2018 as a year of resistance

Tyler Cowen predicts some themes for 2018.

Many of the biggest events of 2018 will be bound together by a common theme, namely the collision of the virtual internet with the real “flesh and blood” world. This integration is likely to steer our daily lives, our economy, and maybe even politics to an unprecedented degree.

My prediction is that a main theme of 2018 will be resistance. Not the Trump resistance, but resistance against technology that is increasingly perceived as adversarial.

Yesterday, I was woken from a sound sleep by a spam phone call on my cell phone. I would like to see the full weight of the law brought on phone spammers, including the death penalty. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

More realistically, I would propose that Congress pass a law saying that if the providers of land lines and cell phone service cannot reduce spam phone calls by 90 percent by the end of 2018, then the FCC should levy fines against them in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This stuff has got to stop.

I think that there is a large latent movement for resisting Facebook, Twitter, and addiction to smartphone apps of various kinds. Commenter Handle pointed recently to Paul Graham’s essay.

The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.

That was written in 2010. I think the world has already gotten more addictive than it did in the previous 40 years. Maybe there will be a market solution. Maybe just a widespread consumer rebellion. But the issue is bound to get more and more attention.

As you know, I am bullish on self-driving cars. But look at the pushback I get from people who regard self-driving cars viscerally as a defeat for individual liberty and autonomy. The pushback suggests resistance.

Scott Galloway has become a YouTube star by sounding the alarm about the power of The Four, meaning Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. The popularity of his analysis is another indicator of the sentiment of resistance.

Remember Kevin Kelly’s book, What Technology Wants. He takes the view that the force of technological evolution operates independently of our control. That would suggest that resistance is futile. But I still expect it to be a main theme for the new year.

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18 Responses to 2018 as a year of resistance

  1. static says:

    I’d suggest only having your phone ring for a number in your contacts. Everyone else gets voicemail. Of course, they’ll be impersonating those numbers next. It is deadly, per the recent SWATting case.

    I do see a resistance where the results of learning algorithms* too complex for humans to comprehend in the ordinary way are challenged. Of course, they are often surpassed in their obscurity by human decision making, in things like college admissions.

    *As opposed to rules based decision systems

  2. Charles W. Abbott says:

    I am waiting for traffic investigation that presumes anyone driving and texting /talking to be presumed “at fault.” When this will happen, if ever, is hard to say.

    It’s easy to see a collision between phone privacy and accident investigation. “What I do with my phone is my business. Of course I wasn’t texting before the accident.”


  3. C says:

    Easy solution: get Nomorobo.

  4. Grant Gould says:

    Cody Wilson — the guy shipping CNC plans for AR-15s over the internet — remarked that in the current moment “real politics is simply in deferral.” That is, the world, the technology, the culture, the philosophy have raced ahead so much faster than politics that all that politics can offer is a choice between which of thousands of racing trends to try to slam the brakes on.

    To take your spam call example, the systems that allow routing of falsified-number calls are an outgrowth of the weird common-carrier regulations that made carrier billing records and number identification data diverge back at the birth of ISDN; none of that stuff has meaningfully changed in ages. By contrast it is weird and slightly obnoxious apps like truecaller and nomorobo (built with no knowledge of the underlying routing protocols or regulations) that are solving the problem. I have no doubt that congress will jump in eventually with something like you propose, returning the control to the carriers who will then use it to ban the blocker apps (per the old model of caller ID, caller ID blockers, caller ID blocker blockers, each a paid add-on). By the time any of this comes to pass, the roboscammers will have migrated to texting or VR or goodness-knows-what.

    Realistically: Pick two dozen threatening and accelerating developments, from automomous cars to antifa to clown panics to youth vaping to zoning reform. Read politicians’ statements over the next few months. I predict you will see a rough prioritization of which trends to defer and which to (grudgingly) accept. This is all that political platforms will really have to say in 2018 and for a while yet to come.

  5. Baskerville Boozehound says:

    I think that people who take more than 25 items through the express lane at the grocery store should also get the death penalty.

    I suspect that a lot of the phone spammers are calling from foreign countries. I notice that they are also spoofing the numbers they appear to be calling from now, so that it looks like the call is originating from within my area code. They are even spoofing the first three digits of the exchange.

  6. Slocum says:

    “The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.”

    I dunno — maybe I’m just addiction resistant, but I’m finding it much easier now to find and choose only what I want, tune out the rest, and live in my own comfortable, custom environment. I feel like I’m winning the war — handily — against those who’d want to addict me to anything. I mean, I hardly even see any commercials any more. When we watch anything, it’s 95% Netflix or Amazon Prime — we skate right through campaign seasons without seeing any of the terrible ads. For me personally, it’s a golden era of convenience and peace & quiet.

