there’s a bright side.  An awesome bright side.  Government needs tech, desperately.  I’ve been mulling over the idea of a app that would let governments better connect and engage with their people.  The current lines of communication between politicians and their constituents minimize inbound traffic which increases the disconnect.  Without a live connection to your people, it becomes a lot easier to pay attention to the lobbyist that just took you out for a nice steak dinner.  The people need a platform that lets them engage in real time with the people making these kinds of decisions, one that’s easy to use, that people would want to use, and one which decision makers would be held accountable to.  The way that EA and Disney reacted to the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 issue was the first time that any modern platform, let alone Reddit, ticked all those boxes.  If we manage to stop the repeal of net neutrality, I might even say proof of concept.

While Reddit might be the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a platform like this, Reddit wasn’t designed to bridge the gap between a government and its people.  To do that, it might have to be a little less rough around the edges and frankly, that’s just not Reddit.  But that’s ok, because I have a hard time thinking that I’m the only one that’s been inspired here.  I suspect there are a lot of smart people out there who are seeing what I’m seeing.  We need to revolutionize the way that a government listens to its people and I think the public is figuring that out in a hurry.

One of the greatest counter-productive efforts throughout history has been the ruling class putting a greater emphasis on maintaining their power than helping their people.  A lot of us assumed that kind of behavior died off with the monarchies but somehow it’s more obvious today than ever.  I think we have the internet to thank for that.  The internet revolutionized how we access information which means the government is having a harder and harder time controlling the conversation.   They’re still trying, and it’s confusing the hell out of a lot of people, but the truth keeps finding a way.

The best thing about this for me is that when I keep pulling at that thread and try to visual where this takes us, I start to see something pretty special. If we could create a public that’s actively engaged with the governance issues that they’re interested in, able to control the public discourse, and aware of what one another is thinking in real-time, we have a highly capable voter base that’s capable of decentralizing a government’s power.  If we can connect that voter base to governing officials who are accountable to public discourse and the ongoing engagement of their constituents, we may just be able to put everyone back on the same team and point them in the same direction.  Wouldn’t that be neat.

 

 

A Brief on Spectral Thinking

I’m sure I’ll dive into this again at a later date as my understanding of it continues to grow but I wanted to unload some of these thoughts for now.

There seems to be a natural evolution of thought from binary, to categorical, to spectral.

You have men and you have women.  It’s one or the other.  Except for intersex.  So 3 categories and everyone fits into one of those 3.  Except there’s at least 9 distinct categories of intersex.  So 11 categories, and that’s it.  Except these traits are expressed differently in each individual so it’s as if everyone ultimately ends up in their own category and it’s way too complicated to have infinite categories so why not just a spectrum?

You’re either gay or you’re straight.  It’s one or the other.  Except for bi.  So 3 categories and everyone fits into….

You’re either smart or you’re not…

You’re either privileged or you’re not…

It’s either black or white…

You’re either good or bad…

So if spectral thinking is next level, what’s after that?  My guess is another axis.

Duality of Privilege

When you apply the concept duality to privilege, it creates a rather interesting perspective.  Consider example A:

John is the child of a wealthy family.  His grandfather did very well, and John’s parents never had to work.  John grows up knowing that he won’t have to work either.  John’s parents lead a lavish lifestyle and give John is given everything that he asks for.

As a result of his unique circumstances, John has a unique perspective on life.  In that environment, I could see it being extremely challenging to develop qualities like a strong work ethic, perseverance, or the ability to deal with scarcity.  I could also see it being difficult to develop healthy relationships with others for a variety of reasons.  This doesn’t sound like a life of privilege to me.  Consider example B:

Jane is the daughter of two working class immigrants, and is raised in a rough neighborhood.   Jane grows up admiring the work ethic of her parents, knowing how their sacrifices let her grow up in a better place than where they were from.  Jane doesn’t have much growing up, but she appreciates what she has and learns how to work towards the things she wants.

