Perilous Tech

Because we don't need Skynet for tech to harm us.

By now, you’ve probably heard the term metaverse or the fact that Facebook is rebranding itself to Meta. Metaverse is the hot new buzzword that companies will continue to latch onto. If you are unfamiliar with the metaverse concept, The Verge had a recent article about it called, What Is The Metaverse and Do I have to Care?

I’m not going to retread what the metaverse is in this post, nor will I talk about distributed metaverse projects on the various blockchains. Most average users find blockchain technology too hard to use and certainly don’t own any NFTs. I’ll revisit this when the average user can set up a wallet without losing their recovery passphrase. Facebook has the users, the name, and the integration, so it makes sense to start here.

This post is a quick note about the dangers of a future-state, connected metaverse concept, and integrated tech such as VR and AR. Why would a company like Facebook be so interested in this concept? Let’s have a look.

Best Interest

It amazes me how people believe that these large platforms have their best interests in mind. Yes, this social network with a billion daily users that I pay no money for was built for me to share pictures of my dinner with the world. People are either ignorant or ignore the tradeoffs. Facebook has over 10,000 employees working on VR technology. I’m sure so you can share pictures of your dinner in augmented reality. So, if we apply the same concept of a large social network’s metaverse, then we have to assume they are monetizing their users and their data.

Completely immersive virtual reality has been a tech holy grail since the 1800s and the stereoscope. Given that large tech companies are footing the bill, you can bet that the monetization strategy involves you and your data.

Privacy

Picture yourself going about your day performing activities from the most mundane to the most sensitive. Now, picture someone watching and hearing what you do. If you think that’s scary, it gets worse. All the things we don’t recognize can say the most about who we are. What exactly did you look at? Did your eyes spend a little bit too much time on that advertisement or that person? Did your heart rate rise? Are your activities conducive to a healthy lifestyle, or do they raise the risk of illness?

Micro Scale Surveillance

Now, think about all of the things you don’t tell people and what those insights hold because this is what you disclose to the platform. No matter how mundane you think your activities are, they are interesting to somebody. The connected metaverse offers micro-scale surveillance with access to seemingly innocuous signals on the surface but enriched with other signals. This data is valuable for advertising, insurance, governments, and the list goes on and on—access to this information is provided via payment or force.

There’s no doubt that Facebook knows a lot about you already, too much. Not all of that knowledge is direct; some of it is inferred knowledge. So, it may not be something the platform knows outright but based on other signals, it can infer. The metaverse will flip this around, providing direct access to connected devices.

What will make the metaverse dangerous from a privacy perspective is deep integration with devices, extended engagement and the monetization of the platform. You combine signals from multiple devices and centralize them on a platform giving direct access for analysis and enrichment.

Your first question may be, why would anyone connect all their devices to their account in the first place? Well, many people already do, but the longer answer is because of some perceived benefit. People already connect their refrigerators to the Internet. Maybe the more devices you attach, the platform promises a better experience. It could also be for gamification reasons, like competing against friends and racking up some points or virtual street cred. Maybe you attach your smart refrigerator to the metaverse to show off how many salads you have in it. But, in the virtual salad game, you lose points for your kid’s birthday cake, the unintended consequences of poor design. The reality is, the scenarios are endless.

Simplified Scenario

To simplify this, let’s think of the data generated by a set of AR glasses with an always-on microphone and video feed, location services, and a fitness tracker. There’s a massive trove of information here. The camera on the glasses has access to everything in front of your face and tracks where your eyes focus. The microphone hears your voice and ambient sounds, and the location services provide your location via GPS. The fitness tracker has access to your heart rate, 02 levels, movement, and exercise routines.

Eye Tracking

For years, websites and ad agencies have tried to maximize their investments by using tech to determine how long you stay on the page and what part of the web page you spend the most time on. Eye-tracking brings this to a whole new level of accuracy.

With eye-tracking and augmented reality, the tech will know not just in the virtual world but in the real world what you look at and focus on. Since we make conscious and subconscious movements with our eyes, we may not realize the type of preferences we disclose. Which ads do you find the most appealing? Do you prefer men or women? What attire do you like? Another endless and terrifying list.

Look forward to an onslaught of unblockable ads overlaid on your world, all based on subconscious preferences you may not have even known you had. Maybe the ad changes the brunette to a blonde or the skin tone of a person in its attempt to tailor a more attractive ad. This scenario is both a privacy and social risk.

Fitness Tracking

Your fitness tracker says a lot about you. The obvious thing it says is how mobile or sedentary you are. Your workout routines, number of steps you take, heart rate, all of this is valuable data. You might say, “Well, that’s what the fitness tracker is supposed to do.” Correct, but in the connected metaverse concept, you provide direct access and centralization of that data. This access and centralization allow the platform to enrich it with other signals.

Signals from a fitness tracker combined with other data such as eye-tracking and location services enrich the data to new heights. For example, when looking at a person, does your heart rate increase? That’s much more valuable (and sensitive) than just knowing when your heart rate increases.

Location Data

Much has been written about the risks of location data, everything from identifying secret military bases to priests being outed for their use of dating apps. I won’t retread the dangers of location services since much has been written about it already.

In the connected metaverse scenario we’ve discussed, location data is enriched with other data to provide deeper insights than just the location alone. Where you are is combined with what you look at, your reaction, and how often.

Data Leakage and Ownership

If one sure thing in the world, it’s that data will leak. The impact from leakage of a dataset built with more complete data will be worse for individuals.

It’s not just the primary platforms like Meta. It’s also 3rd party developers writing apps to run on the platform. They may also have access to the same signals and may have more nefarious intentions or just worse security practices. Issues with 3rd party applications have been an issue for as long as social networks have allowed them.

Of course, data ownership is still an issue. Who owns the data? Probably not you, even after you exit the platform. Even if the platform deletes the raw data about you, the insights gained and your profile will persist.

Social Issues

There is a non-negligible number of people who’d prefer to be uploaded into their own personal utopia.

If you think about the world today, there is a non-negligible number of people who’d prefer to be uploaded into their own personal utopia. Their avatar represents what they feel they are and what they want the world to see. They’d rather hashtag their way to activism than take meaningful steps to make a difference. One of the greatest cons perpetrated by social networks is convincing people that activism requires no action, even though the word “act” is literally spelled out. “Look, I changed my profile photo in solidarity” or “I posted thoughts and prayers on someone’s timeline,” shouting “look at what a great person I am” into the echo chamber. One thing is for sure, the metaverse will fill with more hollow and pointless gestures that have no effect on the real world, and that’s a problem.

One of the greatest cons perpetrated by social networks is convincing people that activism requires no action.

The Virtual

The more you focus on the virtual world, the less you focus on the real world. We observed this lesson with immersive video games. The real world has immediate problems. No hard problem is ever easy to talk about or solve, and we’ve found unique ways of avoiding them.

