The Internet Isn’t American Anymore
October 5, 2020
The Good News
- Otter-worldly: A lonely otter at a sanctuary finds love online through a dating site built just for him (CNN)
- Laughter May Be Effective Medicine for These Trying Times (NYT, $). Good humor, good health.
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” — Bill Gates
“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” — Eric Schmidt
The Internet Isn’t American Anymore
(Kevin Frayer via Getty Images)
Since its inception, we’ve only known the internet to be American. When the online consumer age began in 1994, US-based companies like Netscape, AOL, and Microsoft were there to usher us into an exciting new world. Hardware may have been created overseas, but the internet itself (software) was an American export, bound to the laws, regulations, attitudes, and norms of a familiar society.
But that was then. Now, anywhere from 80-90% of internet users live outside of the US. Chinese smartphone users outnumber those in the US and Western Europe combined. While early online innovation came almost exclusively from America, the rest of the world is now responsible for more than half of all software company creation. All of this is to say — the internet is no longer American.
Nowhere is this reality more obvious than TikTok, and the firestorm of skepticism surrounding the video streaming apps extreme popularity. The fact that the company is based in Beijing certainly doesn’t help, but the idea that a widely-consumed form of mass media is coming from something un-American is enough to ruffle some feathers. We’ve long assumed that our online products were created by those who share the same baseline of cultural values, but as the internet becomes a global consumer base, we must come to see as TikTok as the rule rather than the exception. If the internet continues at this pace, we can’t expect to retain this American hegemony in online innovation.
This, of course, is something that everyone outside of the United States has had to deal with since the beginning. Europeans have grown accustomed to logging onto platforms that weren’t created by someone who shares their same laws and customs. Their response? EU regulations — which as we have seen in Facebook’s recent spat in Ireland — have the ability to shape and contour the online experience just as much as the software developers themselves. That is why — in the face of foreign internet companies — must develop a comprehensive regulatory framework to match that of the EU. Regulation, in a sense, has become an export in and of itself. To prepare for TikTok and the stream of non-American platforms that will surely follow, we must look towards our regulatory standard-bearers for guidance. As of now, that guidance is coming from Apple and the state of California. Is that who we trust to represent us on the global internet? If so, why? If not, then who should take their place?
Additional Internet Reads
- Aatmanirbhar Bharat: Modi govt to set-up App Store alternative to Google Play, Apple App Store (Deccan Herald)
- The crypto millionaire that acquired BitTorrent—and waded into the trade war (The Verge)
- The Quantum Internet Will Blow Your Mind. Here’s What It Will Look Like (Discover)
- Paying ransomware demands could land you in hot water with the feds (Ars Technica)
Extremism Crosses The Line In Germany
(Thomas F. Starke via Getty Images)
- Over the weekend, Germany celebrated its 30th anniversary of reunification. In almost every respect, bringing East and West Germany back together after 45 years of physical and ideological separation has been a massive success. Germany consistently ranks as one of the world’s strongest democracies and boasts Europe’s largest economy, successes that can be directly attributed to reunification.
- However, one often-overlooked aspect of reunification still lingers on the fringe of German politics. When the Berlin Wall fell, it allowed for far-right extremism to disseminate from the East into the West and grow in popularity.
- “Today’s far-right extremism in Germany cannot be understood without reunification,” said Matthias Quent, a German far-right extremism expert. “It liberated the neo-Nazis in the East from their underground existence, and it gave the far-right in the West access to a pool of new recruits and whole swathes of territory in which to move without too much oversight.”
- In the years since reunification, the neo-Nazi movement has been discarded as political vile and unviable. But by ignoring this real movement in hopes it would simply fade away, it appears to have merely grown in number. In the last 15 months, neo-Nazism has surged to the national forefront after a series of attacks propagated by far-right terrorists. A regional politician was killed on his front porch, a synagogue was attacked, nine Germans of immigrant descent were shot dead — an entire military company was disbanded in the eastern state of Saxony after SS paraphernalia was found in the home of a sergeant major.
- Eastern Germany — which has preserved some of the nationalistic tendencies of days passed — has seen a disproportionate amount of this violence. “The East has become a sort of retreat for the far right,” Quent said, “a place where Germany is still Germany and where men are still men. There is a sense among far-right extremists: ‘We can’t win in the West, but we can win in the East and then, from a position of strength, we will take on the West.’” (NYT)
- Three Decades After Reunification, Germans Wonder: How United Are We? & 30 Years After Reunification, Old German-German Border Is a Green Oasis (NYT, $)
Additional World News
- Capitalism After the Pandemic (Foreign Affairs)
- Pope: Market capitalism has failed in pandemic, needs reform (AP)
- The permanence of populism: International Patterns Show Why Trump Is So Hard to Beat (Atlantic, $)
- Leaders spar over missile attack claims in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict (CNN)
- Police thief: SARS: Nigeria ‘rogue’ police unit banned from stop and search (BBC)
- Investigators probe ‘possible ecological catastrophe’ in Russia’s far east (NBC)
- Brazil’s Amazon rainforest suffers worst fires in a decade (Guardian). The world’s largest rainforest is in desperate need of… rain.
