From app trap to freedom space
Freedom and empowerment over OUR tech
This article describes my “Reality OS”. Note I’ve updated some of the terms and clarified some sections since publication.
The problem we need to fix is the “app trap”.
The solution is an OS with no apps.
This OS creates an empowering freedom space.
I’m going to assume you’re aware of the problem of Big Tech’s subtle traps: “walled gardens”, “surveillance capitalism”, and “you’re the product not the customer”. These traps subject you to surveillance, censorship and subtle manipulation by Big Tech and their Big Gov buddies. Further, everyone’s data can be hacked at once. Servers can go offline and leave us stranded.
This is all enabled by the apps - including website “apps” - that go along with each service and that we all willingly install or use. Even the operating system on your phone coerces you into logging in to Apple or Google. Which is just part of the way that we hand over control, at a deep level, of the device that’s supposed to be owned by us, not them.
You need over 20 separate apps to access all of these digital items in your life:
photos, documents, spreadsheets, emails, calendars, contacts, to-do lists, notes, messages, videos, music, workout plans, sleep records, game states, playlists, alarms, travel itineraries, map pins, news feeds, phone call history, texts, smart home status
Each app owns and controls our data to such an extent that nothing works seamlessly with anything else. You can’t mix and mash anything with anything else.
“Why can’t I simply pin a jobs to-do list to the calendar event that I’m preparing for?”
You can “share”, meaning copy, in a clumsy way, from one app to another, but all context and meaning is lost in the process. You often end up simply doing a screenshot!
And you’ll need 20 accounts, of course, one per app.
So both you and your data are trapped by the Balkanisation app trap.
Apps, and most of the operating systems that support them, are blobs: closed, proprietary, techie.
You have some control over how they work through config options, that are different per app of course, but that control can be taken away from you, along with one of your favourite features, with the next update.
The Blob app trap disempowers you and again hands over control to far-off techies. Your data is lifeless and inert and usually inscrutable until animated by its controlling or owning app.
Bin the apps, but keep our digital stuff
So, let’s build an operating system that simply has no apps!
No apps - no app traps.
All the digital stuff listed above can now be free, within a cyberspace that we own!
It can now be mashed together and shared and animated however we like.
Co-create in a single, shared digital space
Imagine a cyberspace, “Metaverse” or virtual world full of all of our stuff.
Now we can re-use our intuitions from the real world about how things naturally behave and interact. Pin a note to your calendar, just like you would do!
This world can be a creative, a co-creative, thinking, sharing, working and playing space, one that contains all of our digital stuff and all of our friends and family…
Here is an indication of how you may see things through such an operating system:
Here you can see a 3D world, with each of us in it, inside 3D rooms. A room is made up of 2D panels, pinned together. There are also flat 2D panel objects, for text and media and for building collections of other objects, pinned to the walls and the floor, and even floating in space.
Here is an illustration that gives some indication of the objects that you may own in the space (news feeds, calendar events, media, maps, etc.):
And here’s a more photo-realistic indication of how this may look:
This shows how Augmented Reality can be used to merge 2D and text-based objects alongside 3D virtual objects in a real 3D space.
Objects and Links
Our stuff in this virtual world is all broken down into fine-grained digital chunks, such as a paragraph, a single to-do item, a wall, or a leaf. Then these are aggregated back up into documents, noticeboards, rooms, trees, or entire cities and landscapes.
These digital chunks are called “Objects”.
Objects are pinned together into aggregates or collections by “Links”. Links are “handles” on our objects and underpin all of the structure and the sharing in this space. Links are pointers or labels that simply name the unique ID of the object linked to.
Everything in this world is composed of objects with links pinning them together. The whole web or mesh of objects linked together across the planet - that make up this single, shared virtual world - is called the “Object Network”.
Lists, sequences, arrays, aggregates or collections are also objects that hold the IDs or links to their organised objects. These may be rendered in the space as documents, galleries, to-do lists, landscapes, etc.
So some objects are embedded within or pinned onto other objects, and can be seen and interacted with in-place. But they can also be pulled out, aside, into the space.
Also, any object can appear in more than one location, if it’s linked to from more than one other object in the world. Change one instance and all the others change together.
The operating system that builds the Object Network is currently called “OnexOS”, but that name is the one most likely to change...
Little objects, linked together!
Here’s some examples of what you can do in this space:
pin up and pin together 2D stuff
like you would real paper calendars, newspapers and photos,
notes, media, messages, posts, events, contacts, to-dos
use 2D panels to build rooms, and noticeboards on walls
pin stuff to the walls
make collections, arrays, containers of 2D and 3D stuff
you can pick up and pin a single paragraph or to-do
or drop it into a collection or sequence
organise everything how you like
re-mash, pin together, link up, collect, order, etc
make new collections of notes, to-dos, contacts
build a document from paras, images, grab snippets
make a to-do list and pull out a "today" sub-list
link events to to-dos to messages however you like
it’s all stuff nested inside or linked from other stuff
pull anything out and aside in the 3D space
You don’t have a map app and a calendar app. You don’t have apps that have their own map just for the thing they do, or their own calendar for their own events. Now you can throw the link to any object with a location onto a map of your own, the link to any object with a date onto a calendar of your own. Create numerous maps and calendars for any purpose you like.
There are many more examples in this article.
This mashability of every type and scale of our stuff in the world sees the end of the fragmentation or Balkanisation app trap.
