The Next Surgeon General’s Warning

Back in the 1990’s Microsoft was the Wicked Witch of the tech world. The techies were upset that the company made substandard software and then forced everyone to use it. For example, Internet Explorer was not as good as Netscape Navigator, but because Microsoft had tremendous clout in the market it could cut business deals that made it hard for consumers to use anything else and muscled Netscape out of business.

The government finally got involved went after Microsoft and got very close to breaking the company up, just like it did with Ma Bell in the early 1980s.

The current captains of tech learned their lesson. Google, Facebook and Twitter make pretty decent software. More importantly, they (mostly) don’t cut business deals that force you use it.

Instead, they work on your addictions. The employ behavioral physiologists and their techniques to get you hooked on their services. The smartphone and ubiquitous internet was a godsend to these companies, because you can feed your addiction to these services anywhere, not just at your desk – in your car, walking down the street, in the toilet, .

What they did not learn from Microsoft’s experience is that anything that gets too big and indispensable will eventually generate backlash. First, politicians from the left railed against these companies for allowing themselves to be used by fake news to influence the election of Donald Trump. Next, politicians from the right are upset that these companies are over correcting.

When both sides of the political aisle have you in their sights, it cannot be good.

It is not clear what the politicians will come up with, but it is clear that the underlying problem is the addictive nature of these services. If people were not so compelled to use them, they wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Maybe a Surgeon General’s Warning would help:
Social media and search are highly addictive. Quitting greatly reduces serious risks to your mental and political health.


Thank You, Russians

We really owe the Russians a big ‘thank you’ for all of their activities during the past election. Russians can do music and ballet delicately, but they are quite ham-fisted when it comes to politics. Which is good, because if they had been more subtle their efforts might have gone undetected.

Now that they have been exposed, the results are mostly positive:

  • Anti hacking security is being taken more seriously. Electoral authorities are tightening up their vote tallying systems. Campaigns are finally taking measures to protect their emails and communications
  • Fake news and the robots that spread it have been exposed. There still are not a lot of great options for fighting it, but there is a start
  • There is a massive spotlight on the the power of Facebook, Twitter and others that would not have been there had the Russians not tried to use them to manipulate public opinion
  • Russia’s actions prompted a very rare show of Congressional bipartisanship and independence. Legislation to punish Russia passed overwhelmingly, with specific language to keep Trump from end-running it.
  • A Special Counsel was appointed investigate the Russian activities. For the anti-Trump crowd this alone is a huge positive, as the investigation has spilled over to the shady financing that undermines Trump Inc.

Of course, all of this will be for naught if the lessons are quickly forgotten.