Life is tough for many people, especially during a pandemic, so I can’t fault people for wanting an alternative, but this is kind of how you get dystopias. Food for thought, the sci-fi stories of the past that have had metaverse-like concepts have been dystopias.

Real-world experiences are valuable for health, well-being, and personal growth. No virtual experience can even come close, period. Recently, I was in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. The sun was setting, and I watched the sailboats coming in. The sun behind the clouds showed through with an orange color. I thought it was cool, so I snapped a picture.

Lake Geneva

I can tell you, the picture did not do the experience justice, not just because of my poor photo-taking skills or lack of horizontal orientation (I never meant to share the photo). Everything from the breeze on my face to the ambient sounds of birds in the background created an experience that no picture or video could recreate.

It wasn’t just about the sensations I experienced sitting on the shores of the lake. It was about personal reflection. I spent my time watching the sun go down on a park bench without staring at my phone or any other busy activity. I took time to reflect. The experience was restorative in a way I couldn’t have gotten in any virtual context.

Engagement and Immersion

Facebook’s major goals are engagement and time on the platform. The more time you spend on Facebook engaging with people (positive or negative) the better for them financially. This metric means that Facebook will do its best to create more immersive experiences and allow apps that align with this goal.

The more immersive an experience, the less time for reflection.

The more immersive an experience, the less time for reflection. Think about playing a video game; it’s an activity that keeps you busy with constant activities but doesn’t allow for personal reflection. This is dangerous because being more reflective in our thinking is how we avoid scams and disinformation.

The fact that social networks are an activity, like a game, could be a factor that helps misinformation spread more rapidly.

The fact that social networks are an activity, like a game, could be a factor that helps misinformation spread more rapidly. When you are liking, commenting, and arguing, you aren’t spending time reflecting. You are leading with emotions and personal biases, the same things that adversaries exploit. We will see new attacks since increased engagement opens the door to enhanced manipulation, whether by advertising or adversaries.

Ultra-Customization, Ultra-Radicalization

Ultra-customization amplifies your biases. Your opinions will be shaped by the content you see, meaning you could be further isolated from reality. Many people will also choose not to participate. Your view of the world will be shaped by the content you choose to see or the platform chooses to show you for increase engagement.

The world created will be filled with the intentional and unintentional. In the previous section, I mentioned that ads might change based on your subconscious preferences. This feature means your private utopia may lack diversity by design.

Conclusion

The metaverse isn’t going to lift people out of poverty, change the environment, or make the world more equitable. It may, however, con people into feeling as though they are making a difference. Same social media, different wrapper.

This post only scratched the surface of the risks involved, and as I was writing this, I thought of even more. We’ll see more of these issues come to light in the future. I hope that conversations about the risks force these platforms to enforce data and privacy standards. Only time will tell.

While out for a jog the other day, I noticed an older man on a large motorcycle blasting Dubstep obnoxiously loud to the entire neighborhood. The transmission ended when he turned off the bike, but he sat there for a moment with a Sad Keanu look on his face before dismounting and disappearing into his house. Besides making me feel as though I was in a cheesy sitcom, this surreal scenario got me thinking deeper about the ways technology kills novelty.

Dubstep

Ever wonder what happened to Skrillix? Of course, you don’t. You didn’t even notice I spelled his name wrong. There was a year where he won like 5 Grammys, and then nobody talked about him again. If I told you he died years ago, you’d probably believe me. Didn’t you hear? He did something cool, like hiding an album inside a video game or something, and… nobody cared. Skrillex certainly didn’t create Dubstep, but he defined it for a mainstream audience. In the end, technology killed Skrillex. In an ironic twist, the same technology enabled him.

The Death Of Novelty

So, what happened to Dubstep and Skrillex? Massive numbers of people pointed to this as the future of music and how things would never be the same. The disappearance of Dubstep and Skrillex from the mainstream is pretty simple when you reflect on it. The tools used to create music that sounded like Skrillex were easily accessible to anyone, and they took no talent to use. This lead to a deluge of everyone doing the same thing. The same year he won all of those Grammys everything from Kleenex to Clorox used music that sounded exactly like a Skrillex in their commercials. You couldn’t escape those sounds. They were everywhere.

I’m not claiming Skrillex isn’t talented. What I am saying is it doesn’t take any particular talent to sound like Skrillex. The basic tools are a laptop, headphones, and some music software.

Technology removed the barrier to entry, removing the novelty allowing anyone to replicate the sounds of his success. This decrease in friction also accelerated the timeline for replication to a matter of hours. What resulted was an inevitable crash and a quick tiring by the mainstream, but apparently still popular with one particular biker.

Friction Reduction

Overall, reducing friction is a good thing. We certainly wouldn’t want to make it harder for people to get essential services when in need or take long to implement security requirements meant to protect people. But there are cases in which friction does serve a beneficial function.

What we don’t like to realize is that the gatekeepers that everyone liked to hate on so much, although flawed, did serve a purpose in some ways by adding friction. If you don’t believe me, think back to the reaction you had when someone told you that their brother’s friend has a band you should check out.

In the current world, novelty directly relates to value.

It’s important to keep these concepts in mind, because in the current world, novelty directly relates to value.

Talent

Not all friction is bad. Talent, for instance, is friction. When we look at a piece of artwork or a sculpture, we are amazed by the person’s talent. That a human equipped with the same tools as us created such a masterpiece that we couldn’t. I remember standing in front of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses in awe that any human could create such a masterpiece, by hand, out of marble.

Imagine I show you a detailed statue like that of Michelangelo and tell you I sculpted it. You’d probably be amazed, or you are terribly hard to impress. Now, imagine I tell you that I 3D printed it. You may still think it was kind of cool, especially if it’s the first one you’ve seen, but not even in the universe of what you thought when I sculpted it. Imagine I told you I downloaded the Michelangelo template set, the same template set that anyone can download. The novelty falls off a sheer cliff. Everyone’s printing Michelangelo’s, and they aren’t worth anything.

Being First

There may be a high value in being first, but there is a steep and unsustainable drop-off afterward. For example, a piece of AI artwork sold at Christie’s for $432k. Don’t expect this to be some sort of trend. It was the first. The article starts with this question, “Is artificial intelligence set to become art’s next medium?” Let me answer that, ah… no. At least not in the way the article is framing it.

Some people think so, and those people are what we call wrong 🙂

Someone also created an NFT of their farts and sold it. Is the person who bought it going to show that NFT to anyone in a year? Am I to believe there will be fart markets in the future for fine purveyors of artisanal gas? Some people think so, and those people are what we call wrong 🙂 When the thing people want to collect is readily available anywhere and everywhere, it loses any value. My mom collected figurines and baby dolls that creeped me out as a kid. Although the items in her collection weren’t highly valuable either, thankfully, they also weren’t easy to get.

