Power Shift -- a daydream of an ad hoc network

Tuesday 05 April 2005 at 22:52

I sent this message on an email thread about the Apple vs. ThinkSecret lawsuit. The conversation took a conspiratorial turn and I dropped in this little dose creative and cynical optimism.

Couple things on this thread...

First thing is that intellectual property is very slippery stuff. Knowledge doesn't have the same attributes as matter and there are all sorts of convulsions happening out there trying to force rules that make sense for things but don't really make sense for knowledge. Apple and ThinkSecret are just another episode in the ongoing wrestling match. The 'Net is a hugh power shifter and power never shifts gracefully. We can expect to see this kind of fight for a long time to come.

Someone else wrote:

There are governments, as well as large corporations in this World, that would just as soon see the internet shut down, or censored and filtered beyond what we would recognize as the net now. The internet is the only form of media they do not yet control.

Second, I think there's good cause to be concerned about Government or massive corporations abusing their respective power. Even so, I think you're really underestimating the ability of the 'Net and its citizens to route around damage. In some ways this is an inherent property of knowledge and information. You can't really build walls to contain it.

Imagine a worst case scenario -- the government and the 500 joined forces. GovCorp started by trying to protect children from pornographic spam and over a few years grew the Decency Consortium into full scale censorship and information control.

Over the same few years, the Greybeard Programmers remembered how it used to be in the early days of the net, long before it had been commercialized. Even universities were connected to each other over dial-up lines. There weren't permanent connections between places and there really weren't central points of control. The protocols that were used in those days were still out there, lying dormant on most computers. They dug out the old code and polished it a little bit to work over wireless networks and to exploit the recent advancements in peer-to-peer file sharing. It was a bit slower than the dedicated lines, kinda like the good-ol-days. But wireless cafes and wireless laptops and almost forgotten protocols enabled a network to emerge that didn't use any ground lines, cell towers, nor satellites.

Some open source projects quickly emerged to assemble packages which make it easy for anyone to install the new-and-improved old-school tools. Just as GovCorp was sealing the last nodes of the network, the Software Pirate Syndicates learned about the work of the Greybeards. Their distribution swarms spread the tools as far and wide as they could. Within a few days the FreeNets sprung up all over the world, well out of reach of any single political jurisdiction.

Anyway, while it's important to pay attention and to hold government and corporate powers in check, there are far more important issues. Human minds are at their creative best when they are at peace and uncluttered by fear.