News From The Frontlines Of The Dumbshit War: We're Losing

Image of vintage television set that is not turned on

Trying to use the 2010s Internet with a 1980s mentality is an ongoing struggle. What I mean is that I still somehow think the Internet should be experienced so that (1) I get to the content I want in less than three clicks, (2) I do so in a way that sheds the least personal information, and (3) I get the content I want, instead of the content a robot wants me to see. This last item includes advertising, of course, all of which we all know in our hearts to be a mortal sin. 

Obviously, I use a pihole as a DNS sink, and I send all of the devices I use through it: my PCs, my tablet, my phone, my teevee box, and every stupid light bulb that thinks it needs to tell corporate when it gets dark here.

On my pcs, my phone, and my tablet, I used locked-down versions of Firefox with additional layers of adblock. I also block most scripting, and block specific layout elements.

When I want to build up my teevee watchlist, I use an aggregator like JustWatch or Letterboxd. I expect these services to eventually be purchased by United Consumer Faceeaters some day, but for now they’re helpful. I create my master watchlist using those services, since none of the watchlist features on popular streaming sites now work correctly.

Sure, we all make fun of the sticky hot mess that Max and Netflix and Amazon Prime have become in terms of having their search function so badly borked — and we are morally obligated to make fun of this kind of cultural rot — but we ought to remember that this cancer is in every service. Remember: they don’t want us to watch what we want to watch. That’s a business fundamental for streaming now. The fever dream we all once had while reading Wired magazine back in the day has broken. We actually thought that the new Web would democratize everything and we would have the freedom to access anything we wanted, but we didn't really take into account how much the entertainment business didn't want that future to ever happen.

The mismatch between the business these streaming services are in and the business their customers are trying to patronize is sharper now than I might have ever seen. Essentially, each service we subscribe to is doing it’s damnedest to become cable television of 2010 so that instead of paying one cable company for ten trillion hours of content we would never ever watch, we are now being herded into paying eight cable companies for 80 trillion hours of content we would never ever watch.

Yes, this is a monumentally stupid and self-defeating way to transmit the culture, but that’s how it is.

Yes, this is a dumbshit war and we're all embarrassed to be foot soldiers in it.

A similar problem has occurred with news sites. The news business has been pounded mightily these past several decades. The business of having actual local reporters gather actual local news and then print it each night and distribute it by hand to millions of homes was a staggeringly complicated idea a hundred years ago (when it was accomplished daily) and became unprofitable once everyone’s attention was seized by the Internet. There was a brief window where cable news was a powerful thing, but that business collapsed with the near-universal rejection of the 2010 cable service model. We threw all the babies out with all the bathwater.

This means that ghosts of old newspaper websites still exist, with most of them simply hacking up hairballs of corporate-approved newslike features that remind consumers to spend as much money as possible. I subscribe to three semi-local newspapers, and pay actual dollars to read the few stories their last living reporters post, and I am grateful for them. However, in order to read the news articles I have already paid for, I also have to breach the paywalls of these sites through additional technology because even paying customers like me can’t get to the frigging stories. These news sites are among the most technologically corrupt places online because of all of the spyware used to serve up even a simple article like whatever horseshit the county commission stepped in last night or which white nationalist hollered at the school board. There’s no money to be made being the fourth estate, it seems. There’s only money in selling everything you know about your customers.

This used to be the point in a screed like this where I would summon up my middle school economics lessons, smile and shrug, and tell myself condescendingly “Well, if you don’t want that then don’t pay for it because it’s a free country, lad.” That might have been enough for me once. There an easy-greasy smugness in telling each other that the morality of the marketplace is that it is inherently amoral. We used to think that if a business was bad, then customers would naturally avoid it, and it would either naturally fail on its own or a new, better, more decent business would rise and conquer. None of that is true now, and whether it was true then is certainly arguable.

Honestly, the more I experience capitalism, the more Marxist I become. I keep thinking that users will eventually realize they have to seize the means of computation, but it is hard, O Lord, it is hard. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is consumed with getting more likes.  

None of this a new problem, and I’ve rattled on long enough. I was just sitting here still peeved about how many digital barriers blocked my wife and I last night when we wanted to watch a particular movie of some decades ago. No search function on any app on our teevee device was able to help, instead seemed exuberantly confident that what we really wanted to watch was some steaming turds in expensive haircuts shoot other steaming turds and make a super duper big CGI explosion. The dumbshit war has the coolest CGI explosions of all time, and each one is as boring and tedious as the last.

Since we were not actually seeking apocalyptic turdovision right at that moment, I had to go to a more heavily-modded pc in order to determine where we might be allowed to see what want, and then come back to the teevee device and bend it to our will. I’m having the same trouble this morning trying to access a news article that I know perfectly good and damn well must exist somewhere, but I’m having to fight through armies of robots trying to keep me from it.

Thanks for coming to my old man grump. Maybe I’ll talk to you on IRC later.