With such an operating system, one that works with us not against us, we get to keep our own digital stuff on our own physical devices. We regain full control and sovereignty over our own devices and our own data and identities.
Which means everything is exchanged directly between our devices.
Technically, that’s described as “end-to-end encrypted” or “e2ee”, and “peer-to-peer” or “P2P”. Peer-to-peer can also be described as “decentralised”.
We no longer rely on Big Tech servers in another country. All our text and media and all of their updates go via the shortest path.
If you’re both on the same WiFi, it won’t even leave the house on its journey between you! If you’re off-grid or roaming wild, it goes directly between parties over a radio connection.
Our stuff can, however, still be backed up, cached and routed via generally more local servers that we trust.
Social Sharing Co-Creating
We will build this single, shared, 3D virtual world together, just like we do the real world. Sharing is now as intuitive as in normal life: we’ll simply bump into friends and hand things to them. Anything can be “picked up” and shared via its ID or link. Things can be pinned together however we like via those links, allowing easy collaborative co-creation.
Chat isn’t another app, it’s simply what you do here. You can meet in a virtual room and either speak using audio or by typing, ephemerally. If you want a record of the conversation, there can be a transcript document in the room that the chat text of each person present gets appended to.
If I share an object with you by giving you a link - its unique ID - then you can only see it if I also give you “read permission” - the ability to see it.
If I want to allow you to interact with it (for example, if the object is a shared to-do list), then I have to give you “write permission”.
In real-world terms, that’s like locks on doors or filing cabinets for the permission to see, and “look, but don’t touch” rules for the permission to interact, or analogous to the difference between actors and audience.
No more surveillance, no more censorship. No more Big Tech walled gardens!
Just like in reality, world objects are internally animated or “live”.
Any object of a given type - a to-do or event for example - will have predictable behaviour and interaction with you and with other objects.
Liven up your own objects!
OnexOS is open source of course: completely free to see, own, run and modify.
But, inside the virtual world, within the live Object Network, we also don’t want to depend on techies to build the behaviours and “animations” of the stuff we see, of all of the objects in there.
We should be able to easily write our own programs to perhaps do simple things like turning on the virtual lights when people are in a room, or to build entire games with complex rules and interactions in the world.
OnexOS comes with a programming language, itself called Onex, that allows this, with rules that look much like spreadsheet formulae. Of course, such rules are also linkable, shareable objects in the world.
Anyone who can create a spreadsheet can quickly make use of this functionality, or you can leave it up to enthusiastic tinkerers to create and share their rule objects, that you link to and configure to suit yourself.
No more Blob technology!
Games and worlds
How do you play games in this world? Just like in the real world, so unlike isolated game apps, you can take a game item from one game and use it in another (unless there are specific rules preventing that)! Play a game of draughts using domino pieces, or pin a playing card on the kitchen noticeboard. You could join game worlds together with a single link and “walk” directly between them. Just like in the real world, there will be places to visit for various types of game, like stadiums or arcades.
Why not make your own worlds and games? We can already build cities from streets linked to houses made of panels, and can add a city gallery with everyone’s favourite pictures, but we can also build rivers, castles and trees. A tree can be made from a single leaf replicated by dropping its link repeatedly on the branches. Put another link to that leaf on the kitchen noticeboard; now change the colour to red in autumn (or write your own simple rule for that!) and all the leaves on your tree change together. Now drop the link to the tree around to create a forest outside.
What about Augmented Reality? The picture above hinted at this, and obviously this operating system is ready to go with merging real physical and virtual digital stuff. Wouldn’t you prefer a “Metaverse” that you could trust?.
Home automation or “Internet of Things”
Pan around the room in AR and see a presence sensor, grab its link, then pan back to the lamp and paste the link in. Now the lamp turns on when someone walks in.
Imagine doing that with apps: an app and an online account for each, then hope the lamp app and sensor app somehow talk to each other, ideally without going via another country!
Rebuilding from devices and data upwards
Admittedly, all this involves rebuilding the whole tech stack from the “metal” upwards.
But then, many of us are already thinking of ways we can rebuild other aspects of life on this planet from the ground up!
Email and much of the Web will still be accessible, and all of your files and folders can be made visible to you in this space.
You won’t be able to run any of your favourite apps, of course, but if you chose well, their owning companies may be offering internet “plugs and sockets”, so that you can still access the data that you entrusted to them, and interact with their servers.
As for devices, the OS will only work on hardware that is sufficiently open. Any device that could run Linux (such as the Raspberry Pi) and any small device that could run Arduino (such as the Micro:Bit).
Longer term, there has to be at least a crowdfunded open hardware smartphone, and possibly a smartwatch, a tablet, etc.
The Reality OS
So, starting from the radical concept of “an operating system without apps”, we’ve ended up in a single, shared virtual world.
Here, all of our stuff, and even we ourselves, are free from the fragmentation or data and identity Balkanisation of the multiple app traps, free to mingle, mash and meet however we like.
Everything stays on the devices we own or trust and is exchanged via the shortest paths between them. No-one can see our stuff if we don’t let them, no-one can censor us or interfere with our freedom to express ourselves how we like. We’ve regained full sovereignty over our own devices, our own data and our identities. Big Tech isn’t in the game with their walled garden app traps.
And we can even tinker ourselves with the animation, behaviour and interactions between our digital stuff, through simple programming rules. We’ve smashed the techie’s Blob app trap.
This unprecedented “OS with no apps” will create a shared space with freedom and empowerment built in from the ground up.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts into the comments below.
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