The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet - Literature Notes

Notes

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The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

#internet #social #people

  • This is based on Liu Ciuxin’s The Three Body Problem about the universe.
    • A universe consisting of 3 solar-type stars orbiting each other in an ==unstable three-body system==.
      • One Earth is being passed among them, and subjected to suffering extremes of heat and cold. This results in repeated destruction of intelligent civilizations.

        from author Liu Ciuxin’s The Three Body Problem, about the universe the Earth is awaiting an invasion from the closest star system, which in this universe consists of three solar-type stars orbiting each other in an unstable three-body system, with a single Earth-like planet unhappily being passed among them and suffering extremes of heat and cold, as well as the repeated destruction of its intelligent civilizations.

  • Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? Definitely dark.
    • Only Earth is foolish enough to announce itself; the rest of the universe knows why the forest stays dark.
    • ==The Internet too has dark forests==, and we’re going back to them thanks to the noise of ads, trolling, etc.

      Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent. Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well. In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.

  • Dark forests in the internet are spaces that make ==conversation without pressure== possible.
    • This is because of their ==non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified== environments.
    • E.G. newsletters, podcasts, Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, Wechat, etc.

      Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.

  • Right now, the public and semi-public spaces we’ve created are now spaces for ==a relentless competition for power. (e.g. market, political, social)==
    • Originally, they were created to ==develop our identities, cultivate communities, and gain knowledge.==
    • Because of the growth of this competition, we’ve retreated to dark forests.

      The public and semi-public spaces we created to develop our identities, cultivate communities, and gain knowledge were overtaken by forces using them to gain power of various kinds (market, political, social, and so on). This is the atmosphere of the mainstream web today: a relentless competition for power. As this competition has grown in size and ferocity, an increasing number of the population has scurried into their dark forests to avoid the fray.

  • Dark forests provide ==psychological and reputational cover==; since we know who else is there, we can be our truest selves.
    • More Scandivanian in values and social + emotional security
    • Versus the communication style of mass channels
      • High risks + rewards, and limited moderation

        The dark forests grow because they provide psychological and reputational cover. They allow us to be ourselves because we know who else is there. Compared to the free market communication style of the mass channels — with their high risks, high rewards, and limited moderation — dark forest spaces are more Scandinavian in their values and the social and emotional security they provide.

  • According to the Bowling Alley Theory of the Internet, people go online just to meet each other. In the long term, the venues we congregate in are unimportant compared to the ==interactions themselves.==

    the Bowling Alley Theory of the Internet: that people are online purely to meet each other, and in the long run the venues where we congregate are an unimportant background compared to the interactions themselves.

  • Community builders (a.k.a. dark forests) underestimate how powerful these mainstream channels are; our havens will be minor compared to their immensity.
    • Social media like FB, Twitter, etc. won’t go away.
    • ==The meaning and tone of these platforms changes with who uses them.== What kind of bowling alley it is depends on who goes there.
    • If a significant portion of the population leaves these spaces, it will also leave people left to influence, and limit the influence of those who left. This might make the dark forest more dangerous. Do you really want to give power to those in the dark?

      And those of us building dark forests risk underestimating how powerful the mainstream channels will continue to be, and how minor our havens are compared to their immensity. The influence of Facebook, Twitter, and others is enormous and not going away. There’s a reason why Russian military focused on these platforms when they wanted to manipulate public opinion: they have a real impact. The meaning and tone of these platforms changes with who uses them. What kind of bowling alley it is depends on who goes there. Should a significant percentage of the population abandon these spaces, that will leave nearly as many eyeballs for those who are left to influence, and limit the influence of those who departed on the larger world they still live in. If the dark forest isn’t dangerous already, these departures might ensure it will be.

      Beyond the Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

  • The Internet is no longer experimental, it’s stakes have gone too high.
    • Now, the internet is emotionally, reputationally, and physically dangerous. It has become the dark forest.
      • E.G. Bullying, shaming, swatting
    • Our digital breadcrumbs can be used as evidence against us.
    • Because of this, we stay silent, and moved underground. For our safety.

      The internet went from a venue for low stakes experimentation to the place with some of the highest stakes of all. With the rise of online bullying, shaming (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00L9B7IRC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1), and swatting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swatting), the internet became emotionally, reputationally, and physically dangerous. It became the dark forest. Our digital breadcrumbs became evidence that could and would be used against us. To keep safe we exercised our right to stay silent and moved underground.

  • Back to Ciuxin’s The Three Body Problem. A solution for this dark forest: creating a ==”black domain”.==
    • A black domain stops everything from getting in or out. It’s security through ==cosmic self-imprisonment.==
    • Can be compared to putting phones in freezers, Mastodon, and crypto cold storage.
    • Related Notes:
    • However, dark forests (e.g. email lists, Slack groups) are more forgiving than these “black domains”. They’re not too off-grid. We’re not that hardcore.
    • But we’re more like black domains than we care to admit, especially when it comes to ==showing our true selves online.==

      In The Three Body Problem series, author Liu Cixin presents a solution for the dark forest threat: a “black domain.” This device slows the speed of light to create a cloak of invisibility around a planet or galaxy. A black domain stops everything from getting in or out. It’s security through cosmic self-imprisonment. Dark forests like email lists and Slack groups are more forgiving than Liu’s black domains. They’re off-grid, but they aren’t that off-grid. Today’s black domain equivalents might be things like putting phones in freezers (https://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/why-snowdens-visitors-put-their-phones-in-the-fridge/), Mastodon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastodon_(software)), and crypto cold storage (https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Cold_storage). Not many of us are that hardcore with our digital habits yet. But when it comes to showing our true selves online, many of us are more like black domains than we care to admit.

  • If there’s ==little connection/influence to the outside world,== dark forests can turn into black domains.
    • How can we make change for the better if we stay in these forests? In order to improve the communities and cultures we’re part of, we have to ==actively engage== with them.
    • What kind of influence does that mean I really have? What kind of influence does that mean each of us has? And who fills that vacuum if we fail to fill it ourselves?

      Our dark forests can become black domains, with little connection to or influence on the outside world. We can’t lurk in the dark forests and expect anything to change for the better. To improve and positively contribute to the communities and cultures we’re a part of, we have to actively engage. Here I was retreating from the web because I thought my online presence was unimportant and inconsequential. Meanwhile, a foreign power was using its resources to pretend to be someone like me to try to influence someone like me. What kind of influence does that mean I really have? What kind of influence does that mean each of us has? And who fills that vacuum if we fail to fill it ourselves?

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