What amazes me is that people look at these new concepts, be they creative or technological, and always fall for them, claiming they are the new thing and that’s just how the world is going to be. It boils down to FOMO and a whole lot of wishful thinking. By applying a little thought and analysis, it doesn’t align with the real world.
Whether they be creative arts or technology, things that are easy to recreate or duplicate die a pretty quick death.

Lessons

In summary, any technology or trend based solely on novelty has an incredibly short shelf life if the friction to recreate it is low. This trend is because if everyone is doing something, it’s not novel. Since novelty relates to value, don’t invest your life savings into things that are easily repeatable and have no staying power. Strive to be unique, push yourself beyond the bounds of easy replication and into new areas. That’s where you’ll find success.

What do you think of when you think of companies like UPS, FedEx, and Amazon? Most likely, you think of logistics, packages, and maybe the occasional present you don’t remember ordering because of… reasons. You don’t think of mass surveillance, but that might change in the not-so-distant future.


New data sources are on the horizon that further threaten our privacy. Awareness of these issues is critical if we hope to prepare for this in the future. These data sources are becoming more available and accessible due to advances in expanded storage, processing, and edge computing.

The Landscape

It shouldn’t surprise you, but you don’t own the airspace above your house. This lack of ownership is how you can see an image of your home on Google Earth when nobody asked your permission. This fact usually isn’t a privacy concern due to the relative lack of regularity in updates to public satellite images, so there is a massive amount of information obscuring you as an individual. The average person isn’t important enough for a nation-state or tech company to task a satellite for more current images. Once again, what saves us in many of these cases is the concept of obscurity. Our information blends into the background along with countless others.


What got me thinking about this issue was the Nashville bomber and the associated photos of his RV from Google Street View and Google Earth. This discovery set off a firestorm of “look at the line on his RV dude, it’s not him” arguments, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that it was pretty easy for anyone that requested the address to use this technology to identify the very RV in his driveway. Now, let’s expand this out a bit further and closer to real-time.

The Problem

We have a few problems with this new perspective.

  • Privacy invasion due to tracking and advertisements
  • Near real-time surveillance of your home and property
  • Data sales and further misuse

Companies have gotten very good at turning their excess data into profit. If you think this untapped potential will go to waste, then you are sadly mistaken. Every company is a tech and data company now, looking to squeeze every bit of value on every bit of data at their disposal.

Tracking and Advertisements

  • Looks like you could use an umbrella for your picnic table. Would you like to add one to your cart?
  • The awning on the side of your house looks tattered. Here are three options for you.

If you think this seems far-fetched, consider the fact that Amazon is one of these companies exploring delivery drones along with UPS and FedEx. Amazon knows where you live and has extensive storage and processing capabilities. Regardless, there’s a good chance that you’ve received a package from all three of these providers and your name is attached to your address.


Think about this type of advertising. How would you opt-out? You may opt-out of seeing the result, but the data is still captured and processed. There are no Adblock shingles for the roof of your house.

There are no Adblock shingles for the roof of your house.

Near Real-time Surveillance

Think of all the near real-time surveillance data available for learning the habits of particular houses and neighborhoods. Sure, delivery trucks are in your neighborhood today, but even if they had an array of cameras and sensors, they are typically only in your community, maybe once per day. Multiple drones might be flying over your property throughout the day, providing a far more comprehensive perspective with many more sensors and precise data.


To be clear, this isn’t about a human at one of these companies viewing images of your property. This human analysis would be a massive undertaking, but analysis at scale isn’t far-fetched. With all of this valuable data, you have to wonder how this will impact investigations and cooperation with law enforcement in the future.

Data Sales

Data is valuable, so what is the value of this data to other organizations? It may not be these companies making direct use of the data, but selling the data and insights gained. Your data is bought and sold on a regular basis without your knowledge.


Speaking of law enforcement, it wouldn’t be that difficult with the number of drones in the sky for law enforcement or a government agency to camouflage themselves into the busy skies, or what if they purchased the data directly?

The point is, there are many scenarios that may play out that we haven’t thought of yet.

What Do We Do?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to combat this threat when it appears. We can’t mow an opt-out symbol into our yard. We have to hope that the legal system creates controls that prohibit this type of behavior and imposes limits on this data. It’s not like we can stop using these services or that there are enough of them that you can make an effective boycott. Even though there isn’t much we can do, it’s worth remembering that hard lessons are often learned in the initial implementation of a technology. For example, the Google Street View incidents with people passed out drunk.

Conclusion

This type of surveillance is still on the horizon, but with today’s resources, it’s becoming more viable. With new data sources and advancements in collection and processing, we’ll find our privacy violated in more unexpected ways. The drone scenario is only one of many. We need to threat model these new technologies beyond their primary functions and consider their abuse. It’s up to us to decide what kind of future we want to live in and be proactive in identifying potential harms.

I know this isn’t related to tech, but it’s something important to me, so please forgive the quick PSA. As we approach Easter, it is the season where people get pet rabbits for their children. Don’t do it. They are a commitment you aren’t prepared for. Most people have no idea what is required of them when they have a pet rabbit. No, really, they don’t. As an animal lover and rescuer, I’m pleading with you to reconsider. A few months after Easter, rescues will overflow with new residents with no homes.

The Issues

People look at rabbits and because they are small and think they are like a gerbil or hamster. This isn’t the case. They need much more space and attention than you are probably willing to give. They aren’t a kind of pet you can set and forget. Make sure this is a commitment you are prepared for, not your child. They will lose interest, but the animal will be with you for a decade.

I’ll outline a few things you probably aren’t expecting here, but there are many more.

  • Rabbits are considered exotic animals, which means that not all veterinarians will see them. It also means that it will cost you more money when you need to visit a vet.
  • Rabbits have unique exercise and dietary requirements. They need hours of exercise out of a cage per day. Lack of exercise causes health issues.
  • Feeding them the wrong type of food or using hard water will cause some very catastrophic health conditions such as bladder stones.
  • They have unique health conditions and can go downhill fast. Rabbits can die very quickly after not eating or drinking for relatively short periods of time. It requires a keen eye to know when something is wrong with them.
  • Typical flea treatments will kill them. You need to make sure if you have other animals in the house that fleas do not make their way onto your rabbit.
  • They are picky. There are countless things they are picky about, from food, to water, to the location of objects, to vet appointments with their bonded partner, etc.
  • Rabbits are social animals and need lots of interaction. The social aspect is why they do better in pairs, especially for busy people. And, of course, there may be a good chance two random rabbits won’t get along.
  • It can be hard to find a pet sitter for them, and you can’t just leave them alone for long periods at your house.
  • It should be obvious, but they are fragile. Yes, very fragile and unsuitable pets for young children who may want to pick them up and squeeze them constantly. Most rabbits don’t like to be picked up, and it takes quite a bit of handling for them to be comfortable with you.

