by Richard Forno
Richard Forno <www.infowarrior.org>
Dostoevsky once wrote that "in the end they will lay their freedom at our
feet and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'" His prophecy is
relevant when examining the modern Information Age -- a dark,
corporate-controlled society predicted by such artistic legends as Bruce
Sterling, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and William Gibson and is the focus
of this article.
We want to be part of this information environment and feel more empowered
with each new gadget, service, or digital connection in our lives. The
concept of "information everywhere" provides instant gratification to
satisfy our needs for books, music, porn, and digital interaction with
others through web searches, e-commerce, wireless, instant messaging,
e-mail, and streaming content over broadband. High-speed links enable
organizations to operate around the world at light speed and conduct
business on a twenty-four hour clock. The sun never sets in the Information
Age; we are always plugged into the global matrix of the information domain.
We're addicted to it and constantly awash in a sea of electronic stimuli.
Yet as we rush to embrace the latest and greatest gadgetry or high-tech
service and satisfy our techno-craving, we become further dependent on these
products and their manufacturers so dependent that when something breaks,
crashes, or is attacked, our ability to function is reduced or eliminated.
Given the frequent problems associated with the Information Age - loosing
internet connections, breaking personal digital assistants, malicious
software incidents, or suffering any number of recurring problems with
software or hardware products, we should take a minute to consider whether
we're really more or less independent - or empowered - today than we think,
knowing that how we act during such stressful periods is similar to a heroin
junkie's actions during withdrawal.
Technology, like gambling and heroin, is addictive. We're driven or forced
into buying new gadgets and constantly upgrading our technology for any
number of reasons, both real and perceived, and feel uncomfortable without
our latest "fix." Corporations love this because once we accept and begin
using their products or services, the dependency is formed and they
essentially own our information and subsequently, society and us. Their
proprietary lock on our collective information means they can force us to
spend money and upgrade on their schedule and not when we truly need - or
can afford - to do so, regardless of whether or not we need the latest
features, and regardless of the consequences that may haunt us down the
But unlike many other industries from the Industrial Age and the heroin
dealers, high-tech corporations are in a unique position to determine - and
force - us addicts to spend money while relinquishing our rights to seek
recourse for damages arising from their faulty products no matter what pain
we must endure during our period of indentured servitude and addiction to
their problematic technologies. In some cases, particularly in mainstream
operating systems, software, and internet-based services, it's one step
short of blackmail. We all certainly can't go cold turkey very easily,
although some may try and succeed.
To make things worse, government practically has outsourced the oversight
and definition of technology-based expression and community interaction to
for-profit corporations and secretive industry-specific cartels (e.g., the
MPAA, RIAA, SIA, BSA, ICANN) who have wasted no time in rewriting the rules
for how they want our information-based society to operate according to
their interests, not ours. At times, you might even say we've voluntarily
imprisoned ourselves under the control of profit-seeking wardens who have
little if any real oversight or accountability for their actions. Our
high-tech heroin dealers are not only promoting and profiting from their
product but developing the laws and methods to govern and regulate its use
while protecting themselves from any negative side-effects and ensuring
their revenue stream.
Whether it is our ability to share available creative products according to
existing laws, bring to market new creative works, establish an identity in
cyberspace, or otherwise exchange digital information, these groups - with
well-funded (read: purchased) government approval - have declared themselves
the overlords of their industry-specific fiefdoms that comprise the
Information Age. Each industry and vendor wants to assert their proprietary
technical and legal authority over who does what, when, how, and under what
conditions with their products and services, even if their profiteering
desires are incompatible with our law-abiding ones. And if their efforts to
maintain law and order according to their proprietary technical standards or
legal trickery fail, they can always turn things over to the federal
government for action as a backup plan.
Combining these perverts of profit with the fickle, often-ignorant nature of
our elected lawmakers has produced an Information Age where the rights and
abilities of the individual don't matter. Neither does facilitating
society's evolution by allowing it to take maximum advantage of technology's
capabilities for its collective benefit. Or reality. Today, what matters is
only how much money and freedom people are willing (or forced) to pay (or
sacrifice) to their corporate masters for the privilege of living within the
various information-based fiefdoms provided for them to generate revenue.
The Information Age will not be remembered by the fun, high-flying and
overwhelmingly feel-good Dot Com days despite the ongoing presence of Dot
Com-developed technologies. Rather, the Information Age will be remembered
as a period when 12-year old girls from New York slums, senior citizens, and
innovative college students are harrassed by greedy cartels seeking to scare
their future customers into submission; when the profit goals of high-tech
vendors determine how client businesses and people are organized and
interact; when everyone is presumed a potential criminal until proven
otherwise according to oppressive industry-defined criteria; when a
once-awesome revolution in global communications became converted into a
cesspool of unsolicited and offensive marketing messages; when knowing how
to do something that's illegal is just as illegal as actually doing
something that's illegal; when the legal protections over freedom of speech
are trumped to preserve corporate secrets or marketshare while hiding
vulnerabilities that endanger the public; when our lives are monitored and
dissected by marketing firms looking for the best way to sell us things we
don't need or want; and when technology's promise and alluring capabilities
are used to surreptitiously entrap and willingly imprison members of the
information-age society instead of truly empowering them.
Dostoevsky was way ahead of his time.
© 2003 by Author. All Rights Reserved.
Permission granted to redistribute this article in its entirety with credit to author.