Ghosting | A n00bs Quest for Digital Enlightenment

For the last few months, I have been researching the intersection of several ideologies and emerging technologies around digital privacy, security, and freedom of information and commerce.

There are many players in these overlapping spheres: blockchain prophets, aging cypherpunks, wireless mesh communities, radical network hackers and tinkerers, crypto FAQs encryption apps, sci-fi-writers cum philosophers and more, but one thing most all can agree on is that the Internet is under siege.

  • It is under attack from centralized “public” platforms providing a clean and easy UX for sharing user-generated content at the expense of the extraction of personal data for profit.
  • It is under attack by government agencies, corporations, information providers and even foreign hackers all locking to de-anonymize our actions.
  • It is under attack from VC funded dime-a-dozen entrepreneurs looking to create the next big app, find a new service design/business model to grab attention (aka extraction value), then pay back their investment  and sell it off to a top-five Tech company for profit, giving them another piece of ammunition in their quest to standardize every online experience into a handful of websites.

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I have been meditating a lot on this subject, fueled by a healthy diet of cyberpunk, crypto, and post-singularity science fiction and podcasts and articles about alternate digital economies, platforms, and business models. Even more importantly, given the last week, I have been reflecting upon what it means to be a designer and creative technologist in a time of potential ubiquitous surveillance, control, and limitations on digital, personal, civil (and just about any other) liberties we have.

After all of this thinking, I have finally decided that it is time to get even better educated and better informed on how the system works and how I can protect myself and others from the malaise of the free Internet, eschewing the easy and clean data-traps for de-centralized and messy open-source alternatives.

This isn’t anything that new, fair. I have already been pursuing my MFA in Design and Technology at Parsons along these lines, trying to understand how I could more creatively harness emerging technologies to educate and empower more people to succeed. Yet many even in my program feel a much keener call to industry and the allure of the bootstrapping entrepreneur lifestyle than I can muster excitement for, especially after five years working in economic and community development and helping hundreds of small businesses to open across NYC. I have seen the reality and hardship of most would-be entrepreneurs, trying to make it in an increasingly fast-paced and expensive city, frantically trying to adapt to changing needs and communications methods to stay relevant and funded. Not the life for me. Never has been and never will be.

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So on top of my schooling and (somewhat but not quite related to my Thesis) I am committing myself to a personal journey of learning to be more aware of and accountable for my online privacy habits and digital citizenship.

  • I plan to do research on several decentralized, alternative, and emerging tools that support secure, encrypted, and anonymous (when appropriate) internet connections, and online behaviors and programs that ensure privacy and freedom of expression.
  • I also want to better understand how the free software and copyleft movements work as well as creative-commons patents in an effort to help designers and developers find new ways to secure their work against current and future theft and monetization in another form. Maybe the best thing we can do is to create the next million dollar idea and give it away for free.
  • Finally, I want to understand the political players and policy agendas both in the USA and abroad that are at the leading edge of digital privacy and understand how aware people are these issues and how creative technology, artistic practice and design of any type can make them more aware and engaged in protecting our digital future.

As I go through this process, I will detail my journey through a series of short articles and how-to’s, explaining what the issue is I’m trying to address and documenting the steps to do so. In my next piece, I will research a series of categories or topics to explore and layout what I want to learn to do and where I hope to find answers.

If you want to support my research or think I’m not covering an important topic or issue, please contact me via comment and I will be happy to chat more with you!

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