I could continue the list, but you get the point, and I’m running out of time today.

If You Insist

If nothing I said deters you, then please don’t get a rabbit from a pet store. There is no shortage of rabbits in rescues who need good homes. There are many advantages to adopting from a rescue, but some of the biggest are that the pet may already be litter trained, and you’ll have a good understanding of its temperament. Also, if you get a pair, the rescue may already have a bonded pair that gets along with each other.

Look up resources online on how to care for your pet before getting it. Don’t start this process afterward. Importantly, review information on how to bond with your pet.

Get your pet fixed. Even if you only have one, it will fix odd behavior issues, and it’s more healthy for the pet.

Make sure they have plenty of space to run around and explore. They can’t be in a cage all day and need exercise. Don’t let them run around outside because they can get fleas, and more importantly, even if you are supervising them, birds of prey can come down and take them from right in front of you.

If you find you can’t handle the responsibility, don’t release them outside! They are domesticated animals and won’t be able to fend for themselves. They will be terrified and most likely die very quickly. Be responsible and take them to an animal rescue or shelter. When you release them, the very best case is that you burden other people who now need to rescue them. Don’t let your irresponsibility be someone else’s burden.

All of this said, rabbits can be amazing pets for the right owners. They have unique personalities and quirky behavior that makes them fun to observe. If you are willing to put in the work, they make rewarding companions. Although they are a ton of work, my rescued pets help me maintain my happiness and focus on what’s important.

Donate

I hope you found this post useful. Even if you’ve decided not to get a pet rabbit, please consider donating to your local rabbit rescue instead of getting a pet rabbit. A few months after Easter, these rescues will be inundated with new residents because kids lost interest or people didn’t know what they were getting into. If you don’t have a specific local rescue, the one I work with is the Gainesville Rabbit Rescue. They always appreciate donations.

Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve at least changed one person’s mind.

In case you were wondering, he jumped into the trash can himself.

I’ve written about conspiracy theories and the tech that spreads them in the past, but I feel the subject needs some revisitation after 2020. 2020 was troubling, with businesses shutting down, people out of work, and looming fear for many people. People with less to do spent more time glued to digital devices. This increased availability with nothing to do supercharged even the most ridiculous theory.

Like a Cult, Only Worse

Something I’ve been saying for the past couple of years is that conspiracy theorists are like cult members, only worse. Worse, because a cult has a leader, but conspiracy theories make you the leader. This everyone is a leader concept is incredibly empowering and addictive, mapping perfectly into our current selfie culture.

Conspiracy theorists are like cult members, only worse. Worse, because a cult has a leader, but conspiracy theories make you the leader.

This cult-like nature is critical to keep in mind when trying to break someone away or even reason with someone who is deep into conspiracy theories. After someone launches into the conspiracy lifestyle, it’s almost impossible to get them out as you watch them plunge deeper and deeper into disconnection from reality. Since they aren’t following a leader, it is much harder to realize the hole they are in. I’m not following anyone, I’m following myself. Are you trying to tell me I’m stupid? Do your own research! These are just a few of the questions and comments you can expect and one of the reasons conspiracy theories are so sticky.

Unlike a cult leader who chooses the direction for followers, conspiracy theorists lack a general direction leading to unpredictability. This open and empty vessel fills with content from multiple purveyors building up in some cases where the theorist believes they have to take action. Action on conspiracy theories is almost always damaging and, in many cases, deadly as well.

In the past, you’d have to come into contact with a cult leader or followers to influence others. A cult leader’s sphere of influence would be limited. With modern technology and social media, toxic ideas can flow and expand at an alarming rate, infecting people who typically wouldn’t have come into contact with those ideas. This constant feed allows conspiracy theories to spread at a rate far surpassing any cult leader’s wildest dreams.

Heroes, Victims, and Empowerment

How can otherwise rational people believe things that are so blatantly irrational?

I’ve said that conspiracies persist because they make you both the hero and the victim at the same time. If we dig a little deeper, there’s another theme running through these theories that lead to their persistence, and that’s blame. At its core, people want someone or something to blame, and once blamed, they want accountability.

If there is some all-seeing, all-powerful entity behind the scenes pulling the strings, then that must explain someone’s hardships, failures, or lack of success. We shouldn’t underestimate this effect when analyzing these situations. Reality is increasingly bad for people, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they look for explanations in even the most ridiculous places.

Imagine if your profession, work, or other activities felt like it had a minimal impact on the world. With conspiracy theories, you now have access to secret knowledge, complex geopolitical revelations, and even companies trying to cause harm to people. Quite often, the harm comes to children for additional emotional hook.

Sure, there have been actual conspiracies, but they don’t scale. Every time something you can’t explain happens, it can’t be a conspiracy. Deep down inside, conspiracy theorists have to know this. But, if you continually look for someone to blame, mentally, you can justify just about anything.

The Looming Danger

A friend of mine asked me why I care so much about this issue. It was a valid question since it monopolized our conversation. What irritates me about this subject comes down to two factors, manipulation and potential danger.

People make money off of purveying this garbage. Look at the more famous personalities. They aren’t selling you secret information. They are selling you something else. Maybe it’s vitamins and supplements, or perhaps it’s contributing money to them so they can “fight” something, but that money goes directly into their pockets. It’s wrong to refer to conspiracy theory purveyors and content creators as the leaders. In reality, purveyors are more like drug dealers. To give people more hits and keep them engaged, they need to push more and more theories no matter how ridiculous they are.

We need to create more John McClanes

Plain and simple, it’s a con, and purveyors of conspiracy theories are con artists. It’s like when John McClane realized that Hans Gruber was only after the money and wasn’t some ideologue with an agenda. We need to create more John McClanes, who peer through the ruse discovering the reality underneath.

Ignorance and stupidity have consequences. Let’s talk about accountability. When an event never happened, holding someone accountable for that non-existent event is dangerous. When people bring a gun into a pizza place for access to a non-existent basement or blow up a telecom provider, it’s their way of holding them accountable. People will continue to be hurt by others’ ignorance.

Area 51 aliens are the gateway drug to Pizzagate.

Conspiracy theories are inclusive and hierarchical according to their ridiculousness and danger. For example, it may be relatively harmless to think that the government has alien bodies at Area 51, and someone who believes that may not believe something more absurd like 5G towers causing Covid-19. However, someone who thinks that 5G towers cause Covid-19 definitely believes that the government as alien bodies at Area 51. The higher up you go, the more you are obligated to believe everything below. In a way, Area 51 aliens are the gateway drug to Pizzagate.

People have and will continue to die. It’s not just keyboard warriors or simple destruction of property. We recently had someone kill themselves by blowing up an entire city block in Nashville over 5G conspiracies, and other conspiracy theorist destroyed vaccine doses. After Pizzagate, a man stormed into Comet Ping Pong and discharged a weapon. Thankfully, nobody got hurt. It’s going to get a lot worse. The freshly minted conspiracy theorists of 2020 aren’t going anywhere.

