Hi! Here’s a spoiler: I think those are interdependent concepts, meaning it’s sometimes hard to do one without also doing the other. Which has interesting implications. Or at least they’re interesting to me.
A reader sent me a link to the video on the right (well, it’s supposed to be on the right, but if that doesn’t work for you it’s available on YouTube here) because of the “2R3v” notion I threw into this week’s story. Thanks, He/She/Other Who Wishes to Remain Nameless!
Anyway, this guy BSS has a lot of good thoughts to offer in the video. And yes, I briefly mentioned a “Second Revolution” in which normal folk used technology to mind their own business, and strongly implied that meant that the previous form of government in the US had essentially died out from disuse (but there were still people trying to get out in front and try to make it be about them as it happened…natch).
Which may seem a bit “out there”…but frankly I think it’s inevitable. Either access to the means of production (3D printers, home CNC machines, whatever) will become democratized/widespread just as access to information has been (and will continue to be, ’cause that process is far from finished), or that process will be stopped by some sort of catastrophe or apocalypse, which will also mess with what we currently think of as the normal state of affairs. (Just for the record, I’m kinda hoping that if it comes it’ll be zombies. Because they’re cool.)
Good, bad, or indifferent…fundamental change is just as inevitable today as it was for the feudal systems of yore. And yet…inevitably, change surprises nearly everybody when it arrives, regardless of how quickly they can say “disruptive technology” five times in the shower on Wednesdays. (Or is that just me? ‘Cause I’m getting much better at it, if you want to compare times.) Also, change tends to be a messy process. Oh, and it’s been coming much faster lately. Ready for the ride?
Few companies have historically survived paradigm shifts (aka “disruptive technologies” in this context) in their industries. When they have, they’ve generally (possibly even “always” but I’m not sure enough to say so) managed it by creating a new division to deal with the new tech, and at some point the dog/tail balance shifted, so…did the original company survive? Sort of, I guess. Some investors got their value preserved or enhanced, anyway, which is the point as far as they were concerned. Why should governments be different? Especially if most of what they currently do (in fact, as opposed to theory) is essentially irrelevant to the ways we’ll learn to spend our time as our individual empowerment inexorably moves forward?
Still, some readers will be rolling their eyes at this post, and some won’t have gotten this far. But think back, if you’re old enough. Remember when “the news” was what you saw on the four TV channels available in your town? Or read in a newspaper? This was before blogging. Before YouTube and Twitter. Before we started creating our own hometowns and carrying them with us via Facebook. Before people started building lots of open-source software and distributing whatever information they wanted on the Internet. Now…imagine when something similar happens to people’s ability to make stuff. As BSS puts it, there are entire 3-letter agencies that do nothing but ban physical objects. Good luck with that, guys! It simply can’t last. Somewhere in there, too, taxation gets a bit difficult to enforce. So do rules about currency. See, stuff like Bitcoin is just the tip of the iceberg.
In fact, Bitcoin’s a bit of a bad joke in the process of being played on us all. Because of the way it’s designed, there simply won’t be enough coins–ever–for it to remain a major player once significant numbers of people start to get involved. Coins will soar in value in the short term, but Bitcoin is destined to fade away at some near-future point (says me and only me but I’m still saying it damnit). Actually this “flaw” led me to dismiss Bitcoin as soon as I first heard of it a few years ago…but I didn’t realize just how strong the demand for truly digital money already is. In fact, many libertarian types have bemoaned the rise of digital dollars in the US for years, on the grounds that they’re easier for the government to track and manage than paper money. Boy were they wrong too! Which is the point: the actual change we observe over time is always more fundamental than we expect.
So, lately the Snowden/NSA thing has made it seem that technology is basically used to reduce people’s privacy (and thus their capacity for effective independent action). And in fact this is often true. But not always. There are things like Tor (which it turns out the NSA specifically targets, meaning they don’t like for us to use it, which makes me smile a little). But using Tor is complicated…I got into what I’ll call “a discussion” a few weeks ago, just prior to the Snowden leaks, on someone else’s blog when a guy wanted to offer a router for sale that moved all network traffic via Tor for those who connected to it via wifi. Neat idea, sort of, but the thing is? Tor protects the privacy of your data in transit. Technically speaking, the term for what it does, by itself and used as this guy planned, to enhance your privacy once you start actually using websites is this: fuck-all. And by design. Tor itself doesn’t even try to play in that space.
