Zeitgeist of today is giving me a lot of muffensausen. I clearly remember the muffensausen I had right before I jumped off the top of the 192-meters-high Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand. There was the feeling of intense excitement. A part of me knew this was going to be an awesome experience if I survive. Another more subconscious part of me was shitting itself with bad things that can happen when one jumps into the unknown. There's the slight risk that if something is faulty with the rigging, I could die or be badly injured in the fall. It's this mélange of fear and excitement that makes these flow-junkie experiences so addictive. It's the secular world's gateway drug into the mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinosum experience of the Holy.
Zoom out into the macro. I have muffensausen about the mélange of excitement in the exponential growth in technology that could lead to an unprecendented age of abundance and the immortal bliss of the Singularity mixed with the fear of existential risks that we may kill ourselves before we get anywhere dope because of climate change, species mass extinction, violent revolutions caused by extreme wealth inequalities, superintelligent AI, and other dystopic nightmares peddled by the doomsayers of the Anthropocene. Add to this the fight between conservative modernity versus progressive post-modernity played out in the algorithm-fuelled echo chambers on steriods entrenched in social networks. If I were to make movies about this, I would start with this trilogy: Culture Wars, The Patriarchy Strikes Back, and Return of the Social Justice Warrior.
Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.
So how do I cope? How do I cope without devolving into an angry socialist or smug conservative or nutty conspiracy theorist, or apathetic agnostic or whatever unhelpful identity label pundits come up with? I found a simple formula. A rule of thumb that so far has allowed me to swim in this ocean of complexity without drowning. The laxative I found for my muffensausen is simply to be OCK! Be open, curious, and kind. Being OCK not only has allowed me to cope, it even has helped me flourish in complexity.
There have been many experiences, realisations, and inspiration that led me to OCK. In this post I'll focus on how OCK was inspired by the underlying architecture of the internet. It's now cliché to say how the internet changed everything. However, one aspect of the internet the public often overlooks is how robust it is. The internet AFAIK is the only piece of human-made infrastructure that has not gone off-line since it first went on-line as ARPANET in 1983. Sure parts of it goes off-line every now and then because of DDOS attacks, bankruptcy, suppression by despotic regimes and other attempts made to shut it down. However, as a whole the internet has not been shutdown ever. It has not died since it was born.
The internet is robust because it is OCK by design. The internet rests on open protocols: TCP/IP. These protocols are discussed in the open by stakeholders. The protocols are not owned or controlled by anyone. The protocols are simply an agreement by stakeholders that this is how the machines connected to the internet are going to talk to each other. This open design of the internet has led to permissionless innovation. It's amazing to see how many great things are made if one does not have to ask permission to try things out and experiment. This is why I am so wary and against many of those who are calling for regulation of the internet. This comes from my firsthand experience as a regulation lawyer. I have seen how the way regulation is drafted is very much subject to regulatory capture by incumbents and rent-seeking by interest groups. In my view, the day that one has to get a licence to use the internet from a bureaucrat who has no clue on what's going on deep in the trenches of the network nodes is the day that innovation on the internet dies.
The internet is curious by design. The core of the internet is made as simple as possible. All the complexity and innovation happens at the edges of the network. The internet comprises layers of protocols that start from the simplest link layer above the physical connection and increases in complexity up the stack to the application layer. Because of this design, there is inherent curiosity of what else can we put on the edges of the network. First was e-mail, then the web, file sharing, bit torrent, devices in the internet of things, blockchain, and I'm waiting with bated breath at what else can come from the permissionless tinkering happening at the edges of the internet.
The internet is kind by design. The design assumes that nodes in the network are not perfect. Packets of data are sent over the internet without a guarantee of what route they'll take or if particular packets will reach their destination. Packets can follow a network path that could be blocked. That's OK, packets can re-route around the blockage. Packets can get lost. Packets can be dropped by some nodes. That's OK, the client will simply request for the packet once more. The server will send the missing packet. And eventually the particular packet will reach its destination and be assembled with it's sister packets to recreate whatever that is that was requested. Even the internet terms client and server are kind terms.
The quote above is known as Postel's Law. Jon Postel was an internet pioneer who drafted one of the early specifications of the transmission control protocol. Yes, that's the TCP in TCP/IP. Postel's Law simply means that a computer acting as the server when sending packets of data to clients should be conservative and strictly conform to the transmission protocols. In turn, a computer acting as client should be liberal in the packets it accepts. It should be able to accept non-conforming packets. Now this is such an awesome geeky explanation of what kindness is.
Imagine how much better the world would be if we follow Postel's Law. I will be conservative and careful in what I say so that people different from me can understand what I'm saying. I will be liberal and forgiving when listening to other people. I will try to parse the truths in what they're saying even if they were said in terms different from how I would say it.