Sadly, people who seem so obsessed with gaining knowledge are so far away from it. I think an increase in complexity, erosion of trust in institutions, and an increase of time on people’s hands have lead to a massive surge in conspiracy thinking.

If you believed in some of these theories, what would you do?

Now, it’s time for a scary thought experiment. Just think, if you believed in some of these theories, what would you do? What lengths would you go to?

FUD

FUD stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. FUD creates the perfect breeding ground for conspiracy theories, mainly because they appear to have an answer. This answer is for why a particular event is happening, but it doesn’t offer a solution. The solution is the fill in the blanks part that people are left to actualize for themselves.

There is a danger with assuming everything is malicious intent. If a particular company or government agency did something, it must be to cause harm. Some of this is rooted in fundamental misunderstanding. Most people have never solved a major, fast-moving problem playing out in public. When people who don’t understand observe this, they assume either malicious intent or incompetence due to disorganization. The reality is, the situation changes as you learn more.

Take a pandemic, for instance. An agency may publish initial guidance based on data available at the time. As time goes on and the agency learns more this guidance changes. This situation is neither malicious or incompetent, but for ignorant observers can lead to a lack of trust.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor states you should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. You can insert “ignorance” in place of stupidity. Although Hanlon’s Razor doesn’t apply to the pandemic example above, it does apply to many other situations that are breeding grounds for conspiracy theories.

You add a lack of knowledge about how things work and sprinkle a hint of distrust and you have a recipe for conspiracy theories.

Conclusion

Conspiracy theorists are growing, and the situation is getting ever more dangerous. Breaking someone away from this culture takes a lot of time and care that you’d only employ if they were a close friend or family member. Try to nurture their curiosity. Remember, they are the leader and possess secret knowledge. Also, employ different techniques to see what works best for the individual.

We need to create friction to falsehoods and decrease friction to reality. The opposite is in place today where content manufactured to look like news is available free and real news is behind a paywall. It also takes many years to become a doctor, but only 5 minutes to watch a YouTube video.

I wanted to start my refreshed blog with a post on Deepfakes, but probably not highlighting the threat you expect. For the past couple of years, I’ve said the real threat from Deepfakes is different from the one discussed most of the time. There’s a lot of handwaving and hype focused on one specific threat, but this can create a distraction from some profound and lasting issues. Let’s look at a couple of other threats posed by DeepFakes and examine why these have a more lasting impact.

Narrative Evidence

When you think of the danger from Deepfakes, you are probably thinking about their ability to convince people something happened that didn’t. This threat is something I call narrative evidence because you are using the content in an attempt to show evidence in support of some larger story. It’s this issue that steals all of the oxygen on the topic. The threat’s stated impact is that it tears at the fabric of reality, and people will believe things because they see and hear it. Although this impact isn’t false, it doesn’t take into account certain actualities.

The fabric of reality is already torn. If anything proves this, it should be the events of 2020. We’ve seen people burn down 5G towers and believe that a major company was shipping children in their furniture. At this moment in the United States, millions of people believe something happened that didn’t with no evidence and no proof. These falsehoods are all perpetuated without the benefit of Deepfakes.

Let’s consider an example In 2019, there was an altered video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi making the rounds on social media. This video was slowed, making her seem as though she was slurring her speech and intoxicated. No high-tech tools were used. Now, how would a Deepfake have changed this? The reality is, it probably would have made little difference. People who wanted it to be true would share it, while others would not.

Thankfully, the creators of fake content are rarely subtle. Someone generating content for Speaker Pelosi would have her saying something about how she enjoys the nourishing effects of child blood or something equally as ridiculous. This ridiculousness is an indicator of future use. In the future, Deepfakes won’t be a tool used to convince people an event happened but instead used to excite a particular group’s existing biases, in much the same way fake content and memes do today. This is because provenance and reality don’t matter in this context.

In the future, Deepfakes won’t be a tool used to convince people an event happened but instead used to excite a particular group’s existing biases.

As resources become more available and tools get easier to use, Deepfakes technology will remove the friction in creating fake content, but this also has a downside for its purveyors. Increased availability and simplification will generate a deluge of fake content, but this increase will normalize the content and make people tune it out. So, this fake content won’t be a tool to expand a particular viewpoint to new people, mostly keep the current crop engaged. While the technology catches up, there is a good bet we’ll see an expansion of services offering Deepfakes as a Service (DFaaS).

The fact of the matter is, we underestimate people’s biases when they evaluate content, and people have gotten pretty good at pwning themselves.

Deepfakes in Attacks

What about the Deepfakes used in attacks? It’s true, there are a couple of instances of Deepfakes being used in attacks, but these are exceptions and not the rule. In general, humans aren’t good at envisioning threats that haven’t happened yet, but once they happen, they do adapt. This adaptation will be the same for these attacks. The success of these attacks only work while the novelty is high, and the novelty wears off quickly.

The success of these attacks only work while the novelty is high.

What About Evidence of a Crime?

I mentioned the word evidence, so what about Deepfakes being used in a court of law? It’s unlikely that this would become a real issue in criminal court. It’s unlikely because there’s usually not a single piece of evidence in a case, so corroborating details wouldn’t exist. Also, techniques are getting better to detect manipulations that wouldn’t survive the scrutiny faced in a court of law. Is it impossible? Certainly not depending on the situation, but it is doubtful that this would become some widespread issue.

Still a Threat?

In the short term, narrative evidence attacks still pose a threat and are something we should be conscious of, so I’m not suggesting we write this threat off. The novelty value is still relatively high. However, I consider narrative evidence attacks more of a short term threat and won’t be the most impactful and long-lasting effect of Deepfakes. In short, the risk is overhyped, not non-existent, and my goal is to get people to focus on some of the more long-lasting problems.

Lasting Problems

There are several threats from DeepFakes, but the two of the most lasting and impactful fall under the following categories:

  • Reality Denial
  • Harassment

Reality denial is the opposite of the threat most people claim. The mere existence of Deepfakes is enough for people to question legitimate content. Anytime someone sees evidence of something they don’t like, they can just claim it’s a DeepFake. This situation can have massive ripple effects. I mean, how do you get a fair trial by a jury if the jury is willing to mentally throw out legitimate evidence?

Weaponizing backlash against legitimate content is also much easier to engineer because it takes no effort at all. All of this conducted with no technology, no constructions, and no time. The impact is everyone from friends to nation states can merely raise the question of the content’s provenance, and for many who are biased in that direction, it will be enough. This is the threat that should scare people, but it’s not the only threat. There’s another that can affect you personally.

