I, Mr. Robot

software, dystopia, and the view from 2005

Jon Stokes
Sep 8, 2015 · 7 min read
  • It would be two more years before Netflix streaming would launch.
  • Thefacebook.com was still just a college thing, and the appeal was mostly for undergrads.
  • Bloggers were rockstars, and hyperlinks still mattered.
  • The Motorola RAZR had just been released in late 2004, and 2005 was the year that it blew up. It was tiny, and it was huge. My non-techie sister could do email on hers.
  • 3G cellular was state-of-the-art, and 4G wouldn’t be introduced for another three years.
  • Web advertising was quite profitable — wildly profitable by today’s standards, even. I won’t give any numbers, but Ars Technica and other independent publications could afford to pay writers well enough that we could actually poach programmers and engineers from their day jobs and turn them into journalists.
  • Amazon was two years away from releasing the first Kindle, and one year away from launching Amazon Web Services.
  • This was the first year that I and many others finally ditched paper maps and Google Maps print-outs for dash-mounted GPS units by Garmin and TomTom.
  • When Hurricane Katrina took out New Orleans in September of 2005, there were no smartphones to document any of it. Those of us on the Gulf Coast in the storm’s aftermath got our information via word-of-mouth rumor and broadcast news reports. Also, I spent a bunch of time in shelters helping abruptly displaced storm refugees use internet-connected PCs and one-off message boards to reconnect with their scattered friends and family, because there was no app for that.

Software, network effects, and feedback loops

I have various hypotheses about why things have suddenly sped up so much, and I’ll share one of them, here:

  1. a force multiplier for human efforts — the good, the bad, the naive— in any sphere.
A flash crash in GOOG. Source: Nanex

A ray of hope?

Interesting times, for sure, but I have one more hypothesis I’ll share, and it’s a little less terrifying: the human capacity for dealing with an overload of novelty is finite, and at some point we’ll start to bump up against those limits, individually at first, and then in demographic cohorts. Some of our networked software deploys will be rolled back into meatspace, and like all rollbacks of production code, those moments will be both painful and educational.

Jon Stokes

Written by

Ars Technica founder. Former Wired editor. Author. Content guy. Coder.