In that environment, Jane was given several obstacles and challenges which John would be unlikely to face.  I’d like to think there are two ways to look at this.  You could say that John is privileged to not have to work for anything.  Or you could also say that Jane is privileged to have learned a great work ethic when she was young.  Perhaps there’s a key difference between these two though, in that Jane earned her work ethic while John didn’t earn his family’s wealth.  While that may be true, neither Jane nor John earned their circumstances – in this case, their family.  Had Jane been born to John’s family,   would she have turned out any differently?  Had John been born into Jane’s circumstances, would he have developed Jane’s work ethic?  Who’s life would you rather be born into?  If you’re like me and picked Jane’s life because it would probably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling, successful, and healthy life, wouldn’t that be the more privileged life?

When you think about our greats, from Muhammad Ali to Connor McGregor, from J Lo to Jay Z, from Abe Lincoln to Narendra Modi, from Indra Nooyi to Oprah Winfrey, from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, and from Charles Dickens to JK Rowling, you start to see a pattern of overcoming a more challenging set of circumstances from a young age.  You know who I don’t see?  I don’t see the children of billionaires.  How often do we see the children of wealthy families behaving as inspiring leaders that move the world forward in a positive direction?

I think that inheritance doesn’t exist in a meritocracy but that aside, I genuinely don’t have any issues with someone inheriting a fortune and then settling down and living a comfortable life with their family.  I just know that’s not the best environment for producing good human-beings.  It looks easy, and nice, and better, but it lacks the struggle, and it’s the struggle which defines us.

The most challenging moments of my life directly preceded my most significant moments of personal growth.  If this pattern stays true for others, is adversity not to be embraced as the fuel of progress?  If so, perhaps privilege represents someone who’s arrived at the destination without having made the journey.  If so, perhaps there’s an argument to be made for an empathetic approach to this whole ‘privilege’ thing.  If we’re lucky, it might be contagious.

The Popularization of Victimhood

I grew up in a low income neighborhood where things were probably a little rougher than average.  It was mostly immigrant families who came here with very little, in search of better opportunities.  In neighborhoods like these, opportunities were scarce so you learned to fight for every opportunity and every advantage.  Sometimes that meant finding ways to sneak two lunches at school.  Sometimes it meant stealing part of the lunch from the person who got up to go to the bathroom.  Everyone was always being tested – if you left an opening, you got hit.

Sounds like a rough place, but it wasn’t without ethics.  Those with disabilities were always off limits, and often befriended by most popular kids.  If someone targeted them, they were immediately protected, and often by the toughest kids.  Others were simply known for being too nice to be picked on, and were supported for taking the high road.  The rest of us.. were fair game.

The appeal of victimhood doesn’t resonate with me and recounting through my childhood, I might I understand why.  When you grow up in an environment where just about everyone is starting at a disadvantage, working your ass off to get to the status quo is the status quo.  Drawing attention to our circumstances for the sake of sympathy or outside intervention just isn’t where we choose to put our energy.  Instead, we work hard in school, become productive members of society, and give back to the community so that we can solve this problem for future generations.  Today, our community center has the largest food security program in the city, one of the best basketball programs in the region (NBA Cares just redid our gym), and gets 75% of it’s funding through fundraising – largely from community alumni.  This is how I learned to deal with disadvantage.

The other remarkable thing that happens in this neighborhood is that we produce great people.  We’re not without our bad eggs, but generally speaking, we’re polite, kindhearted and well intentioned.  Even the friendships made there are more like family than friends now.  We were terrible to each other, but only when it didn’t matter.  When it mattered, we would fight tooth and nail for each other.  Perhaps it left me with a different perspective on when things mattered and when they didn’t.

This is why I struggle to relate to what appears to be a developing culture of victims.  Where I might see an opportunity to redeem myself, it’s as if they see an opportunity to draw attention to themselves.  It’s often under the premise of ‘raising awareness’ which seems well-intentioned but it’s a somewhat incomplete strategy on its own.  There’s a wide gap between being aware of something and understanding it.  Fortunately for all of us, awareness generates dialogue and dialogue helps to develop and circulate good ideas which ultimately help us understand what we’re actually dealing with and how to make progress.  The problem though, is that the solution is to popularize redemption.