Harassment

Deepfakes have the ability to cause harm in instances where provenance and reality aren’t important. Here’s a question to ponder, does it matter whether the fake nudes of you shared online are real or fake? Deepfakes have the ability to take bullying and harassment to the next level since you can steal someone’s likeness and put them in all manner of situations. These situations include pictures, audio, and video. In most cases, it doesn’t matter whether the content is real or not. The impact is the same.

In October of 2020, I reviewed and provided feedback on a report before publication on Automating Image Abuse. The report detailed a Telegram channel where you could strip the clothes off of individuals. The original incarnation of this software was called DeepNude, and that term has stuck to all manner of technology concerning the removal of clothing.

Harassment will be the real legacy of Deepfakes.

Harassment will be the real legacy of Deepfakes. Consider how ease of use and availability of tools makes harassment and bullying much easier. In the near future, anyone who wants to generate this kind of content will have an outlet for doing so.

This is an area where the legal system can help, and we are starting to see some anti-Deepfake laws, but unfortunately, they are focusing on issues of narrative evidence and not harassment. This issue is something I think will change over the next few years, but the legal system moves slowly. Online platforms and social media companies can help as well, by building tools and punishing users spreading harmful content. Unfortunately, short of legal assistance and cooperation of social media companies, harassment may be one of those cultural issues we have to learn to live with for quite some time.

The Entertainment Industry

The entertainment industry is who should be worried about the technology powering Deepfakes. The disruption caused will be particularly impactful to actors and actresses, meaning they may be out of a job in the future. It would be a mistake to think that the generated content of the future will resemble the CGI of the past.

As an example, the creators of South Park made a Deepfakes television show called Sassy Justice and can be viewed on YouTube. The show features a cast of celebrities (all fake) and, like most things the South Park creators do, is entertaining and educational, performed in an over the top fashion.

In the future, availability and advancements will make it easier for regular people to generate their own worlds, people, monsters, etc. It may very well be that in the not too distant future, people are begging you to watch their feature film like a lot of artists do about their songs today. So it’s not all doom and gloom, depending on your perspective.

In a post-Covid19 world where social distancing and other environmental concerns impact real film shoots, a generated alternative could prove lucrative and allow movie studios and amateurs alike to increase the content.

Conclusion

Genies rarely fit back into bottles, and we need to come to grips with the fact that the technology is here to stay. Focusing only on the narrative evidence aspect of Deepfakes takes attention away from the long-lasting threats. This lack of awareness is apparent in the anti-Deepfakes laws being drafted. We need to make sure we highlight the other threats, such as harassment, so they get more attention from lawmakers and social media companies.

2020 has been a hell of a year, but unfortunately, the precedent set by this year will continue its downward trajectory. People spent far too much time with technology and far less time reading. This disconnection led to a break with reality where people burned down 5G towers and believed that a major company was shipping children in their furniture. What would cause otherwise rational people to believe these ridiculous things? The answer to this question and much more is something I’m hoping to cover. My hope is that I can shed some light on some of these issues and the role technology plays in their propogation. If you are like me, the situation is incredibly frustrating.

Rather than continue to complain about it, I decided to relaunch my personal blog under a new banner. Introducing Perilous Tech. This blog will look at technical and social issues giving people food for thought about current and future threats. Threats are essential to highlight because history shows us that people aren’t good at anticipating threats they haven’t encountered yet. On the contrary, thoughts of threats and connections with emerging technologies are on my mind daily.

I love technology and feel it offers humanity many advantages, but we cannot ignore the dark side. We don’t need killer robots for technology to cause us harm. Purposeful misuse and unintentional consequences are causing damage today and will continue to cause harm in the future. 

I’ll keep this short and add new content soon. Thanks, and I hope you find the content useful.

You woke up this morning, sat up in bed and grabbed your device to … well … do just about anything. As soon as you opened it, you most likely ran into some form of content that was curated for you. Welcome to the Internet of you.

 

Do you know that your version of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and many others are different than somebody else’s?

 

Your version of the Internet has become a tailored experience, just for you. This creates some rather dangerous problems. This is content curation’s dark side. It can warp your sense of reality. I know what you think if it’s so prevalent then why haven’t you noticed it? This is because it’s all done in the background.

What is curated content?

Curated content isn’t something that’s hiding in dark corners of the web tempting you to click on it. You run into it every day. This is content fed by algorithms with the goal of keeping your attention and keeping you engaged. All your favorite sites are doing it.

 

It is content fed by algorithms with the goal of keeping your attention and keeping you engaged.

 

Google shows you tailored results, YouTube plays related videos, Pandora plays similar songs, and news aggregators give you more of the news that’s “relevant” to you. Social networks prioritize posts and content to cause more of a reaction from you. Quite often this is negative content since sensationalism usually wins over substance. These are just a few examples, but this concept is not isolated to these applications.

Why would a company do this? The longer you are engaged, the more revenue they get. More people congregating on one application means its more attractive for other businesses to advertise or purchase analytical data.

Dan Rather had a pretty good explanation that summed up content delivery in the past. If you were interested in the sport’s page, you’d have to buy a newspaper with headlines on the front page. With each flip, you went through multiple pages of other headlines just to get to the sports page. It was exposing you to other news and happenings of the world. This is not how it is nowadays, what you are looking for is presented to you without having to look anywhere.

Other viewpoints are a good thing, but for some reason, we have forgotten about this and became more entrenched in our own views.

Digital Brainwashing

You can’t blame the Illuminati or the HAARP system for this one, this is good old-fashioned capitalism. We are digitally brainwashing ourselves with the features of modern applications.

Here is something to keep in mind, cults of the past needed leaders and a controlled message to build a following. Today, this has shifted entirely. Many of the applications you use on a daily basis are all that is needed to create a cult of sorts. We are encouraged to join groups with like-minded people all over the world further amplifying potential misconceptions and distorting our worldview into our own bubble. This gets even worse when people are manipulated into joining these groups through some sort of malicious ad campaign.

 

We are encouraged to join groups with like-minded people all over the world further amplifying potential misconceptions and distorting our worldview into our own bubble.

 

Nowadays you can brainwash yourself all by your lonesome without having to even take any interaction. Welcome to next generation brainwashing.

Why is this content bad?

I lump the negatives into three general categories.

  • Unintended confirmation bias
  • Downward spiral
  • Manipulation

Unintended Confirmation Bias

 

You get a steady stream of content confirming your beliefs, with little information to the contrary.

 

Curation may seem innocuous at first glance and even beneficial in the case of helping you discover similar music artists, but the effect overall is damaging. This curation creates bubbles and microcosms with the perception of them being broader than they are. You get a steady stream of content confirming your beliefs, with little information to the contrary.

 

Everyone is getting a different version of the web, only in their version more people are agreeing with them.

 

As a society, we are slowly enclosing ourselves into bubbles and using our digital devices to do it. To someone trapped in one of these content loops, it can seem like there is no hope. That can have a tremendous effect on a person’s wellbeing.

