I would like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, when I was just a little girl and the internet hadn’t been invented yet, my friend Michael and I were fascinated by the idea of space. Space hadn’t really been invented yet either, so for us in our small country primary school it was a place where anything could be possible. This story begins such an unimaginably long time ago that it even pre-dates television. We listened to the wireless – it hadn’t evolved into the radio yet. I used to rush home from Brownies on Monday evenings for the latest instalment of “Journey into Space” with Jet Morgan, Doc, Mitch and Lemmy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey_into_Space But my favourite space stories were the ones that Angus MacVicar wrote, the ones about the Lost Planet – Hesikos. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_MacVicar
Hesikos is a ruined winter world, knocked, by a long-ago war, onto an elliptical orbit which takes it far away from the sun. Its people are forced to live underground in caves, their needs supplied by the “electronome”, which allows them also to communicate by thought. The image which remains most hauntingly in my memory is that of Solveg, the leader, in spite of the great danger, grasping the handles of the electronome, and in that way joining his mind with the minds of his people to repulse the attack by the villain Otto Shenk with a virtual barrage of reiterated “Go back; go back”.
Now come with me in my own miraculous machine – reverse memory - through more than fifty years of time and across some five thousand miles of space. Currently my interest is internet space and how it is managed and networked. I remember the electronome , and see its power as something I would like to be realised in the internet – the human will working together for good. But who is Solveg, where to find the leader who will grasp the handles and allow the energy to flow through him? And then suddenly it becomes possible to recognise the mistake, the error in perception.
Most of us know the story of Archimedes and his lever, but look at the way it is reported here, how the emphasis is expressed..
Again, he [Archimedes] used to say, in the Doric speech of Syracuse : “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” John Tzetzes (12th century AD)
Book of Histories (Chiliades) 2, 129-130 Translated by Francis R. Walton http://www.math.nyu.edu/~crorres/Archimedes/Lever/LeverQuotes.html
The attention is often on the lever and how long it needs to be. But what about the place to stand? If we had a place to stand, far enough distant from what we are observing, we would be able to make out the whole pattern. We are too close to the object, we see “as in a glass darkly” and the lens which distorts our view is the idea of the significance of the individual. We perceive life as celebrating the individual. The individual is essential to the process. A system which functions without the individual is somehow unethical – “wrong”, as is any system which turns its back on profit and the “bottom line”. We are suspicious of things like this, find them abnormal, difficult to understand.
Jonathan Zittrain, in a recent BBC interview said "Something I will talk about is how the internet deals with trouble; and by internet I mean the actual fabric of the internet. How when there is trouble or outright abuse there are people who come to the rescue urgently, who are not paid to do it, who aren't asked to do it and that don't have any particular authority to do it. It's like dark matter in the universe. There's a lot of it, you don't see it but it has a huge impact on the physics of the place." http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8155738.stm
This is reported because it is unusual, remarkable, noticeable – different. So is the following story.
“Gopher was the product of IT professionals at the University of Minnesota, an institution that took a very business-like approach to the development. In spring 1993, the University started charging for Gopher servers while still distributing the browsers for free. That's a successful business model today, but the world wasn't ready for it in 1993. The day that Gopher stopped being free is the day that the web started to take over. In 1994, Gopher grew at the seemingly healthy rate of 997%, but the same year, the Web grew by 341634%. The difference was a simple piece of paper that CERN issued on 30 April 1993, putting the Web in the public domain. Simply stated, that meant that Cern renounced intellectual property rights to the web, but that no one else could claim them either.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7375703.stm To give away an enormously valuable business opportunity – free!?
In the coming world, the dawning world, Solveg’s hands are unnecessary – the machine will contrive all by itself. The pattern is not the hierarchical pattern of human society that we are accustomed to, but the pattern instead of the Portuguese Man O' War http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_Man_o%27_War, the organism itself existing because of the successful and dedicated interaction of numerous “individuals” who in this case surrender their individuality to the success of the whole.
The new organism is about sharing and therefore, necessarily, a re-definition of the idea of property, at least in so far as it is interpreted in Intellectual Property Rights, and Copyright, will be needed. The other concept which seems to be in process of redefinition is “Privacy”. Perhaps in future there will be no need to protect privacy since the concept will not exist any longer. This already seems to be happening in social networking sites.
More and more in what I am reading this new paradigm is presenting itself. – most recently in the thread “Dreaming of a peer to peer world (V Sasi Kumar, on Michel Bauwens)” in Bytesforall http://www.bytesforall.net/
Seeing this, I wonder what can or should be done in this new system to protect the “other”. Will the “other” even exist? Will this new form of democracy tolerate minorities at all? Can diversity, in every form, survive? The Portuguese Man O' War retains its internal diversity. Will we? Can we? Should we?
These are very rough ideas but it would be helpful to know what other people think. In part this was prompted when I succumbed, very recently, to Seiiti’s blandishments and joined Twitter, but partly also these ideas are fermenting out of thoughts that have been in my head since I was a small child.