The Rise Of Internet Feudalism


Via the Atlantic

The Internet has emboldened traditional power. On the corporate side, power is consolidating, a result of two current trends in computing. First, the rise of cloud computing means that we no longer have control of our data. Our e-mail, photos, calendars, address books, messages, and documents are on servers belonging to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and so on. And second, we are increasingly accessing our data using devices that we have much less control over: iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Kindles, ChromeBooks, and so on. Unlike traditional operating systems, those devices are controlled much more tightly by the vendors, who limit what software can run, what they can do, how they’re updated, and so on. Even Windows 8 and Apple’s Mountain Lion operating system are heading in the direction of more vendor control.

I have previously characterized this model of computing as “feudal.” Users pledge their allegiance to more powerful companies who, in turn, promise to protect them from both sysadmin duties and security threats. It’s a metaphor that’s rich in history and in fiction, and a model that’s increasingly permeating computing today.

The more destabilizing the technologies, the greater the rhetoric of fear, and the stronger institutional powers will get. This means increasingly repressive security measures, even if the security gap means that such measures become increasingly ineffective.

17 Comments on "The Rise Of Internet Feudalism"

  1. Ted Heistman | Oct 30, 2013 at 11:49 am |

    But…I thought technology was enabling us all to become our own version of Tony Stark/Iron man? Wat? We are becoming serfs? Operating technology we have no understanding of doesn’t make us super smart and powerful?

  2. Rhoid Rager | Oct 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm |

    This just comes from laziness to understand and then act on the fact that our software controls us, not the other way around. I recently switched to a Linux-based OS, and I realized how easy it was and that I should have done it years ago. Why Windows and Mac are still in wide use is beyond me. The free software model is viable and waiting for your participation.

    • BuzzCoastin | Oct 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm |

      I think I paid about $3 for Win 7 & MS Orifice in BKK
      and I hated my Apple OS and wouldn’t use Apple
      even if they paid me
      unless you’re really data savvy
      about the state of the art WEB
      almost all your data is being held by untrustworthy holders

      • Rhoid Rager | Oct 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm |

        I paid nothing for Ubuntu. There is a massive amount of free software (both in price and principle) on Linux-GNU repositories.

        • BuzzCoastin | Oct 30, 2013 at 1:50 pm |

          any program compatibility issues?

          • Rhoid Rager | Oct 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm |

            I’ve been using it for about two weeks now, and none so far. It handles all of the Mac/Win file formats. I’m using it for my translation work no problem. You’d have to research the available software for your needs–video editing, if memory serves. You might be interested in the Linux Fedora OS.

          • Simon Valentine | Oct 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm |

            is WINE or its successor still widely used? are there Direct X mimics?

          • VaudeVillain | Oct 31, 2013 at 1:36 am |

            Having used Linux (primarily Ubuntu) to varying degrees for about a decade… it depends on what you want to do with it, and how attached you are to the specific pieces of software rather than what they do.

            If you demand MS Office, you’re shit outta luck… if you’re fine with using an office suite which is almost exactly like MS Office but lacks some of the cutting-edge bells and whistles (frankly I tend to turn that shit off anyway) and may not perform quite as well on extraordinarily complex and/or lengthy documents then or LibreOffice are entirely serviceable.

            The only area where I just don’t see Linux cutting it is in consumer-grade multimedia editing. The GIMP is alright, but it is decidedly less capable or user friendly than Photoshop. I’ve never come across a decent video editor, and while there are several passable audio editors, those are pretty easy to come by for any platform these days.

            If, however, what you want to do is browse the internet, use email, or remotely manage your *SQL servers, then Linux is as good as anything.

    • DeepCough | Oct 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm |

      The reason why Windows is the most successful (which is not to say “best”) OS on the market today is due to one simple concept:

      Graphic User Interface (GUI).

      • Rhoid Rager | Oct 30, 2013 at 1:47 pm |

        Sorry? There are plenty of GUI OSs out there. I’m using Ubuntu, but there are a number of Linux-GNU OS distros that run better than Windows, are more user friendly and customizable, and not prone to viruses, and other nasty stuff.

        But the real reason that Windows is so popular is because it is pre-installed on the majority of hardware one can buy at the big box stores and it is flogged beyond belief at every turn in the media.

      • Pete Wason | Oct 30, 2013 at 2:18 pm |

        I regularly use Windows, Linux (CentOS usually), AmigaOS (ca. 1991), and
        MorphOS, and of the four, Windows is consistently the rudest GUI this
        side of Alpha Centauri, constantly grabbing focus whenever it feels like
        it, moving the cursor without warning, hiding things that should be
        obvious, showing me things I have no interest in or use for, with a thin
        diarrhea-like trickle of marketing woven through everything. Agent
        Smith was on to something: Windows is a virus.

        And the
        feudalization thing, well, some biatches deserve serfdom. I used to use
        Macs BITD, but now they are just part of the problem. Smartphones..
        don’t even get me started on those.

      • Simon Valentine | Oct 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm |

        history and tradition?

        Direct X

        “OpenGL? what’s OpenGL?”

  3. DeepCough | Oct 30, 2013 at 1:15 pm |

    I think a better term for this would be “cult consumerism,” in which a customer swears financial fealty to a company or brand without the guarantee of a decent product, customer service, or basic rights (e.g. Apple).

    • Simon Valentine | Oct 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm |

      as someone who works in a building [sic] labeled as “Ford” but really selling and receiving (to sell or for service work) any make or model, i can attest to the absurdity of “brand” directly with years of work experience. there’s certainly a model to be worked up about it, and many patterns are all to obvious.

      Amway Global

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