Redemption isn’t just inspiring, it’s informative.  It says yes, you can get dealt a shitty hand and still come out on top – here’s proof.  It says look at what I just did, take what you can and apply it to your situation.  The better the story, the more viral that information becomes.  Some of the greatest stories in human history are based in redemption, but you can’t have redemption or all that fantastic personal growth that comes with it without adverse circumstances.  I can’t help but think that with the right perspective, adversity can be seen as positive.  It’s when we suffer that we learn the most about ourselves and the universe around us.  Adversity is that fuel that pushes us forward in the most meaningful of ways.  For the record, this is all from personal experience.

The problem with popularizing victimhood is that it’s encouraging the wrong behavior.  It’s like celebrating the loss rather than celebrating the win.  It’s also creating a sense of pessimism where people are spending more time looking for ways in which they’re being harmed than they are looking for ways in which they’re being loved.  And by the time we’ve all identified as a victim of something, what have we accomplished?  Do we still make a conscious effort to sympathize for a victim when everyone’s a victim?  Do we continue to use the word victim, both for someone who was killed in a mass shooting and for someone who was whistled at on the street?  Where I grew up, the word victim was often reserved for a drug overdose or a homicide, the kind of event you couldn’t overcome.  Now it’s a hashtag, part of how we identify, and indicative of social virtue.

Identity politics, where your social status and implied virtue is linked to your level of victimhood.  A racial minority? 1 point.  Female? 1 point.  Gay? 1 point.  Disabled? 1 point.  Straight white male? – 3 points.  I have to admit, there is some irony in how the popularization of victimhood has systematically marginalized straight white males.

As much hate as they get, this isn’t as much of a white guy thing as it is an old people thing.  They want control because they’re afraid of what will happen if they’re not in control.  They’re intolerant because they’re afraid they don’t know how to deal with change.  In a world of uncertainty, they’re afraid and are desperately trying to keep things the same.  In a world of change, we’re quickly taking over.

Let’s focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we’re going to create.

Escapism

Alcohol consumption has been increasing steadily for the last 10 years.  Cannabis use is at an all-time high.  Opioids have been declared a national emergency.    Entire sub-cultures of youth and young adults are finding fewer and fewer reasons to leave the house.  It’s like we’re all trying to escape from all this… sucking.

Do well in school.  Work hard.  Be nice to others.  Pretty common advice for most of us growing up.  We were supposed to do well in school so that we could learn the skills necessary to earn a good income.  We were to work hard because the more effort we put in, the greater the reward.  We should be nice to others because it’s important that we all get along.

So what happens when you do well in school but struggle to find a job when you graduate?  And what about those who had to take out student loans?  What happens when you realize that you’re not the one being rewarded for your hard work?  And what happens when you start to feel like the world has genuinely given up on getting along with one another?

You escape.

We all hallucinate our own reality and it is by that mechanism that we can choose to exist in a reality where we don’t feel the weight of these issues.  Some escape to a digital reality, some to an altered state, but the objective is still the same – being there is better than being here.

Why not just step your game up and go take what the world owes you?  Just make sure you out-perform your peers and you’ll get that top 1% lifestyle that you’ve always wanted.  And once you get there, you’ll know that you’ve made it and that you’re truly different than the other 99%.  That’s what a younger me would’ve said.  To the victor go the spoils, so just make sure you win.  Modern-day cannibalism at its finest.

The problem with the ‘try harder’ approach is that it only works in a zero-sum scenario.  If a few people put in more effort while everyone else is doing the same as they were, those who are putting in more effort are likely to receive more rewards.  If everyone puts in more effort, relatively speaking, the effort levels all remain the same.  Effectively, if we all try hard, we all stay exactly where we are.

