The Personal computer-A Post Post Modern Society| Chapter 9| Complexity, Information Theory and the Nature of Symbolic systems: The Death of the Gods and the Revolt Against Reason

In June 2015 with Vanity Fair’s, cover of Caitlyn Jenner launches the post-postmodern era. Like the postmodern era, it is the change in the information landscape onto a scale free network. It took time to manifest in the geist. The birth of the post postmodern society started in 2007 with Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone. The iPhone, just being the latest expression of the geometry of computing. The successor to the personal computer. Although social media use predates the iPhone, having constant access to a personal computer has caused its use to increase exponentially. However, it was in 2015 where phone manufacturers saw the biggest increase in sales.

The personal computer, as an information technology, was not mass adopted until it replaced the calculator and the typewriter. With the introduction of Word and Number Processor Programmes. Replacing the previous information technologies of the calculator and typewriter.

Although the usefulness of the personal computer is independent of the internet, it was the network effects of the internet that caused computing to explode as an appliance. The Internet is a natural successor to the information of the telegraph as a means of distributing information. The computer is a natural successor to the typewriter and calculator as a means of symbol creation and manipulation. Artificial Intelligence is a natural extension of the printing press as a means of automating a repetitive human process.

The Rise of CyberSpace

What the Wachowskis meant by the word Matrix In the movie The Matrix Is cyberspace. Cyberspace– the inside of computers. The Matrix, really refers to the matrix of binary digits. The size of cyberspace is not the total memory available to computers. But, rather the total time humans attend to it. In contrast to the rest of reality, the density of cyberspace is increasing with Moore’s law.

The Personal Computer Revolution:

The mass commercialisation of computing occurred in the years preceding the personal computer. These pioneering computers were mostly hulking mainframes. They were only accessible with computer code. Demand curves, being downward sloping, limited the number of people who could interface with them. As a result, computers were reserved to large institutions, not individual consumers.

The growth of Mobile OS has been lethargic. As despite being the new computing default, its design is still based on the way computers were designed originally.

The evolution of computing:

At first there was no difference between software and hardware because computers were special purpose. Meaning they were designed for a specific task like breaking codes, or solving some differential equations. Then computers became what Alan Turing refers to as “general purpose”. Meaning machines which could be programmed for differenting computing fuctions (which we call applications).

After computers were able to process different types of information, the next step was to get them to share that information with one another. This is the processes which started with the ARPANET but eventually culminated with the internet. After that, computers then got smaller and as a result we got the personal computer. The phone is just a natural extension of the process of making computers smaller. So small in fact, society will force you to take it everywhere.

*Note computing refers to the theory of computers. While computers refer to your, well, computer.

Said another way, first computing as a theory was a bundle. You did not have access to an application of computing as you could accesscomputing in general. However , as computers could start capturing more of the information world around it. We created different applications for the theory of computing. These condensed, easily repeatable computer functions called applications (heuristically I think of them as sub routine boxes) were stored in a file directory. Which is one our best meme regarding information storage whether it be physical or electronic.

The job of computing companies is to maximise the amount of information captured by computers in general and to maximise the ability of that information to interface with you.The level of interfacility between man and computer depends their appeal to our senses. The main ones that get exploited are visual, audio, touch.

The first step of the assimilation occurred when we started being able to interface with computers in real time. This happened when computers switched from batch processing to time shared terminals thanks to work of Licklider and McCarthy at MIT in the 1950s. Then we started to interface with them visually thanks to work of Douglas Engelbart and others.

But since Doug, the visual space hasn’t moved much (outside of VR) since the the 1960s. Additionally, most people don’t know what to do with touch outside of touchscreens and buttons. Nowadays, people are more sophisticated when it comes to computing. So there is less of a need to express information visually but these other avenues are not being pursued enough. However, we are at the point in history when the audio dimension is being captured by computers.

