End of POTS & Chat Fragmentation

July 17, 2019

In reply to Doc Morbius https://mastodon.cloud/@dredmorbius/102357651020681668

I consider POTS dead in the water. Simple reason: It only works if you have an address, and expect to be present at it. The only people I can imagine having POTS at this point, either

a) Can’t avoid it because it’s a Requirement for ring-in of guests in their apartment complex. They keep it unplugged unless they’re expecting someone.

b) Refuse to get cellphones, are over 65 years old, disdain phone calls anyway, and just have it on General Principles because they had it for the last 40 years so why stop now.

c) Got it bundled with their DSL and never use it.

My generation and beyond… seriously? If we even have a stable address, the last thing we want is a ringer plugged into the wall. It can’t even take texts, are you kidding? I hand someone a phone number they’re gonna SMS is; what’s my wall gonna do with that?

So we’ve got mobiles. Often plural. I used to know folks with a pager and a phone, or a pager and two phones. Now it’s not so rare that they’ve got two or three phones. Probably none of them with what would be recognized as a ‘phone plan’, and they might not even have sim cards in all of them. And this is where it gets interesting, because telephony means connectivity, and do people really want to be connected? When? Why? //paging system operator//

Now I’m not talking about the folks who can afford a data plan, who have credit cards, who walk into a Sprint office and buy the latest Galaxy without flinching. I mean real-deal folks; the ones you’d sit next to on the bus. The increasing majority. In Europe, hell… I spend less now on an unlimited data plan than it would have taken to get basic service in the states, and I didn’t have to get an expensive credit check run to do it. But lets stick to the states briefly.

One of those phones is the ‘work’ phone - only the boss has their number, and only because they have to be contactable if there’s a shift schedule change. There’s always a shift schedule change. It’s pre-paid per minute. They don’t answer it anyway; anyone but the boss is spam.

One is the ‘family’ phone; it’s for emergencies. Known numbers get answered, voicemail gets picked up, but if you didn’t have a really good reason for calling you’re gonna get cussed up and down because, again, pre-paid per minute and they’re not happy you’re spending their money. It’s a bit of an extravegance and may be combined with the work phone in some cases, or skipped entirely. Unless they’ve got kids in school; then it can’t be skipped.

Anyone with a side-hussle probably puts it on its own phone. That way it can’t run the emergency phone out of minutes. (Note I’m talking swap-meet out of date ten-dollar phones here… resold low end of low end.)

Most contact with family or friends, doesn’t happen by SMS or phone calls. That costs money. No, it happens by Facebook over the wifi when you hit a place with signal like the library or a friend’s house. Via the phone because they probably don’t even own a computer.

So the mobile phone network is already ending… as I said, not everyone bothers having (or can afford to have) an active sim card. But so far, you still need the boss or the kids to be able to get through. So pre-paid emergency lines are the big thing and for so long as that isn’t solved another way they will remain so. Which leaves the rich few basically funding the infrastructure, because there’s no mid-range option; but that works fine as they’re insanely overcharged. (See again how inexpensive all of this is in europe.)

What I halfway expect to see is a resurgance of cheap pagers. They’re more efficient for emergency contacts, and ‘get to a wifi’ can relatively easily replace ‘get to a POTS phone’. Even if wifi is a lot harder to get without a purchase there due to the lack of Freifunk points.

The messenger service proliferation… is a phenomenon I mostly see among the tech crowd. Outside tech, the states use Facebook messenger and europe uses Whatsapp. Inside tech, oh gosh… it’s bad. I’ve got Telegram and Wire and Signal and Briar and Hangouts and .. still I can’t keep track of everyone, but every app costs me another 60Mb of space, which adds up fast on a mid-range phone. I’ve basically got a whole messaging app per contact!

Any application that managed to collate these would be a major success. This is what catapulted Pidgin, in its prior incarnation as gaim, into the top spot on desktop. Any such application, by dint of being an amalgamated pile of partially compatible parsers, is guaranteed to be a security nightmare. (cf. libpurple, to this day) And the walled gardens would fight it without mercy, because they like their back doors into user data cleverly disguised as applications.

I expect the next-generation messenger to appear as a tack-on feature to a mesh or bump net file transfer app. But that’s my personal pie-in-the-sky tech dream, which doesn’t increase its practical likelihood. Rather, I hope one will be written, as I think we need it.

But again, I’m looking at a different set of users than usually show up on statistical measures organized around purchase records. Most of the people I’m thinking about are not very tech savvy but they can manage what they need to, or they know someone. They will go long and far out of their way to do something without spending a lot of money they don’t have. If they spend, they spend cash, second hand. Or trade. Many of their friends are in physical proximity, but their families often aren’t.

What information they desire to interchange, has the capacity I think to drive a new platform. But these are not people who put everything out there; they aren’t building OpenStreetMaps (although the ones in the know love it), their knowledge is for their friends only. So what do they need? I wish I knew… someone should ask them.

Now; as for the topology problem. //take it slow; wait for them to ask you who you know// The solution I’m seeing in practice is basically already FoaF. On services without friends lists visible to friends, where FoaF cannot be determined, texts and calls do not get returned unless they contain some explanation of where you got that number from. If for some reason they do get picked up, the conversation had better contain where you got that number, or you don’t get talked to again.

On systems like Facebook, it’s more like .. if you’re FoaF you get a pass to be considered as a contact, if you’re friended you can message, otherwise you’re spam. The only places I don’t see this are Twitter and to a lesser degree Mastodon. And as soon as it goes culturally out the window, welcome to sea lion town.

This came up recently in the context of physical mail, and sending mail ‘care of’ one person in order to reach another. Which I have had to do, in the form of attaching cover letters requesting the forwarding of documents to persons to whom were attached cover letters… It gets ‘interesting’ quickly. This is rather closer to what I would like to see a version of. Ie., if you want to message someone and you’re outside their radius, you need to pass it through someone intermediate (closed or open envelope) who has the power of discretion as to whether they pass the message on or not (read-receipt naturally implemented).

My suspicion is that this would clean up the network a Lot. However, as per thread discussion, yes this recreates every single good-old-boys problem we ‘solved’ in brief by allowing everyone to speak openly to everyone. Though invite-only mailing lists never stopped being where the good stuff was at.

It’s basically a means of distributing the burden of secretary onto one’s friends network. I suspect some people would adamantly insist on retaining an infinite radius of direct contact. There would be issues with at what point in a network to register what someone’s radius was. There would be… a very large technical side to this. And it would create and worsen some types of social inequality and group isolation.

However, if not that then what? And here is where I get to my main point. I propose, rather than a solution, a simulation. Pure artificial stupidity – simulated users on simulated nodes engaging in meta-behaviors of posting, liking, friending, dogpiling, sea lioning… everything we can imagine. This is the kind of thing computers are good at emulating, and by pulling the behaviors from a statistical distribution it doesn’t have to veer into AI or other such hype. Just a model. Then we can begin to really play with these designs and their potential effects.

End of POTS & Chat Fragmentation - July 17, 2019 - Kim Reece