making sound choices in the global information age

stop being enticed into playing games whose boards you will never be able to see


sometimes, looking at something from a new angle is all it takes to gain some real perspective on the choices one makes in life.

this video is deeply instructive. here, it’s free water. our model is advertising!

this is so worrying to this guy that he just will not drink it. he suspects a trick, that it’s toxic or from some cesspool.

but i’ll bet he consumes “free media” supported by advertising every day. he probably has “free email” and “free social media” too.

to do this with water shocks him, but it’s all the same model.

and the same age old intuition applies to all:

if you do not pay for a good or service, you are not the customer.

you are the product.

facebook/meta, twitter, google: you are not the client.

the advertiser is.

they are paying to have you scraped and studied and packaged into neat advertising demographics. you should see what your name sells for if you buy a pregnancy test on amazon or start searching for information about pregnancy on google. (new parents to be are one of the most coveted and profitable marketing demographics in the world)

and this is so common that it’s just normal. few even seem to care. i would wager that if facebook offered a paid subscription of, say $3 a month in exchange for no ads and no data collection or sharing, maybe 5% of users would sign up. instead they allow their most intimate details out through search and browsing histories, email reading (and yeah, gmail reads your emails) and scaping of social media and chat.

they know you better than you mom does.

your friends, your secret interests, your location at all times, who you are with right now: it’s an astonishing level of intrusion. but no one seems to care or to ask questions about “just what do you intend here?” of their counterparties.

“oh, it’s just a big company. “they” wouldn’t let them do anything too terrible to me” despite the endless track record of governments outsourcing the “doing of terrible things to you” to allied businesses.

but try to hand these same people a bottle of water supported by a quite benign version of this same model, and they balk like horses that one is trying to lead into a burning barn.

it’s curious, no?

now, perhaps we can attribute this to fear of ingesting toxins and a sort of H2O version of “taking candy from strangers” but rotate that shape in your head: do you really want to take information this way? from strangers whose businesses models are often opaque and/or supported by people who want to do things to you like make you buy stuff or buy into agendas?

is this any less toxic?

is what you’re drinking from the informational spigots any less harmful?

google outright curates search results to make it look like issues have only one side. they do this with stunning and ever increasing intensity. yet the same people who will not drink “ad water” trust “the google” to gain the understanding of the world that they use to order their lives and cultivate their beliefs.


“well, i can filter it mentally and not make bad choices or reach bad conclusions!”

is that so?

because a whole lot of human behavior seems to argue otherwise once the fear merchants get rolling.

to be sure, a few folks managed to resist, but for the vast majority the last 3 years sure seem to tell another tale and that tale is one of vast lies and marketing and blind trust in “free stuff” and “things you must believe” that were, as it turns out, quite risky and poorly characterized even before they were ostentatiously and endlessly misrepresented.

wanna wager that the same guy who is so deeply skeptical about accepting a little agua lined right up to take an experimental jab using an experimental technology never before approved for human use that was barely tested with data undisclosed and made by a company whose name is literally synonymous with fraud and lawsuits and paying massive fines for lying about products?

and maybe did so again even after it was obvious they were dishonest from the start?

and probably called “cowards” those who would not?

what is one to make of this?

so folks won’t accept water because it might be tainted and i do not trust your agenda, but will accept a brace of shots of rushed to market product that affects protein coding in cells using a modality so toxic in past instantiations that it failed as oncology and animal vaccines all “because they swear it’s safe this time” while trying not to slaver too openly about the $100bn of revenue laying on the table?

all i can really surmise from this is that it’s all about authority.

i don’t know this guy with the water.

but the government says the jabs are safe and effective and so, i’ll trust them.

and this is the one that really baffles me because when it comes down to trusting a stranger on the sidewalk or a federal agency, at least i know that there is a chance that the stranger is not out to get me.

just as you are not google’s customer, neither are you the government’s. the primary product of “government” is “won elections” and the money for that comes from donors, most of them with special interests and fleets of lobbyists.

and their interests are often opposed to yours.

blindly trusting the state is like getting into a primer colored van with a stephen king clown who swears he’s here to help.

and the track record is about the same.


the simple fact is that the information age threatens to drown us. there is too much data of too much complexity coming at us too fast all the time. there is no way to consume or parse even a fraction.

and so, goes the logic, you have to trust someone.

but do you?

there are two options here:

  1. build webs of trust and find people who you think are at least trying to tell the truth. acknowledge that all this has limits, but use this new massive plurality of punditry and perception to find those who seem sensible. assess their track records. trust lightly, then build to more as greater trust is earned. engage also with the other side and those with whom you disagree. hear their arguments in their own words so that you can assess them and they yours. in this way, you can assess the world and try to keep the disinformation, curation, and misperception to a minimum.

  2. stop having an opinion on things. in many ways, this is the more potent solution. the great illusion of the modern age is that you must have a view on everything. you don’t. it’s totally fine to say “i have no idea whether to support or oppose this” and to do and say nothing. neutrality pending future information and assessment is a valid position. many times, you’re just not going to get enough trustworthy information to generate a sound view. if such is the case, then the only reasonable action is not to have an opinion. this need to generate one and join a tribe in the conflict is more likely to get you into trouble than out of it. and making the same mistake over and over again while expecting it to be different this time, well, we all know what that’s the definition of…

if the floppy shoe fits…

and this is why the devolution of opinion and of governance to the local level is such an important idea.

when asked to see the risk in a far off company using data you do not understand to track and package and manipulate you, you basically can’t.

but when a guy tries to hand you an unknown “free beverage” it’s proximate and you get a far better take. and maybe we need to be applying this basic sense of self-preservation more broadly.

the likelihood that you will ever have all or even any relevant info on a sri lankan protest or a malian coup is vanishingly low. this makes it easy for liars and demagogues to pass off jingo as fact and whip you up into supporting action you do not understand. it’s a game on a board whose shape you cannot see. and hell, half the time the very people who tried to convince you don’t understand either.

be honest: how many had any idea of ukrainian politics before this year? did you know the US sponsored the coup there that put the current regime in power? have you studied the oppression, corruption, and flat out pogroms that this government has run? have you studied the history and demography of the region? or did you just assume “russia bad so these must be good guys” and get geared up for conflict, live on TV?

i’m not here to tell you what to think on this particular mess. my personal view is that it’s a conflict with no good guys or good aims and that these tend to be the worst ones into which to be drawn. i doubt i have the deep background to really assess the shape of the issues, but best i can tell, US interests in the region are as /sus as anyone’s and our track record on these things and “nation-building” is a pitiful litany of expenditure, failure, and backing bad teams.

US foreign policy is mr magoo with predator drones.

so absent some really good reason or new information, my inclination would be “so stay out of it.”

just let it go. resist the need to decide or to take strong action or support intervention in a game where you are and always will be the dumb money and where no one has any incentive to tell you the truth about what’s going on.

you’re being invited to play a game whose stakes and rules you really do not and cannot know.

and that can REALLY run out of control.

so, how about instead we all stop taking water from those who have already poisoned us 27 times?

accept that “unless i understand this, i am not doing it” should be your default position on everything and that to adopt any other view around large or far flung choices is invitation to self-clown and self-harm.


the foundations of liberty and sanity cannot reside in trusting those in power to frame and regulate your world.

choose a better way.