Physical and software interfaces:

The ability to interface with computers (man computer symbiosis) happens in two places-the physical as well as software interface.The physical interface comprises of product dimension, buttons, attachability/portability. The software interface comprises, well, everything else. Said another way hardware is the physical network of your phone. Software is the network of useful parts or computing functions. More succintly, the role of software is to facilitate the connection between the applications that you use.

The Desktop Interface Macintosh-Insanely Great

The personal computer is squarely an American phenomenon. Like all good American phenomena, it involved dudes tinkering in a garage (usually their parent’s). As the cost of storing a bit decreased, computers became more accessible to hobbyists. One such hobbyist was the shy Steve Wozniak. Who along with his other friend, Steve, would start a process that would change the world. Apple’s first computers were just pre-assembled hobbyist type computers. These pre-assembled computers would increase in sophistication. Eventually culminating in the first modern personal computer the Macintosh in 1984.

Fundamentally, the Macintosh is the commercialisation of the concept of the Memex contrived by Baneever Bush. It was expounded upon by Douglas Engelbart, the most important consumer designer of all time (as he understands that the computer is the natural evolution of paper). It was Engelbart who introduced the mouse, the idea of visualized computer objects and the abstraction of a desktop. The computer being the latest extension of the image machine, the television. Bitmapping is to the computer what algebraic geometry is to mathematics. A codification of the points in space onto a numeric index.

When it comes to the argument if Windows copied Apple, it should be noted that Steve did not simply copy paste the work of Xerox PARC in a very viable commercial computer. He added to the design. Additionally, like Steve explained in his legendary Stanford address, Microsoft copied the size of the spaces between the letters. The only unfortunate thing is that Bill did not copy Steve more, a mistake Google will not do.

Like Steve said, the thing about Windows is that they have no taste whatsoever. Instead of calling it Windows, they should have just called it boxes, Microsoft boxes. The reason why Apple products have rounded edges from apps to appliances, comes down to Steve Jobs’ genius as a computer designer. It is easier to detect a change over a smooth surface. When the edges are square, they’re startling to the eye as the rate of change is too great. With a circle, the rate of change at any given point is too great. To solve this problem,  Steve Jobs literally squared the circle.

The Laptop computer

Steve Jobs would not be alive to see his laptop designs mature into something astounding with the 2012 Macbook Pro. The laptop industry increasingly resembles that of the television industry, where the differences between generations are becoming increasingly decreasing.

Microsoft

Microsoft would represent a fundamental shift in the computing industry at large. The balance of power shifted from hardware to software with hardware components becoming increasingly commoditized.

The Internet-Shared Cyberspace

ARPANET

The next significant achievement in the computer revolution was the establishment of a coherent network of communication between machines. The ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, established a proof of concept for the internet. An ability to share information from one large scale institution to another.

An Online Bulletin Board

Prior to the World Wide Web (www.) The internet was restricted to online bulletin boards (BBs). These were for the computer enthusiasts of the world. Still for them, BBs provided much of the same experiences afforded to current Social Media. Computer games and other salient information started being shared en masse.

The World Wide Web (www)

It was not until the establishment of the world wide web (www) that Internet culture became a mass culture. The exact inflection point was in 1996 with the biggest disaster in Everest history being reported in real time on the internet.

Like ARPANET,  the web was at the beginning academic in nature. The purpose of the early web was to scale the ARPANET to anyone with an Internet connection. This was done by Tim Berners Lee at CERN. Since its inception, however, the web was used mostly to share pictures, not academic papers.

Google-Indexing Cyberspace

As shared cyberspace got denser, it became increasingly valuable to navigate it. Google made its first dollar by selling the views received from advertisers to users who wanted to use their search service. Their ability to organize cyberspace, as it turns out, was extraordinarily valuable. Google, however, far from the first search engine, was just the best. The dominance of Google, highlighting the winner-takes-all effect of internet markets (fat tails). Google, unlike its competitors, used unique and increasing complex algorithms to organize data. The sheer volume of cyberspace makes it impossible for anything but a computer to sort through.