The problem isn’t big misconceptions either, daily feeding of supporting viewpoints can be just as bad. This is how an already polarized view can become even more so, and minimal negative bias toward something can become a crusade.

The Downward Spiral

 

How can someone believe the earth is flat?

 

Look no further than the flat-earther movement for evidence of the downward spiral. Before the content curation of modern applications and increase social media usage, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes the earth is flat. I mean, after all, we have f**king pictures, from space. But when you specialize content for people, seemingly ordinary people can end up having strange viewpoints. This is for several reasons.

  • Professional looking, unscientific presentation

It’s easy to make presentations look professional and scientific even though the content is complete crap. (i.e., Just about every single conspiracy theory out there)

  • Open to conspiracy theories and fringe concepts

If you are already open to conspiracy theories and other fringe concepts, and you get bombarded with similar content over and over again instead of sane legit material that stands up to scientific scrutiny, then you come to distrust provable, rational explanations.

  • Respect over sanity

We are taught to respect people’s beliefs and opinions no matter how ridiculous they are. I think this is a big mistake and something we shouldn’t do. Now, I’m not talking about political viewpoints here or opinions on which direction to take the economy. What I’m talking about are things so blatantly irresponsible that it’s harmful. Like saying the earth is flat or that the Sandy Hook victims were child actors.

Here is video from a flat earth conference (which sold out by the way). If you watch this video, you see that some of the people came to their conclusion from watching related videos to conspiracy theories on YouTube.
How Average People Fall For The Flat-Earth Conspiracy

Manipulation

If you are entrenched in a viewpoint, then it can be somewhat effortless to get you to take some sort of action. This could take any form, but even the most innocuous could have consequences. In social media, this is manifested by clicking a link (Clickbait). People make money off of this, and ordinary people can be made to think ridiculous things. Just think of something like the Pizzagate conspiracy.

Here are some logistics to think about and how this manipulation can manifest.

 

Identify users susceptible to a particular message. Use advertising tools to identify similar users and purchase ads getting users to join groups with the message or controversial issue.

 

Identify users susceptible to a particular message. Use advertising tools to identify similar users and purchase ads getting users to join groups with the message or controversial issue. Once you have them in the group now, you have a captive audience to continue to deliver whatever message you want.

Who would have thought that in the great “information age” we would be more polarized, uninformed, and unsympathetic?

So What Now?

If you are looking for an easy button or some sort of opt-out, you won’t find it (as of right now that is). This is part of the problem, the web is now run on algorithms that operate as gatekeepers in the background. There is no screw it, I’m out button. For the most part, we are at the mercy of large tech companies to change the way they operate.

Some of the apps and websites you use may have preferences you can mess around with. These would be in privacy settings. You should definitely do that, but with many apps, they are just going to do.

Unfortunately, this means more work in a world where people already feel they don’t have enough time to do the things they want to do. Many people will just fall back in comfortably in their bubble. Always fact check, especially before reposting something and definitely before joining a group. Be sure that at the very least you aren’t being manipulated by a group or content. Don’t shy away from sites or news sources that have differing opinions than yours. Try to keep yourself honest.

Keep it analog. That’s right, curation algorithms can’t affect you in real life. I know, it’s tough for some of us who are introverted. But people can be entirely different in person than they are online.

Good luck and I hope you found this a bit eye-opening. I’m optimistic that things will change and be a bit more balanced at some point, but in the meantime, it’s up to us to keep ourselves honest.

Links

Eli Priser’s Ted Talk, Beware online “filter bubbles” is a great summary of the problem.

How Average People Fall For The Flat-Earth Conspiracy

 

How to Fix Facebook–Before it Fixes Us

Pizzagate conspiracy

 

 

Netflix was on some people’s social justice radar this week. The source was the following tweet.

Netflix_Twitter

Notice also that it has 406,331 likes by the way.

A majority of the offended people fell into two separate camps and surprisingly I didn’t notice much if any who were in both.

  • Privacy Issues
  • Making Fun of People

Let’s try to add a bit of sanity and sense around these two subjects.

Privacy Issues

People were saying that this tweet disclosed privacy issues and sensitive data is laughable. Nowhere in here does it name any specifics about individuals or any information that could be used to reveal specific subscribers.

On the other hand, the number of people that seemed shocked that Netflix knows what people watch and how many times is very odd to me. I mean, they recommend shows based on your viewing history and magically they have a list called Watch It Again.

If it does surprise you then I have some horrifying news for you, Delta knows how many flights you’ve taken, Amazon knows what you ordered, and your bank knows how much money you have. Now everybody panic!

Delta knows how many flights you’ve taken, Amazon knows what you ordered, and your bank knows how much money you have.

Cancellation

The cancellation reaction I find amusing. So, you find out that Netflix has what you refer to as “big brother superpowers” yet somehow you think they can’t tell if you are bluffing when you say you are canceling? You aren’t going to stop binge-watching that new season of whatever you are watching so just stop.

Making Fun People

There was also the argument that Netflix was making fun of people. In extreme cases, I saw people call this bullying. To think that this is bullying is beyond delusional. Bullying is purposeful, specific, and individual. Nothing like that was displayed here.

I think that we have gotten out of hand on this front. When people maximize situations like this, it minimizes impact when situations are truly egregious. The mass of people become desensitized which is a very dangerous situation. Never in my life have I seen so much false equivalency being used in everyday arguments with relation to these social subjects.

Here is something to keep in mind. There is a difference between poking fun at a situation and poking fun at individual people. Corporations aren’t people, buildings aren’t people, and situations aren’t people.

In typical fashion, when I looked at the people who were offended, not a single one of them were offended themselves. They were offended by the possibility that someone else may get offended. Welcome to one of the great social problems of our time. Nobody really got offended and nobody got hurt. Simple as that.

The Attempt

Creative people need to have the ability to attempt to be creative.

Creative people need to have the ability to attempt to be creative. You may not think it’s creative and the attempt may fail, but the attempt needs to be protected. What kind of a world would we live in if people never attempted to be creative because of the constant fear of BS social backlash? I can tell you, not a good one.

People need to stop making things about things they are not. Ask yourself this question, did Netflix intentionally post this tweet to hurt people? Of course not. They did it in an attempt to be funny and entertaining, guess what, it seemed to work. At a bare minimum as of a couple of days ago 406,331 people thought so.

Look no further than the Wendy’s Twitter account and their responses for some gold.

ToS, Data Misuse, and Policy

Now I will say a couple of people made the point that this may be a ToS, data misuse, or policy violation. On this front, it could be. I didn’t read the ToS (who does?). They may have even violated some internal policy that isn’t public. But honestly, this is an entirely different topic than the previous two issues which was the focus of the outrage.

Think Before

All I ask is that people think before they get offended either themselves and especially by proxy for someone else. We don’t want to desensitize the masses; we need them on our side for the real social battles. Ask yourself, did the offending party do it to hurt anyone? If not, and the act isn’t egregious, cut them some slack. These people are hardworking people just like you.

