Ever the Cynic

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress.
You could say I lost my belief in the holy Church.
You could say I lost my sense of direction.
You could say all of this and worse, but
If I ever lose my faith in you,
There'd be nothing left for me to do 🎢🎀🎢

Sting opens his famous song If I Ever Lose My Faith In You with these lines and, like so many of his lyrics, it has stuck with me for years. This describes very clearly how I have felt about the reported world lately. I've lost my faith not in science itself, but in the articles that receive the most coverage as they're funded by organisations with an agenda and presented as "news" to serve another agenda. For 20 years I've had little faith in the Catholic Church β€” and still do β€” due to the organisation's inability to honestly face itself. But these are not the things that keep me awake at night. These are not the losses of faith that bother me the most. What has preoccupied my mind for the last few years is the constant loss of liberty on the Internet and the lack of pushback from the people who made the network what it is today.

In the 90s and early 2000s it seemed that the Internet was going to play a hand in solving all of our problems. Information that was once hidden away in obscure books found in only the most discerning of libraries would become freely available to anyone who needed it. Debates could be had on any topic with any number of participants, allowing the free exchange of ideas and β€” ideally β€” the ability to learn something new about something worthy of passion. Anybody who wanted to publish something could, regardless of their background.

But a lot of this is gone.

Books β€” and any other form of publication β€” that contain less-popular ideas are locked up behind paywalls, scrubbed from existence, or hidden from search results. Open conversation is all but impossible, as armies of one-dimensional characters march across the web in search of offence. Voices that do not convey messages in support of specific agendas are shamed and/or silenced while no reasonable discussion or debate is permitted. And liberty on the web is even more of an illusion than the liberty that we might experience in real life.

You could say I've lost my faith in tech companies.
You could say I've lost my faith in the western education system.
You could say I've lost my faith in what's sold as "traditional journalism".
You could say all of this and worse.

Despite my cynicism and overarching pessimism regarding the established institutions, though, there are always alternatives and solutions. The hard part is discovering the substitutes and keeping them honest.

Over the last few years I've reduced the number of websites that I visit down to just a handful. I've disabled JavaScript for all but five domains, three of which are run from a server in my house. Applications are only installed on my systems if I trust the developers. Should there be a requirement to use something that may be suspect for the day job, it's spun up in an isolated virtual machine that is completely segregated from everything as much as possible1.

The modern web and most of the larger institutions that depend on it have become terribly deceitful and disrespectful. What we need is not just a viable alternative for the various services that we've come to rely on, but a plethora of options. With a multitude of viable and respectful options to choose from, perhaps we'll start to see a little more sanity return to the web … and maybe then I can re-enable JavaScript in my browsers.

  1. This is what I've done for a lot of the Java-based development tools I'm expected to use at the day job, as they all try to send far too much data to a server "in the cloud". This is despite me explicitly choosing during installation to not share metrics.