As Google’s founder put it, Google’s goal is to organize all of the information on the internet. Not to tell Google’s founders about their business model, but Google organizes insofar as they index unstructured data in cyberspace. What first started out as an index of the most relevant websites on the web,  ended up as an index of just about everything: Google Photos, Google videos. After indexing shared cyberspace, Google would start indexing the real world as well. The creation of Google Maps. Part of the greater societal trend to map space onto cyberspace.

Web Browser- A Portal to shared cyberspace

A web browser, being another term for portal to shared cyberspace. In economics the only costs are opportunity costs. From the first web browser Mosaic, functionality dedicated to the sharing of images comes at the expense of academic papers.

Web 1.0-Space to Cyberspace

Email

The first means of private interpersonal communication comes from email. As the name suggests, there’s just an electronification of mail with an associated instant messenger.

Blogging

Blogging, as a medium, peaked in the early aughts. It had a recent Renaissance under Substack in the early 2020s. Substack, fundamentally solving the problem of blogging. A centralized directory to sort through all blogs. Substack solves monetization by allowing users to subscribe to creators. Blogging, during the wild wild west days of cyberspace, was more successful as the transition from print to cyber was slow, giving bloggers less competition. In addition, social media became a much more market effective way of self expression.

Web 2.0-A Social Media 

MySpace

MySpace, the first modern social media is perhaps the greatest example of the internet’s shift from academia to media. MySpace, more of a media than a technology company, came up with a product a generation early. This is mostly the case with non-technical companies in a technical field. Myspace provided a clunky user experience due to slow internet connection and poor computers. The emphasis on MySpace was more on content creation. Whereas the emphasis of Facebook was on creators. The audiences were more content to watch creators.

Facebook

Facebook is a technology company by contrast. It was quickly able to scale a minimalist user experience. Facebook was not a revolutionary product, Friendster was already exploding. However, Facebook was the best social media platform. Facebook’s minimalist design, superior technology and greater vision culminated in a paradigm shift- the newsfeed. In contrast to visiting your friends profile one at a time,  Facebook, would algorithmically agglomerate salient information on the Newsfeed. Before Facebook would try to incorporate other features of other popular social media websites.

Early Facebook was very much a web 1.0 phenomenon. The goal was to bring a network of friends from space onto cyberspace. Social media would then shift to the web 2.0 paradigm with the goal, for users to create the content that generate the cash flow. As Facebook developed, content created by professionals increasingly dominated.

Google+

In an industry that cool, Google couldn’t break into social media. Google’s closest thing to Social Media was YouTube. Purchased as Google’s own video streaming service, it could not take advantage of network effects in its attempt to compete with Facebook. Google Plus was not very good.

Web 2.0-Network Effects

On the evolution of video streaming

The information technology of the latter half of the 20th century on the personal computer, . Is was out competing with the information technology of the first half of the 20th century: cinema and television. Fundamentally speaking, video streaming is just video content being delivered through fiber optic cables as opposed to satellite or other cables. The cost of symbolic communication with the internet has led to the death of the studio system. With amateur content increasingly outcompeting networked content.

Netflix

Unlike traditional content studios, Netflix does not micromanage its creators. This gave them an advantage over legacy media. As Netflix was able to have more diverse content. However, its cost per view was still higher than Youtube’s.

Youtube

The advantage that Youtube has over Netflix is that it has more content about more content. The decreasing cost of recording information has caused an increase in the quality of amateur content.

Podcasts

The principle difference between podcast and radio is that radio encodes audio over the electromagnetic spectrum. Podcasts, records audio in a binary. Podcasts are the evolution of radio in the sense that podcasts can be stored in cyberspace. While a radio has to be live broadcasted. Podcasts fundamentally represent a room in cyberspace. An indexation of one of earth’s possible sub realities that exist on Earth.

Spotify

What started out as a natural evolution of the music streaming, has ended up as a colossal waste of money. Spotify still has time to resume the music revolution that it started. In the sense that the ultimate destiny for a Spotify, as a company, is to become a platform for audio content. The way YouTube is a platform for video content. The last attempt at this was SoundCloud, and it failed due to a limited business model. Unlike Spotify, SoundCloud did not offer a subscription to a catalog of labeled music.