Okay, caveats exist, and the Tor Browser Bundle (or perhaps Whonix?) does in fact help a lot with privacy if used correctly, but that doesn’t mean half-measures are useful just because someone wants them to be. Also the guy with the plan probably meant well, but he didn’t know what he was doing and proposed to make money from people by promising stuff he couldn’t deliver. Which I dislike. So: using Tor is likely to actually make your internet life less private unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Which is not the same as connecting to a wifi network. Want to do it right? Most people can’t.
For instance: Hey guys, guess what? The entire operating system I’m using to write this post is dedicated to browsing to websites to which I log in under my own name, or doing web searches for stuff to which I intend to refer in public. I don’t use it for anything else. I have lots of others for other purposes, though. And even this one denies lots of information to whoever’s snooping and recording. I figure I’m totally hackable still, but…my data is somewhat compartmentalized. Let me be more explicit: I’m using stuff like Tor, Ghostery, Bleachbit, NoScript, HTTPSEverywhere, Perspectives, and lots more right now. For this operating system. And I still assume everything I’m doing is essentially public. And I don’t even have a reason to play with this stuff, except that it’s a fun game for me.
If you, in your internet life, doubt you can be easily tracked? Try the Panopticlick! Chances are good your browser is going to have a unique signature. It “fingerprints” you wherever you go on the web. So…are you visiting websites? Do you think that’s your own business and nobody else’s? Last time I went to CNN.com I saw there were twelve (12) separate companies attempting to record my visit. These guys sell and trade information, too. Most people have no idea of just how thoroughly their activity is being monitored. And no, turning on “Do Not Track” in your browser won’t help. Because most people don’t, so it just makes you that much easier to identify. Neat, huh? Oh, and who says any cookie-blocking will really help, anyway? ‘Cause a lot of info, plus a browser footprint, can easily be logged on the web server itself. So I saw twelve companies, and they distribute information, but for all I know there were 40 others dealing directly with CNN.
All the sites you go to that show you little Facebook icons? Or Twitter, or Pinterest, or LinkedIn, or whatever? Often that stuff is coming from web servers owned by…Facebook, Twitter, or whoever. So lots and lots of people can get access to much of your browsing history. I think that’s technologically cool, and I think it’s awesome that it’s generally used only to show you better-targeted ads, but still. It’s just a tad bit of a privacy problem. Isn’t it?
Thing is…privacy tech really is getting better. Browsers can get MUCH better with little effort, and I expect those that are open-source to improve the fastest and most dramatically in the near future. ‘Cause the kind of people who work on them often care about this stuff. And the NSA’s more direct forms of snooping (meaning the stuff they don’t just get from the companies that themselves just wanted to show you ads but actually ALSO know all about you and the things you like to watch monkeys do on rooftops) generally–though not always–seem to rely more on operator error than on anything fundamental (such as the oft-speculated notion that they have backdoors into common encryption algorithms…IMHO they just don’t).
Concern over data privacy is becoming more widespread. Tools to achieve it are, perforce, going to become much more pervasive and user-friendly. It’s very cool that the computers we use have so much more capacity than most of us ever use for watching videos and web-surfing and typing blog posts or tweets. Because it means they can begin to devote more time to protecting us.
Here’s what I say: monitoring impedes free speech. It restricts the flow of information. And enough people already care about this to change everything for the rest of us. Within five years I expect truly anonymous digital currencies (which Bitcoin isn’t, quite, though that may change if Zerocoin works and is widely implemented) to become widespread. Combine that with distributed means of production and bigger info-hoses (yeah, I made that up just now) and none of us can predict just how huge the changes will be.
So here I am, writing my little stories. Science fiction, some of ’em, I guess. But I’m barely scratching the surface. I mean…I’ve been around since the 1960s and I started getting excited about the internet in the early 90s. But I didn’t predict Ebay or Wikipedia or even Google. Hell, I didn’t predict what Amazon did to publishing…well, okay, that one I sort of saw coming but I didn’t think it’d be so soon. I’ve been talking about how distributed systems are more robust than centralized systems for years, and I’m still predicting the death of Amazon (or at least of their importance in selling digital content) in the fairly near future, but I know damn well I’m barely scratching the surface.
It’s fun to watch this stuff happen. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Have fun out there.