Positivity: Just as Toxic as Negativity

Are you a person who’s decided to cut toxic people out of your life? Maybe to you, that means you go on to Facebook and just delete the people that post stuff you don’t like. Regardless of your meaning, I’m pretty sure that 100% of the time this is removing people viewed as negative.

I’d like to challenge your thoughts on this and add that positivity can be just as toxic as negativity. Don’t believe me? Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Not a day goes by where I don’t see people giving others a hard time for not being positive. These accusations can lead the person who isn’t overly positive to think somethings wrong with them. Well, there isn’t anything wrong with them. Here’s a dose of reality, positivity and self-esteem have never solved a single problem. Not a single one, so don’t feel bad if you don’t walk around this world with positivity dust flying off your wings.

Warning: Let me add that the focus of this post has to do with professional and creative circles. Family and close personal friends are a tricky subject and often aren’t so cut and dry. So use your best judgment in these cases.

Negativity Gets A Bad Rap

Negativity gets a bad rap these days. Well, not negativity in the traditional sense, but what people perceive as negativity nowadays. Negativity has become everything from indifference to just about anything that isn’t morbidly high levels of positivity. This applies to people who may be skeptical, questioning, or even just want to do a bit more research.

I love knowing how things work. I study many different subjects just because I’m interested in them. If someone suggests I do something differently, I like to know how that’s more beneficial than what I’m doing now. So I may ask questions. It doesn’t mean I think they are stupid or their approach to something is wrong. I’m genuinely curious and as such open to new ideas. I have no problem changing my mind in the face of fresh evidence. This concept may seem like common sense, but to many questioning is a form of negativity.

Constructive criticism is dead.

Constructive criticism is dead. Done, Done, Donesky. Criticism in any form nowadays is considered negative. Viewing this constructive criticism play out in creative circles can be hilarious as people take simple, unimportant things personally.

These days when people ask for feedback, it’s to look for validation of their work, not for any criticism whatsoever. Any feedback that doesn’t line up with expectations is viewed as someone being a hater. It’s easy enough to discount opinions in specific areas especially artistic cones. Art is subjective, so even if you farted in a mason jar and sold it on eBay maybe some weirdo would buy it (there are a lot of strange people out there), but you are delusional to think that somehow you are going to achieve any mainstream success. To the best of my knowledge Christie’s has never auctioned off a fart, however, if I’m wrong, I’m happy to be challenged on it.

Do you want to get better at what you do? Don’t cut out all of the haters or people you view as negative. Just don’t surround yourself with them. They may have valid points in their feedback, and you just may not care for their delivery style.

Inspirational Quotes

G8ig4X0

I love this because it’s so true. Successful people are too busy … well … being successful to sit around sharing inspirational quotes. If they are sharing inspirational quotes, then they are selling something and have some agenda.

You may point to someone and say well, here is an exception to the rule. Eh … maybe. A little look below the surface may reveal that person is not as successful as you may think. Their outward facade may completely fall away with just one tiny crack. After all, everyone is honest and truthful on social media, right?

Positivity Has Set You Back

Achieving success in this world isn’t merely a measure of the level of want and amount of work.

Your parents lied to you. You can’t be anything you want so sorry if I am just now breaking this to you. Achieving success in this world isn’t merely a measure of the level of want and amount of work. It doesn’t work that way. Once again, anyone who says different is selling something. Hell, you can even add natural talent to the mix and success is still is not a given. It can be downright terrifying when you think of the sheer luck that may be required on top of everything else for you to be successful depending on your field of endeavor.

So where does positivity fit into all of this?

High levels of positivity and self-esteem give you an entitlement and put you at a disadvantage. You may not think about it that way, but subconsciously this is toxic to your success. It grants you a justification to write off aspects of your approach, risks, as well as failures. People with high levels of positivity and self-esteem are more narcissistic and get defensive when anything challenges their beliefs.

Thinking positively lets you off the hook, it means when something gets hard instead of planning for it you think positively instead. Leaving certain aspects that could be accounted for up to chance. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

People with high levels of positivity and self-esteem also will often take things that aren’t even about them or have nothing to do with them as a personal attack. After all, regardless of what you are talking about it must be about them in some way. Right?

Positive People Around You

Surrounding yourself with people who are overly positive is toxic because many people who exude this positivity aren’t being real with you. They are telling you what you want to hear because, hey, that’s what being positive is all about.

Look no further than aging rock stars who surround themselves with people that tell them everything they do is incredible. They end up torturing the world with some complete crap they created, but everyone around them is reaffirming how wonderful it is.

The Never Settle Mindset

We’ve come to hear this so often that it has become ingrained in our psyche. But why not settle? Maybe setting in a spot is exactly where you need to be. Perhaps it’s best for you and everyone involved. A massive problem in our society today is everyone is so ingrained in their positions that they aren’t willing to listen to anyone else. This is not a good path for a productive way forward.

Silver Lining

Here’s the silver lining, you can be optimistic and upbeat without thinking positively. That is the right balance.

Be Real

People love rags to riches stories. So-in-so quit their job and took a chance. They were living the street and now they are worth millions of dollars. The story of Jewel is another one that used to be talked about in musical circles. She was homeless living in her car at one point. She went on to be a star. In each of those situations, there was always luck playing a part. Jewel was discovered playing in a coffee shop. Now, imagine if the singer of the band Rust didn’t like coffee.

If you think real instead of positive then that means you are better prepared for whatever challenges come your way.

If you think real instead of positive then that means you are better prepared for whatever challenges come your way. The roads of the past have been paved over many times and may shoot off in other directions now. What worked for someone in the past may not work in the future. It takes a sense of awareness to see these new paths to the destination you want to get to.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take chances or go for it. Quite the opposite, if you are being real then your chances will have far more accounted for. To go back to Jewel, she was playing that coffee shop because she was out there grinding it out. If you don’t do anything, then absolutely nothing will ever happen. But if you need to use positivity to talk yourself into a risk, then you most likely haven’t done your homework. Your chances of success will go down significantly. But hey, at least you’re positive about it.

Finally

Here is a little ray of sunshine for everyone, hope and optimism are two words that haven’t been perverted by the implications surrounding positivity. Be hopeful and optimistic about your endeavors, but be realistic about the work and feedback you receive. Get excited because you are now ready to take that step, whatever it may be.

Don’t surround yourself with overly positive people and expect them to be real with you. It’s not going to happen, and you aren’t going to grow. If you need them, then don’t forget to sprinkle a few “haters” in there as well. It will keep you honest.

If you are still a true believer in the power of sheer positivity, then go ahead and write this post off. Take it personally like I am talking directly about you and write me off as a hater. Surround yourself with people who aren’t real with you and never challenge yourself. Let’s see how far that takes you.