So being a grown-up is nothing like what we were told.  Effort is no longer the difference between being rich and poor.   Jobs are disappearing to automation at an increasing rate.  The cost of living is climbing faster than income.  Debt has replaced savings.  Home ownership and a family are now an irresponsible financial decision for most.  And when we look to our leaders and our policy makers in the hopes of change, we see one of the most embarrassing breakdowns of governance in the modern age.

We can’t seem to get to where we want to go.  The advice we were given did not hold up.  We’re being told it’s because we’re lazy.  We’re being told that we’re the problem.  It just doesn’t make sense…

Depression.

Escape.

But we rise.

Our hope that the human condition will prevail remains in tact.  While you look to divide, we look to connect.  Where you seek control, we seek freedom.  Where you look to horde, we look to share.  Where you look to keep secrets, we look to expose the truth.  While you’ve looked to maintain the status quo, we look to challenge it.  And where you fear the future, we embrace it.

We’re just trying to be patient, waiting for our turn.  We see you trying to drag this out though.  I recommend against it.  It’s not a fight you’ll win.

 

Solutions that Create More Solutions

I was reading a Harvard Business Review article a while back and it was talking about the dynamic of a self-perpetuating business.  An easy example is the classic ‘customer first’ strategy:

If you always put the customer first, the customer is always happy and if the customer is always happy, then they’ll keep coming back and every once in a while, they’ll come back with a friend.  As more friends become shoppers, the business grows and more locations can be opened to serve more friends.  As more locations are opened and the business scales, it can reinvest in itself, ultimately leading to better customer service.  And the cycle continues.

Good customer service is a solution to the problem of bad customer service, but it’s also a solution that creates more solutions.  There are other solutions that create more problems.  Cost cutting can be an example:

Revenues are down so you look to cut costs  to maintain profitability.  You realize you can fire your top performing employees who are being paid the most, and replace them with new talent who will work for half as much.  Next year’s forecasts are now back in line with corporate targets.  Solution?

Probably not.  Firing your top performing employees is a quick way to decimate your organizational culture and that leads to lower levels of acquisition, retention, and production.  It was a solution in that it was able to achieve reduced costs, but it also created a problem by way of significantly reduced revenues over the long-term.

This isn’t a business concept.  It’s a universal concept.  It persists in the laws of physics as well as in the truths of philosophy, and it’s one which the world desperately needs to understand.

You have the compassionate crowd who actively fight racism with racism, and actively fight against free speech to protect free speech.  It won’t work.

You have the intelligent crowd who spend most of their time picking apart bad solutions, and then defer to whatever benefits them personally, lacking the understanding that this is all a collective effort.  That won’t work either.

I’m still trying to understand why intelligence and compassion are at odds with one another, because they also share a very significant connection:

The most intelligence decision you can make is a compassionate one, and the most compassionate decision you can make is an intelligent one.

This isn’t neutral territory between the left and the right, this is the guiding star that we should all be following.  Compassion is the compass, intelligence is the map.

 

A Solution to Gun Violence

I like guns.  I appreciate the engineering, they’re fun to shoot, and it’s a skill I enjoy developing.  That said, I’ve only been out shooting a few times and while I wouldn’t turn down an invitation, it’s not big on my list of priorities.  What’s actually higher on my list of priorities is coming up with a long overdue solution to a very current problem: gun violence.

I guess I should start by laying out a few pieces of my framework on this one.  I agree that guns are fun to shoot and that people should have the ability to protect their families.  I also think that guns as they are today cause more problems than solutions and something needs to change.  When both sides are asking for something reasonable, compromise is a lack of imagination.

The first thing that people have to acknowledge is that this has nothing to do with the history of the country or the second amendment.  This is a conversation about how can we keep having fun at the range while protecting ourselves and our families, without putting lethal weapons in the hands of irresponsible people.

