The Internet “see me” mentality
So today I learned something that really bothered me and I am sure many people think it is stupid to get annoyed by this. But I think it says a lot about our culture. So I am using Riot, a great open source and decentralized messaging tool. It is awesome for teams so we use it for TROM. Send files, talk, chats (one on one) or rooms (multiple users), it even has video and audio calls as options. Awesome! Today I was making an account for someone and added that someone to one of our rooms in Riot and I realized that on her instance you could see whoever sees a message when you post it. I was like “WTF I never see that on my instance!”. Then I realized that for the past 2+ years since using Riot I had no clue that others can see when you see their messages. Apparently I disabled that from my Riot 2 years ago, but that option only hide this “feature” on my instance like I will not see who sees what, but others can see if I see a message. This is the Riot option:
In my mind that option, being disabled, should have hide my “watch activity” from others too. What’s the point to hide it from myself? It is nonsense.It is like choosing to be “invisible” but that’s only invisible for me and not for others…what!?
So, again, what Riot does is when someone is posting a message and you see it, it adds your avatar besides the message to showcase that “this guy saw the message”. In my view this is a useless feature and I am going to rant about it because it is something the internet users nowadays are so used to.
For one, this Riot opt-in opt-out thing felt very un-intuitive to me as I explained, but second I feel betrayed and embarrassed for not realizing this. I have this weird habit of “getting rid of notifications” on my laptop. So, when I receive any email I quickly open it in a new tab in Thunderbird to read and respond later (hours or days). I simply hate to see “unread” stuff on my computer. I do the same with Riot whenever someone posts a message I click the notification that opens Riot and then minimize Riot – I have a mouse with 20 buttons so I do such things lightning fast since I have customized those buttons for such actions. If someone posts on Riot I click it to stop the notification and at times quickly peek to see if there’s something worth my immediate attention, then minimize Riot. This behavior made me look a bit crazy perhaps to the others when every message was quickly “seen” by me and then I got back to them (replied) in a few days time when I had time to deal with that message. For me it was a quick way to get rid of notifications and to also see if there’s something that needs my immediate attention. At times I was talking to someone and I was like “Ok I am out now, it is late, bye!” and then I realized “Shit, I have this awesome idea about tromsite.com” and I spent 2 more hours doing that and the same person may send me a message in that time and I do my “open Riot and minimize” thing to get rid of it until tomorrow or later on when I can answer, and that person may have seen (I now realize) that I did not go to sleep or whatever haha which is very funny to me now when I think about it. It is like you are lying or it gives the wrong impression. It s like if anyone asks me if I ever use FB I say no, but if you would see my entire browser activity you’ll see that at times I visited or will visit FB for reasons other than the vast majority – like for TROM page, or to check something with a project that I find, etc. – however if you would only see how many times I visited FB for the past month you’ll say “Aha, well you at times visit FB” because you see a simple output that has no meaning if you don’t know my intentions, and the same is for this shitty “message seen by” – you have no clue what that really means. Probably I didn’t even read that message, maybe I had Riot opened and I was sleeping. Whatever.
Why does this matter to me though? Isn’t this nonsense? It is but that’s not what bothers me, what bothers me is that I feel like I lived in a room that had glass walls and only now I realized it. I trusted Riot not to be the fuckin’ Facebook with its “live lives” kind of concepts. I do not want a “mark as seen” for my emails, my messages, my online presence, simply because I don’t fuckin’ want that kind of online life.
I remember the early 2000s. I was spending lots of time in IRC chats, if anyone remembers. They looked like this:
The good ol’ days when your username was @Hacker_Penguin or @M1trix67. You chose your name on the fly and hoped no one in the IRC has that name, else you could not choose it. You could talk whatever you wanted and create your own channel. At times admins would ban you but you had to be a filthy mouth for that to happen. And you could get back with another username in seconds – ahahah. No one could see if you watch the chat (read it), no one knew your “real” name, see your profile, or anything of the sort. It provided you with a comfy anonymity that is hard to explain nowadays. You would talk for hours with strangers about all kinds of things. I spent hours on IRC and I had my own channels where me and my online friends would meet from 18:00 to like 19:00 because the Internet was limited to a few hours a day. I felt like exploring a new world without anyone seeing that I am a 12 year old in my living room. It was a brain to brain experience. Simple and no engagements ?
I also remember those days exploring the “web” by typing in the URL bar all kinds of websites at random to see what I find: chair.com, whale.com, what.com, earth.com, everything dot come. No search engine was popular or known by me at that time. Then I would save those websites (I learned how to do that) and explore them more offline when I had no internet connection. It was my own world and I LOVED it. No one would bother me. My computer, my world! With or without the Internet it always felt like my world. At worse, the internet was a window to another world, but a tinned window that I could close and open whenever I wanted and no one could get inside my house. Like a tinned window from a 5th floor apartment that I looked through.
Today the internet and computers could not be more different. My Android phone feels like it is rented, where apps and settings are added and changed at the will of the company who sold the phone. Many apps I cannot uninstall, for some I cannot turn off the notifications. So I gave up on that. I use my phone as a phone to keep in touch with my parents. The rest I give no shit – maybe except when I use it for GPS navigation. So my laptop is my window to the internet and my laptop listens to me. I have a customized Manjaro Linux installed (TROM-Jaro) and I can control pretty much every aspect of it. It is my best friend! The apps I have installed are of the same nature. They don’t do things I don’t want them to do.
