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Grinding Dialogues and Technology

Go read the Grinder Dialogues.

As a teaser quote: "All technologies have just as much or more inherent utility as a tool of oppression, as they do as tools of liberty."

Which brings me around to a topic of some interest to me; how can we build technology that is hard to use as a tool of oppression? Looping back around via the concept of "Grinding" to Warren Ellis' Doktor Sleepless, is something like Clatter possible? I don't mean the contact lens based part - I mean the uninterruptability of it.

We saw with the protests in Iran that social media can be used to allow the public to report and spread information that those in power want to keep silent with impressive speed. However, we also saw the the authorities can cut off those channels and use them against the public - first the government thugs started tracking down twitter users in Iran and going after them, and then the government just shut down SMS altogether.

Iran, China and other countries with a hate-on for free speech have technology companies build in the capacity for repression and oppression into new technologies. The internet is not inherently free (as in speech) - the internet can and is subverted as another mechanism for control and the spread of systems of control. All it takes is for there to be money involved, and for some developer with enough brains and few enough qualms to put together the sort of things that let Iran cut off twitter, and things like the Great Firewall of China.

We in the "West" are not immune to this sort of thing. Here, censorship and wiretapping is sold as "protecting the children" ($TECH can be/is being used... FOR CHILD PORN!), "stopping Terrorism" ($TECH can be/is being used... to plan attacks on US (and our children!)!) and the like. More prosaically, the big content providers and the big network providers would love to control what we can see - take a look at the case being built against Net Neutrality.

Can we build something to let people communicate with each other that can't be subverted like that? We will have to be willing to accept that terrorists, child rapists and criminals will use it to. Maybe cell phones that contact other cell phones in the area to eventually link up to the net, wirelessly crossing borders? If I think about it, I can probably come up with ways that could be controlled, monitored and stopped.

Is the answer to keep running, continually seeking ways to use technology to allow the most freedom of expression as systems of control keep subverting them?

Is it possible to get the systems of social order to stop trying to control and repress? Or is the reflexive attempt to control an evolutionarily necessary property of any system of social order? (By which I mean - any system of social order that does not attempt to control and spread will be replaced by one which does).

I'm not sure. Perhaps this is one of those things that one has to accept is a never ending battle. I take as given that systems of social order are good - I like social order. I like having a government to bitch about, but it is essential that I am free to participate in that government, and bitch when they do things I don't like. I suspect that it is an emergent property of any system of social order to periodically try to control and repress agents of change in society. Free speech, privacy, and other similar freedoms are threats to systems of order because they allow change to grow and spread, interfering with the channels of growing and spread the systems of social order and control.

So, what I am left with is that we just have to keep trying, and hope we at least break even, enough of the time.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
I think this is one of those dynamic stasis situations where a real triumph on either side would be a catastrophe.

Jul. 30th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
One of the best allegories I have heard used in debates of this nature is to compare the internet, from it’s creation to now, to the old wild west.

When people first started moving west in large numbers, laws were very difficult to enforce. Many people made and lost fortunes. People were exploited by both outlaws and those who were supposed to be upholding laws.

In the end though people wanted law and order and once there were enough of them they took steps to make it happen. It took them about 100 years but now you are unlikely to be shot or scalped in the south western US, well scalped anyway.

We are the pioneers of this, and maybe we will live to see peace and freedom on the internet.

Until then, “Go Tech, young man, go Tech, and grow up on the internet”

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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