    • yeah, TV & radio ads are much more intrusive than internet ads

    • Dain says:

      This. Don’t know poster’s age, but I think younger people don’t feel the resistance (at least THIS resistance!) coming like older folks do. They don’t have a previous era of non-addictive technology to compare the current situation to, so it doesn’t feel like some big loss of agency.

      America is home to both young people-friendly economic dynamism and old people-friendly political stasis. When they clash you get the sentiment of Paul Graham.

  7. John says:

    It seems extraordinary to me that spam telephone calls selling a legitimate product ever get results. Of course they are ideal for crime.

    The telecomm companies should be forced to revealed callers numbers without exception. Internationally, a country should not receive calls from another country that does not comply. Falsifying a calling number should be as serious an offence as falsifying anything else to get some form of advantage.

    In the meantime, the only solution is to have a telephone that is always off whose number is used when vendors demand a number – they can always use email if it is important. Only give out your real number to responsible close friends, and don’t have a telephone in your bedroom. In years gone by it used to be in the hall, and that is the best place for it.

  8. JK Brown says:

    “Fifteen years ago we used the internet as an escape from the real world and now we use the real world as an escape from the internet”

    Saw that, more or less, as one of those quotes that drift around things like Tumblr, unattributed.

    But 125 years ago, the imitative evolution was remarked upon. The trend was accelerated with universal public education, which in its most prevalent form works to suppress independent thought even further. The instant “feedback” of social media works quite well to inhibit deviations from the “norm”.

    “Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are catchpenny phrases. There is much of the former, but very little of the latter. Speech is generally the result of automatic thought rather than of ratiocination. Independent thought is of all mental processes the most difficult and the most rare; habit, tradition, and reverence for antiquity unite to forbid it, and these combined influences are strengthened by the law of heredity. The tendency to automatic action of the mind is still further promoted by the environment of modern life. The crowding of populations into cities, and the division and subdivision of labor in the factory and the shop, and even in the so-called learned professions, have a tendency to increase the dependence of the individual upon the mass of society. And this interdependence of the units of society renders them more and more imitative, and hence more and more automatic both mentally and physically.”
    –Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand: manual training, the chief factor in education (1900)

    Note the Mr. Ham attributes much of this trend to the increased specialization and dependence upon trade resulting individuals becoming more imitative.

  9. collin says:

    But look at the pushback I get from people who regard self-driving cars viscerally as a defeat for individual liberty and autonomy.

    And yet people are more addicted to their cell phones which does 80%+ of loss of individual liberty and autonomy that a self-driving cars would bring. (I think we are still 30+ years from all car transportation being self-driving and 10+ years for substantial self-driving cars.)

    Secondly, as long as the economy does not lose jobs, I don’t think people will fight this technology and I almost think we are entering a late 1990s growth. (I still say the S&L 1990 Recession was the dress rehearsal for the Great Recession.)

    Third, we don’t know how the 2018 midterms go but I suspect it will be a strong push against Trump as Democrats are moving more energy to the elections. Judging by his approval, I think there was a lot Trump suspect voters that just don’t like his Twitter insult feed and wish a more boring President was in charge. (Note all the most boring political candidates over-performed in 2017 including Handel, Northam & Jones.)

  10. Moo cow says:

    Yes, interesting thoughts.

    Can we do something about fraud? Credit card fraud, particularly? I read somewhere that Slavic language speakers skim about 10 billion dollars a year from our economy, mostly via credit card fraud. Just this week I had to, again, cancel a card.

  11. people have been complaining about technology since the invention of the wheel

  12. djf says:

    Arnold, are your ideas for government action to crack down on phone spammers (which sound reasonable to me, apart from the death penalty suggestion) consistent with your professed libertarian principles?

  13. steve says:

    Every libertarian turns to government to solve problems that affect them.


  14. Prakash says:

    Possible technical solutions could be every consumer being able to set a “wall”, an amount that the caller will have to pay if the receiver doesn’t agree to waive the amount at the end of the call, something you’d do for friends and genuine calls. This definitely changes some habits as every person calling another will have to face an extra step – “This person has a wall of (for eg.) 10$ , please agree to pay in case of non-acceptance of call or disconnect”. The split of the wall amount between the sending phone company, receiving phone company and the receiver could possibly be negotiable.

    Another technical option, but which would work only on smartphones would be to have a short message flashing indicating the nature of the call. Any fraud on the content of the message could result in an instant fine or something equivalent.

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