- Thousands flock to Mexico City protest against President Lopez Obrador (Reuters)
- Rapid Coronavirus Spit Tests Aren’t Coming Soon (NYT)
- Here’s who has tested positive and negative for Covid-19 in Trump’s circle (CNN)
- An army of doctors. Access to an experimental drug. A special patient gets special care. (WaPo)
- Trump was given dexamethasone, a steroid used for severely ill Covid-19 patients (Vox)
- Protecting against COVID’s Aerosol Threat (Scientific American)
- The FDA and the Importance of Trust (NEJM)
California’s County of Anarchy
- For years, Shasta County’s Board of Supervisors has held public meetings where they allow citizens to voice their concerns to the local government. Before COVID-19, they were largely uneventful. But as the country struggles to impose proper health restrictions on an agitated population of freedom-loving, conspiracy-believing Californians, the forums have devolved into “full-on anarchy.”
- That’s how county executive officer Matt Pontes describes his community’s response COVID-19 restrictions. “You cannot get closer to total disobedience of any kind of law,” he said as he and his fellow county board members are being accused of treason. The Shasta County health officer, he laments, has received so many death threats for her imposition of COVID rules that an entire threat assessment team has been deployed to her home — trimming bushes, installing security systems, and ordering police patrols — in order to keep her safe from those she is tasked with protecting.
- Pontes is convinced this countywide distrust of local government is attributable to one woman, Elissa McEuen. The former private equity worker has single-handedly organized a ragtag group of anti-vaxxers, second amendment activists, and chemtrailers to coalesce in opposition to social distancing protocols. “She’s taken it to another level,” Pontes said. “If you remove her, all of a sudden a lot of those people say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t believe what you believe.”
- Her efforts have gone so far as to accidentally create a right-wing media sensation out of a local bar owner. Carlos Zapata — a former marine and local figurehead — went viral at a meeting in which he lambasted the county board for facilitating “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
- “Right now we’re being peaceful,” he continued, “but it’s not going to be peaceful much longer. I went to war for this country. I’ve seen the ugliest, dirtiest parts of humanity. I’ve been in combat. And I never want to go back again. But I’m telling you what — I will, to save this country. If it has to be against our own citizens, it will happen.”
- In the weeks following, Zapata’s rant was picked up by the likes of Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones, who helped it gain over 20 million views on YouTube. That — Pontes asserts — was the turning point were local officials felt as if they lost control of their citizens. And despite sporting a relatively low caseload over the summer, Shasta County is seeing the health effects of this dissent. “In a week we’ll have gone from two a day to 100 a day,” said Pontes. (Bloomberg)
Additional USA News
- Senate votes vs. the virus: Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Is in Jeopardy (Atlantic, $)
- Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified if the Other Side Wins (Politico)
- What to Do When Your Country Turns Into a Dumpster Fire (The Root). Stay cool, Pnutters.
- Covering a cover-up in real time (Axios)
- ‘God-tier genetics’: A stunned MAGA world offers blame, adulation after Trump’s diagnosis (Politico)
- Contracting conspiracy: QAnon Believers Think Trump Got COVID On Purpose Because of Course They Do (Vice).
- Who Is Sean Conley? White House Physician To President Trump (NPR)
- Coronavirus stimulus update: Trump urges Congress to pass relief bill (CNBC)
- “The House” lives up to its name: House Coronavirus Relief Bill Would Ban Evictions (Bloomberg)
The Past, In Living Color
- On YouTube, there is a growing community of content creators who want to bring the past in a new light, literally. Watch one of Denis Shirayev’s videos, and you’ll immediately be transported back into a never-before-seen colorized version of world history. Shirayev’s channel takes old black and white film and uses neural networks and algorithms to overhaul the images into a stunning 4k resolution. In seeing a previously bland piece of history colorized and brought anew, some viewers have gone so far as to compare it to time travel.
- “That is something that our clients and even the commenters on YouTube have pointed out consistently,” says Elizabeth Peck, one of Shiryaev’s colleagues. “It brings you more into that real-life feeling of, ‘I’m here watching someone do this’, whereas before you’re looking more at something more artistic or cinematic.”
- However, some historians fear that repainting the past comes with some steep ethical consequences. “The problem with colourisation is it leads people to just think about photographs as a kind of uncomplicated window onto the past, and that’s not what photographs are,” says Emily Mark-FitzGerald, Associate Professor at University College Dublin’s School of Art History and Cultural Policy.
- Many historical experts agree that removing scratches, noise, dust and other imperfections to original film fall within the boundaries of permissibility — but adding color using a computer feels like a step too far for many. The lead curator of news and moving images at the British Library, Luke McKernan, sees colorized footage as a disgrace to history. “It is a nonsense,” he proclaimed in response to Peter Jackson’s 2018 World War One documentary. “Colourisation does not bring us closer to the past; it increases the gap between now and then. It does not enable immediacy; it creates difference.”
- Regardless of your opinion on the ethics of upscaled and retouched history, we recommend you check out Shirayev’s channel. Who doesn’t love a little time travel on a Monday morning? (Wired)
- Do Students Still Need Calculus? (Popular Mechanics). Does this add up to you?
- How One Piece of Hardware Took Down a $6 Trillion Stock Market (Bloomberg)
- Why we’re still years away from having self-driving cars (Vox)
- Why Is Amazon Tracking Opioid Use All Over the United States? (Vice)
- When nobody suspects you’re expecting: On Zoom, Nobody Knows You’re Pregnant (The Cut)
- Why ‘Biodegradable’ Isn’t What You Think (NYT, $)
- Climate Change and COVID Threaten to Sink Small Island Nations (Scientific American)
- Food chain philosophy: When Invasive Species Become the Meal (NYT, $)
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