Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Big companies have always tried to get the greatest amount of information from their customers, because that translates into more money earned. However, ability to gather, store and process such information is limited by the technology available. With the recent development of computers, this ability has grown far more than anyone could have suspected just 20 years ago; to the point that companies like Google or Facebook get almost unimaginable amounts of data from their users; and this data is gathered and stored automatically and can be efficiently accessed.
This data is routinely used to, for example, tailor online ads to the browsing history of the user seeing the ad. They could potentially be used for more evil purposes, like selling the medical history of users to insurance companies. Many users don't feel that they're giving out so much information, and in fact that few of them have given Google or Facebook their medical history. However some leaks have proven quite the opposite. In the AOL leak referenced in 155: Search History, searches for "how does a male's cocaine use affect a fetus", "hysterectomy" or "8 alcohol drinks a day", surely would be interesting for a medical insurance company to know.
In the comic, Ponytail is puzzled because people are not worried about Google or Facebook using their information in evil ways; however Megan raises a quite fair point, namely that the huge amount of nuclear weapons in existence is much scarier, and that was worrying to the general public in the 1980s, however people have grown tired of that and now concerns have moved to internet privacy only because it's "new". What is perceived as dangerous or worrying follows trends and fashions not directly related to real danger (i.e. "happen on auto-pilot"). The point Megan is making is that maybe it's better to just accept that things work in this way and go with the flow. This is very similar to what happens in 1480: Super Bowl or 1534: Beer.
In the title text we move ahead 10 years, to a similar conversation where the two aspects of the above have been inexplicably mixed. A future equivalent to Ponytail asks why we all think it is OK to hand over the control of our nuclear weapons to Google and Facebook, which would certainly be a nonsensical route to take. This could also be seen as another step toward the singularity, from which perspective handing over control of nuclear weapons could be desirable, catastrophic, implicit and/or unavoidable.
This comic was posted on the day after Vladimir Putin had announced that Russia would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear stockpile this year.
Within a year Randall has made several other comics about nuclear weapons, the first of these, 1520: Degree-Off, came just 1½ month before this one. Later these two comics were released early in 2016: 1626: Judgment Day and 1655: Doomsday Clock. Nuclear weapons are also mentioned twice in Thing Explainer, specifically they are explained in the explanation for Machine for burning cities about thermonuclear bombs, but they are also mentioned in Boat that goes under the sea about a submarine that caries nukes. All three comics and both explanations in the book, does like this comic, comment on how crazy it is that we have created enough firepower to obliterate Earth several times (or at least scourge it for any human life) .
- [Megan and Ponytail are walking]
- Ponytail: Why are people so comfortable handing Google and Facebook all this control over our lives?
- Megan: I dunno.
- Megan: Our species built thousands of nuclear weapons, scattered them around the planet, and then moved on to other things.
- Megan: Maybe it's best to accept that some of this big-picture planning is just happening on autopilot.
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One thousand likes to nuke... say, Malawi. Or Malibu.
Wouldn't it be scarier if it all turned out to be according to someone's plan? Would it be better if things were? Do your politics jive with your answer?184.108.40.206 12:14, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
I think nuclear weapons of soviet union are in bad hands no matter if accounted for or not. The shortage of good hands in russia seems more acute than in US. I mean, even the US nuclear weapons are more scary than google, but if google would somehow get the soviet union nuclear weapons, I would consider it improvement. At least they would no longer need to censor the searches ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 12:30, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
- Seriously you've read too many creepypastas, seriously. Miguelinileugim (talk)
- Well maybe it is a Creepypasta but it is not much better that Putin has them under control than some Bellasarus tyrant... etc. But do you really think that there was full control of all nuclear weapons in Russia and the other states after the breakdown of USSR? I do not... But fair enough to take it out of the explanation. It can be stated down here as personal opinions. --Kynde (talk) 15:50, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
- Anyone from Ukraine here to comment that? -- Hkmaly (talk) 14:25, 21 June 2015 (UTC)
I read Megan's comment differently. The explanation seems to paint it as a "Why don't you care about this instead?". I read it as "People are stupid. Here's another example of people being stupid" Jdluk (talk) 13:28, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
- I fully agree, and nowhere does she say she finds it more disturbing. 220.127.116.11 13:34, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
- I also agree now I have seen your comment, and have corrected my explanation accordingly --Kynde (talk) 15:50, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
I don't quite agree with the second part of the explanation text: "this kind of big-picture planning actually doesn't exist ... This is of course a scary thought,..." As the first commenter mentioned, it would be scarier if there was such planning of the lack of care and handling for the consequences -- the arms race was planned, the consequences probably not so much. It's on auto-pilot, or otherwise said "it will be someone else's problem... later".
However denuclearization has been a topic even since 1946 (see the Baruch Plan). It's just that WMD are old news and media outlets will likely prefer to highlight the "threat" of Google and Facebook on people's lives. Draws more headlines and it's easier with a subject that common people can easily understand, as they read one-liner news feeds while tweeting about their latest cappuccino, pin their location in foursquare and then continue on reading on how much their activities can be followed.
Not to mention as with some of Randall's strips, I have the feeling the comic is just a prelude for the title text punch line. Ralfoide (talk) 16:34, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
There's an irony in that both the arms race was planned and the consequences were planned, to a degree. The RAND Corporation (no relation whatsoever to Ayn Rand) was responsible for a lot of long-term nuclear planning, and to a degree, is still involved in The Business. In fact, they were satirized by Dr. Strangelove as the "Bland Corporation", and the famous RAND analyst named Hermann Kahn was Kubrick's technical consultant. Nuclear planning wasn't and isn't unconscious, but the irony is that Randall is still right in that we have and still do hand over a lot of our thinking to corporations.
NuclearStudent (talk) 04:11, 28 December 2016 (UTC)NuclearStudent (talk) 4:18, 27 December 2016 (UTC)
- Explanation styles
Why are so many explanations lately just paraphrasing of the text in the comic -- it does not offer any explanation at all. The above explanation can be cut down to two lines. Spongebog (talk) 17:25, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
I thought the Title Text was one of those "bread, eggs, breaded eggs" jokes (would link to TVTropes if I knew how).18.104.22.168 14:56, 18 June 2015 (UTC)
I also think it's inappropiate to just describe what happens in the comic. A proper explanation should include details about what the comic means, not only what it says. I've rewritten everything up to the part about the title text in an attempt to fix that. Hope it looks better now. 22.214.171.124 12:11, 19 June 2015 (UTC)
- Great that you improved the explanation, instead of just complaining about it. ;-) --Kynde (talk) 12:56, 19 June 2015 (UTC)