So back to Riot and the “see me” internet culture: maybe I am “old fashioned” but I want the ol’ internet back where you used it not for relationships, but to explore the world, learn, scratch your curiosity, and also collaborate on projects and build stuff. Relationships were offline. I want to be anonymous online. If I can choose any identity why in the fuckin’ world would I choose my “real” one? Let me exert the powers I have in this digital realm! And let this internet world be something I control on my own computer, not the other way around! When I write and post a message to a chat, I do that voluntary and I can control that. BUT when I read a message on a chat that’s not something I have any choice in the sense that if I open the chat and the chat recognized that action then will display that I have read the message, so for fuck’sakes I have no saying in that. Maybe I opened the chat and I wanted to do something else (use the menu, or I opened it by mistake) so don’t forcefully say that I have read a message just because I put a window into focus.
I honestly hate ping-pong discussions, and live discussions on video, audio, or chat are always like that. Yeah I still like TROM-Cast because it may not be like that since we discuss subjects that are not “small talks” and subjects that I know a good deal about – but still I prefer writing or email. If someone sends me an email I have hours or days to think what to reply. In some cases some email clients can check if the other one has opened the email, which is horrifying for me for the same reasons. Like, give me a fuckin’ break and don’t broadcast that I opened the bloody email. Give me some basic privacy. It is almost like FB saying “Hey, Maya is on the toilet and she saw your live video with a grumpy face” kind of thing. Do we want that? Well, is not far off! Like, give people some fuckin’ privacy in their own homes on their own devices. What if we could see on any website, and any FB profile and youtube video who is watching it. Imagine you watch a youtube video and that would be publicly broadcasted to everyone who is watching that video (maybe that’s even a thing – it is for sure on FB). I understand that in some cases people might enjoy this kind of live interactions when it comes to ping-pong discussions where they chit-chat, but this should not be the default, this should be an optional thing you have to enable!
Maybe I am bitching about it because I don’t really chit-chat online – I engage in discussions that require you to think about your responses so I am bothered if a message is marked as “seen by me” because it pushes me into a ping-pong discussion like “Hey, Tio saw your message, you know…” – I feel like it forces me to reply quicker and I hate that!
The slope is very slippery and big companies are responsible for the irresponsible attitude towards privacy from users’ perspective. Yes, it may not matter to you normal FB chit-chatty always-live and feeling-lucky creature, but for one your attitude is simply a burp from the crap you have eaten from companies like FB that want your attention and want your engagement NOW and NOW, and second because you accept these then companies in all domains will feel ok with implementing more and more privacy invader features and now even an app like Riot follows suite and wants to be “cool-man” and implements these FB like nonsensicalities. To me privacy is not a way to become safer from the “dark sides of the inter-web”, since I don’t think anyone can harm me just because they can see some details about my real life, but to me privacy is a way to be comfortable with exploring the internet without ever feeling like someone is watching behind your back and you are broadcasting every move you make. If you know that your friends and family are seeing what you post on FB, then that will strangle your creativity and curiosity and you will self-filter yourself because you are a “public persona” now, one that has a real identity that can face consequences if you post/say something that’s taboo.
The main reasons I was able to make my own blog and write whatever the fuck I wanted and be 100% sincere, then TROM, was because no one was looking over my shoulder and I was not concerned about anyone knowing the “real” me so I could express myself exactly like I wanted to without hearing “my friends” barking reactions at me for what I was posting online, or feel under-pressure to not say some things. Anonymity online is the essence of sincerity and creativity for sincere and creative people, and a breathing ground of trolling for trolls. I care more about those sincere and creative people.
My point here with this rant is that today’s internet forces you to broadcast yourself to the world and I personally think this is crippling people’s ability to be sincere, creative, and unleash their curiosity. It creates ping-pong discussions at the expense of thoughts. No one needs thoughts in the internet era – they need views, engagement, clicks! “Don’t think about this message or post, we want you to REACT! NOW! PLEASE! DO IT!” That makes them profits! So please don’t create an internet where you force my hand to tell the world that I’ve “seen a message”, where I am, what I do, with whom, what I watch, who I am, what I eat. Let me have my private life if I choose so, and only offer those as options (opt-in). Ok Riot? ? I trust and love you because you are open source and great, but please don’t try to be FB!
Because of all this Riot made me not want to “peek” and see if anyone needs my attention for TROM, because I simply feel uncomfortable. I simply DO NOT WANT to force me to show the world when I read a fuckin’ message! Let me disable that! So I’ll ignore more Riot notifications from now on and only read them at once when I use Riot more actively. I want to be 12 and do not feel like I am leaving a fingerprint when I explore the internet. I don’t want to feel like I am 12 in my living room, and 40 people are watching over my shoulder what I do. I don’t want that.
I contacted Riot and submitted this issue and I am happy to know now that they are aware of this and are trying to fix it. Thank you! Let’s see this fixed asap. Until then I am blocking ads and scripts with Firefox, I only use trade-free apps, and a clean trade-free operating system. I feel filthy using the internet nowadays so I need these vaccines and pills to keep me sane and healthy, and this is why I am creating TROM-Jaro and tromjaro.com to help others do the same.
I have to admit, I hate so much this FB and Insta kind of world of today with their “always present” presence online, and lack there of in the offline realm. A trade that, to me, is creating lonely, sad, simple minded, and narcissistic people. Plus, no one thinks anymore, everyone reacts!
Just a human on this planet, creating trade-free stuff 😉 I mainly write at tiotrom.com. I made TROM Documentary back in 2011 and since then I am writing books, make videos, websites, or customize Linux operating systems :D. Or curate the world. I am furious and curious. Furious at how this society is, and curious about the cosmos we live in (from plants to quasars, from atoms to galaxies).