SCIOPS 01.28: Pirate Social

Asynchronous communication.

That is, out-of-time. Atemporal.

Yes, the newsletter is late. But that’s not what I’m trying to get at. Email is an asynchronous form of communication – I (try to) publish SCIOPS every Monday morning, but you might not read it until Tuesday afternoon or Sunday brunch for all I know. You can see this in your inbox and scroll right past it, knowing that you have work to do and you want to devote your entire lunch break to SCIOPS. (Note: if you want to donate your actual lunch to SCIOPS, visit the Fatreon page )

So email, like all postal services, is asynchronous. It’s part of a dialectic of communication styles that has played out over the aeons: first, we spoke only in real-time, to our direct neighbors and family. Even long-distance signals like talking-drums or smoke signals relied on proximity in spacetime. You had to be there.

Then we developed writing, and suddenly we could communicate not just beyond earshot or sightlines, but beyond time – beyond death! Anyone with reading skills can pick up a book (or slate, or scroll) and access the wisdom of the dead.

And that lasted for a long time. Up til the 19th century, if you wanted to communicate with people at a distance you had to rely on asynchronous comms. Even then, the telegraph was limited by the speed of infrastructure: the message might cross the world at nearly lightspeed, but unless you lived at the post office you’d still have a time delay while the message was transcribed and delivered.

The telephone was the first method of long-distance synchronous communication: no matter what the distance, the latency is low enough to have a normal conversation. We came full circle, back to the talking-drum. And like those earlier synchronous comms, I can’t reach you unless you’re near your telephone. If you’re not at home (or if you’ve loosened your necktie, poured a tall scotch and dangled the phone off its hook), I’m reduced to leaving a message with your voicemail (or, less reliably, your kids/neighbor/dog). Asynchronous again.

Fast-forward to the 21C and suddenly we’re in always-on mode, sync and async both. I can call you right now and you’ll almost certainly be within arm’s reach of answering (or, if you recognize my number, silencing the ringer and googling “witness protection”). Or I could text you, in which case I’ll not know if you’ve read my message until you respond. Or if we use some spyware app like Faceboot Messenger, I can tell whether and when you read my message, and even if you’re currently typing a response. Sync, async, sync again. A dialectic.

Have you ever been in a long-term SMS conversation? I mean hours-long, or days even. It’s almost a transcendental experience – a form of telepathy, a shared mind-space. It can also be transcendentally annoying. Why did you stop responding? Are you asleep? Do you hate me now? Phone died? Car crash? The other person becomes a phantom limb, a Force ghost whispering in your ear.

Of course, all these newfangled comms systems need always-on internet to function. If I don’t pay my phone bill, I can’t call you or text you or post to your timeline or update your feed. Most apps won’t even work without internet – try using Faceboot in a subway tunnel. For those of us interested in cognitive security, this is a huge exploit. Your external brain, the cognitive prosthetic that has changed the face of the planet, relies on a massive extractionist corporate world-state. If there were a disaster, a riot, a revolution: it’s over. Governments around the world have shut down social media to quell unrest. The Great Firewall of China scares even Google. Insurgencies always aim for comms lines, and all that wireless internet still runs on underground fiber.

There is one project working on resilient, peer-to-peer, asynchronous comms. It’s called Secure Scuttlebutt , a pirate social network that runs on- and off-grid. It’s still in development right now, but you can check out the current version by downloading the Patchwork client . If you’re not feeling technical, read this article about the nautical vagabonds who designed the system. The mobile app is a work in progress, but I have a feeling it could be a game-changer.

If we could all communicate peer-to-peer, with no interference from government or corporation, and rely on our comms to work even if cell towers and wifi go down, then we would no longer be reliant on a system that wants to exploit our brains.

Imagine a fleet of ships – or schoolbuses, or even blimps – traveling the world, delivering encrypted messages between city activists and native peoples and homesteaders. We could have a connective tissue that needs no officials and recognizes no boundaries. We could build the future, together, and be unstoppable.

To the first days of a better world…

–Max


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