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Ideas

What Is Freedom? Surviving The Facebook Outage In Bulgaria

Photo of author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Personal file
Carl Karlsson

-OpEd-

"Do you get how big this is? It's been two hours now…"

No, I didn't get how big it was. Mostly, I was amazed that Daniel was both speaking in full sentences and making eye contact — I'd only ever seen him muted and bent over his computer screen scrolling through graphs and columns. But now he was reclining and spinning his office chair in the freshly remodeled common area of the co-working space I've called "the office" for the past four weeks.

Facebook vs. freedom

"If Facebook stays down, some of my clients will lose six-figures," he said, looking half-amused, half-panicked. Daniel (who turned out to be quite the talker during social media outages) had quit his day job after getting "almost rich" on bitcoin, and now divided his time between crypto trading, PR consultancy and freelance "growth hacking."

His isn't a particularly original story here at the shared office in central Sofia, Bulgaria. Many I've spoken to since arriving in September do something IT-Crypto related — mostly expats, some having moved here for the corporate tax flat rate of 10%, others just passing through before the next nomadic destination.

I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes.

No matter what their gig or angle or life hack, every single person gives the same reason as Daniel for moving their lives online and on the road: more freedom. "Have you checked bitcoin? … Way up. Decentralization, man," Daniel went on. More people had dropped into the common room, unable to either work or waste time in the usual ways on Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp. Suddenly, there was far more social interaction in this kitsch four-story building than I'd seen ever since arriving.

Photo of a backlit hand holding a smart phone with Facebook, WhatApp and Instagram icons on the screen.

Facebook-linked apps suffered a 6-hour outage

Andre M. Chang/ZUMA

Back to Zuckerberg's normal

A full-fledged debate was on about what this all meant: "If they built Facebook on a blockchain, this wouldn't have happened," an Estonian web designer from the top floor weighed in. "How safe is our data if they can't even keep their platforms up and running?"

The discussion went on as the evening arrived. Sitting there, listening to the tech-heavy analysis I couldn't fully understand — and philosophical riffs nobody could understand — I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes and digital noise. My only (unshared) thought was: This couldn't possibly be "more freedom."

Any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free.

After all, who really did understand any of this? Who actually knows where blockchain will take us? Who has read Facebook's privacy policy?

We will be assured that some simple glitch took down the Facebook empire, and now all is back online — and Mark Zuckerberg will even recoup his lost billions. But the forces behind our economy are more complex than ever, and any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free. And we digital nomads of Bulgaria jonesing for Facebook and WhatsApp to come back online are the final, self-deluded proof.

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Geopolitics

Cilia Flores de Maduro, How Venezuela's First Lady Wields A Corrupt "Flower Shop" Of Power

Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, is one of the country's chief power brokers and a consummate wheeler-dealer who, with the help of relatives, runs a voracious enterprise dubbed the Flower Shop.

Photo of Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

Mauricio Rubio

-OpEd-

One of the clearest signs of tyranny in Venezuela has to be the pervasive nepotism and behind-the-scenes power enjoyed by President Nicolás Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores de Maduro.

In Venezuela, it's said that Flores works in the shadows but is somehow "always in the right place," with one commentator observing that she is constantly "surrounded by an extensive web of collaborators" — including relatives, with whom she has forged a clique often dubbed the floristería, or the "Flower Shop," which is thought to control every facet of Venezuelan politics.

She is certainly Venezuela's most powerful woman.

From modest origins, Flores is 68 years old and a lawyer by training. She began her ascent as defense attorney for the then lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chávez, who was jailed after his failed attempt at a coup d'état in 1992. She offered him her services and obtained his release, which won her his unstinting support for the rest of his life.

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