Part of how I arrived here is in observing the US’s global nuclear policy.  Effectively, the US focuses on limiting the number of countries with access to nuclear weapons because it’s risky to have that much lethal power available to someone who’s intentions you can’t be certain of.  So they go around the world intervening and restricting nuclear programs – perhaps rightfully so.  Personally, I think there will just about always be something more sensible for a government to invest in than nukes, but I’m also empathetic to the only reason that they give: we want to be able to protect ourselves from a hostile government.

 

On a global scale, America agrees that people should have limited access to deadly weapons.  On a domestic scale, they disagree.  I’m pointing out the hypocrisy so that we can agree that guns and gun violence aren’t an ‘American thing’ or part of our culture.  The situation that we’re in now is caused by mental illness, bad government, and a lack of innovation.  Mental illness is something that will take a cultural shift, bad government will take a revolution, but innovation is something we can tackle now.

So how do we close the gap?  How do we give everyone what they want?  Easy.

Non-lethal ammo.

Whether you’re at a gun range, or keeping a gun under your bed for home defense, you don’t need to kill your target.  There is literally zero need for a recreational target shooter to need lethal ammunition.  I would go so far as to say that without the risk of death, shooting ranges would be significantly more popular.  Further innovations would lead to a variety of non-lethal munitions, further diversifying the sport.

For home defense, I suspect most people would agree that if they had the choice, would rather incapacitate than kill.  The reality is very few of us, if any, have the wisdom necessary to know when it’s appropriate to take a life.  As we continue to be reminded, most who think they do are wrong.  If we can agree on that, let’s agree that the reason we want guns isn’t so that we can kill each other, or even kill someone who poses a threat to us, it’s about keeping ourselves safe.  We need a non-lethal ammunition that can reliably incapacitate.

The non-lethal options that exist today hasn’t proven viable, so we need to innovate.  I’m not smart enough to know exactly what this product or these products would look like but I do have an idea on how we could get there.  First the government announces an intent to shift from lethal weapons to non-lethal weapons.  Then, allocate $100 million to a venture capital fund and have that fund approach universities across America, looking to invest in companies developing alternative munitions.   This will spur a wave of innovation in the direction of non-lethal munitions and with a little bit of time, we should arrive at a better mouse trap.  Who knows, maybe we’ll end up with a Star Trek-esque stun gun.

The idea is that if we could design a weapon that was easier to use, barely needed to be aimed, and put your home invader into a comatose state until the authorities arrived, why would you want a classic pistol?  It wouldn’t increase your chances of defending yourself, only your chances of harming the other person.  If we can agree that the people who want to keep using lethal ammunition because it increases their chances of being able to hurt people shouldn’t have access to lethal ammunition, I think we’re all on the same page.  If we could get alternative munitions to the point where they were this safe and easy to use, imagine what it would do for everyone’s personal safety.

I know, I know, I forgot something.  Or rather saved it for last.  Hunting.  I’ll admit I didn’t quite have it figured out when I started writing this but a thought occurred to me while I was writing and it might be a good one.  The one recreational scenario where lethal ammunition does make sense is when you’re hunting, especially when you’re hunting for food.  Hunting for sport should probably be non-lethal to begin with so for the moment, let’s focus on hunting for food.  We need the ammunition to be lethal for our target, but preferably, only our target.  It would be nice to not have to worry about shooting other hunters.  If that’s our criteria, we could probably innovate our way out of this one too.  So we need a bullet that can be fired from a standard rifle which upon impact, would kill a… let’s say moose, but if it hit a person, would be non-lethal.  Sounds to me like a miniaturized dart (like from a tranquilizer gun) containing a compound that would kill a moose while leaving a personal unharmed.  Not only would that prevent nearly all hunting accidents, it may also be a more humane way to hunt.

When reasonable people are asking for reasonable things, compromise is a lack of imagination.  People should be able to protect themselves.  Protecting yourself isn’t the same as hurting someone else though.  If you want to protect yourself by hurting others, you need help.  Let’s find a means to protect ourselves without hurting others, and find a way to help others who haven’t yet figured out why hurting others just about always creates more problems than solutions.