Spotify stopped restricting itself to just music and looked to capture the greater audio market. It chose to overpay for talent that YouTube got for free. Then it forced advertising for other podcasts that it overpaid for. For users pay not to be advertised to. While not investing in the underlying information technology, that allowed these podcasters to go to YouTube in the first place.

The Iphone

The iPhone, a new portal to cyberspace arrived. It was the next iteration in the variable image revolution. The iPhone, or the two way mobile variable image machine,  is to the post postmodern generation. It was  what the television was to the postmodern generation.

Instead of having a keyboard and mouse, computing was interfaced via fingers. The reason for this comes down to efficiency. The buttons on the screen are used about half the time. So it’s not worth dedicating a button to something that is not essential. Space, is scarce on such a small device,  as it has to be mobile after all.

To sum up Jobs’ computing career. He commercialized one paradigm of computing (the personal computer). He replaced the Walkman and the CD player with the Ipod. He Invented two different portals to cyberspace: The iPhone and ipad. Both of these two portals have different dimensions of the same fundamental technology, different evolutions, in the geometry of computing.

Steve Jobs is the second greatest computer designer in history. He trailed the one and only Douglas ‘Doug’ Engelbart. Jobs is the greatest computer manufacturer of all time, despite not being a hardware guy. Jobs’ early exit from Apple was because computing, as an industry, was still too immature to fulfill his vision. Moreover, Jobs did not know enough about computers to know what they were and were not capable of. After leaving Apple, Jobs would go on to fund NEXT (later acquired by Apple). Also, he bought Lucas animations (later Pixar). Jobs would end up making the bulk of his money from Pixar,  after going fifty million in deep before the release of Toy Story: The technological successor to Walt Disney’s Cinderella.

Android OS

Google’s Android took the Microsoft route towards Apple. Offering an operating system as a service for other foreign manufacturers (if there is another reason then state it). Also, Google offered their own end to end computer experience with the Pixel phone. This eventually led Google to displace Apple as the world’s largest phone company.

Facebook operates at a lower scale than Google. It was the very issue of scale, that forced Facebook out of making smartphones. Facebook would then try to compensate with a reduced version of Google’s Android. Alternatively, Facebook could have partnered with a traditional smartphone manufacturer, write an OS as a competitor to Android, with a greater emphasis on social media. But that is exactly Facebook’s problem. It is just a social media that is not content with being just a social media. It has no portal to cyberspace, putting it behind all of its would-be competitors in that respect.

Blackberry-The variable text machine

the cultural phenomenon of the Blackberry, despite infinitesimally small costs, charged exorbitant fees for texts and calls. As a result, a slew of services arose to deal with these issues (Skype, AOL Messenger, MSN). The advantage of the BlackBerry over these other services, is that Blackberry had a mobile portal to a still nascent cyberspace. BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was just the mobile version of AOL Instant Messenger.

Variable Image Machine

The iPhones created larger screen at the expense of the keyboard. That made it more of a photography device. If the iPod, is the successor to the Walkman, then The iPhone is the successor to the Polaroid. The ability to capture and share variable images directly led to the proliferation of image based social media. A natural function of a new portal to cyberspace. In addition, it led  to the death of non touch screen smartphones. The iPhone X marks the fundamental shift in the phone from a variable text machine to a variable image machine. As most of the excess weight of the product went towards the screen and the camera.

Variable Picture Machine-Instagram

Instagram, (later acquired by Facebook) chose to have limited yet emphasized functionality-the photograph. People could share photos, while having access to a mobile Photoshop-the filter. Sharing photos on Facebook, although possible, was not emphasized by the site. With photos failing on a mobile uploads album. Albums are necessary to post pictures on Facebook which created a problem for  posting a singular picture: the difficulty of the Edit. Demand curve being downward sloping, the easier it is to edit pictures, the more people will do it. Filters made Instagram, as a service, more valuable by making it easier to post while decreasing the difficulty of content creation, Making uglier pictures artificially more attractive, increased the number of media that can be shown socially.

Filters, as a concept, were so successful that phone manufacturers would provide them as part of their default camera application. The advances in mobile camera technology are a result of , shifting from hardware to software during this time. The definition of what constitutes a picture became increasingly distant.

The real effects of this trend will be seen in video editing. Given that CGI did nothing but enhance cinema. As the ability to engage in increasingly fanciful edits will make the sharing of increasingly sophisticated but nonetheless amateur content possible.

Instant Photo Machine-Snapchat

Snapchat inherited Facebook status as the media of the youth by eliminating quality restraint and time consideration from their content. Snapchats biggest innovation was the concept of a story. A story is a picture which will only be visible for a day. The time constraint, being the delineating factor between stories and traditional posts. The fleeting nature of it, is the attraction. Instagram’s self imposed quality limit allowed other camera based social media to traffic in the less attractive. Snapchat was less picky, and was therefore able to create more content. It was also able to attract more people to more places in cyberspace. It was not until Instagram relaxed it’s quality constraint that  they morphed into competitors to Snapchat.

Short Video Machine-Vine and TikTok

Tiktok reintroduced the concept of the flipbook to the 21st century. The meme is the modern day poster. The world was not ready for the reintroduction of the flipbook in 2014 with Vine. However, it would be with TikTok. Tiktok inherited the status as social media of the youth from Snapchat.

Twitter

Twitter, as a social media, is bolstered by smartphones as now people have more opportunities to micro blog. In addition to having more time to read microblogs. Although lacking the user base of Facebook or Instagram, Twitter’s effect on culture is superior. 2016 can be thought as the year Twitter went mainstream. I got on Twitter before my freshman year of high school in 2011. Prior to the Trump phenomenon. Twitter, I can assure you, is fun. As to the question to what extent is Twitter real life? A naive answer would be that Twitter is real life to the extent that people attend to it. However, corporate media is disproportionately influenced by Twitter. Therefore, espouse the views on Twitter onto other informational channels.

Facebook Mobile

The shift of the portal to cyberspace from desktop to mobile is the differentiating factor between Gen Y and Gen Z. Facebook on desktop was not outdated, but obsolete. In fact, Facebook was never able actually to shift to mobile.The nature of the site changed by the smaller screen. No longer was there a redundant sidebar to fill. Therefore mobile ads had to be part of the feed. Zuckerberg, who grew up with the personal computer as his portal to cyberspace, was already unprepared for the shift to mobile. As a result, Zuckerberg chose to eschew this generation cyberspace portal for the next- virtual reality. A pivot whose effectiveness remains to be seen.

Up to 2015, Facebook remained the dominant social media. Only to be overtaken by another acquired Facebook product, Instagram. Facebook operates at a larger scale, compared to other social media. We know this because Facebook keeps buying all other social media. Cyberspace is after all a physical place in space. Facebook is a series of data servers. So when Facebook purchases an attention product, the attention products are given the technology equivalent of meth. Instagram, literally loads faster with Facebook. Since acquiring these brands, however, Facebook has proceeded to destroy any previous brand loyalty. However, from a technological perspective, it makes total sense to merge with Facebook.

An election in cyberspace-PostpostModern Political engineering

2015 is the birth of the post-postmodern age and the effect of social media can be seen by the influences they had on the elections of that time with all of the candidates, who had a big presence on social media-Trump, Duterte and the Brexit campaign. All using the newest techniques to appeal to voters. While, their traditional adversaries were more likely to run a post modern election campaign.

Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica represents the automation of political engineering. The term political engineering was pioneered by the Russians. It is known elsewhere as the office of public relations. The presence of machine learning, in the sense previously ads were more generic as they were meant to appeal to more people, everyone’s newsfeed became a unique display. The ads became more bespoke. The data is gathered thanks to Facebook’s last data policy. Facebook was also used as an information dissemination mechanism.