One of the most revealing books I’ve read (that I translated into Italian for local publisher) is Alan Cooper‘s The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Is a book about programming and the fact that core decisions come from a bunch of geeks working down below the basement of the company’s building, while marketing and PR guys occupy the fancy upper floors (have you seen the British sit-com “The IT Crowd“?)
Inmates is not a book that will last in our history, nevertheless suggested some thinking about who actually runs our (tech) life. Once we enter into the digital landscape we’re all turned into digital sheep. As soon as the shepherd (or his dogs) waves a stick we all move accordingly. And the point is that we are run by the shepherd and not (necessarily) by the landlord (a rather disturbing perspective, anyway.) What does it means?
Electronic devices are made by geeks for geeks. Hard to use, hard to repair, hard to handle. Look at what is labeled as the most “user friendly” company, Apple: you are free to do whatever you want as soon as you want what Apple wants (like the famous quote by Henry Ford about the alternatives given to the consumers in re: choosing the preferred colour of their brand new T-Model:
Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black…
On the other side, “free” technologies such as GNU-based software are way to much obscure and exoteric to be of actual benefit. It is not viable to turn the whole population into software engineers to achieve freedom (in that, I do agree with Schneier’s proposition.) NSA, GHCQ and other State-sponsored spooks sneak in into this framework: we, ourselves, have contributed to give the spooks the power to weaken our rights. If back in the days we actually had fought against Microsoft bad software, by forcing the company to release good code, or pushed the governments to adopt a true FOIA-equivalent legislation but – on top – if we had been properly concerned citizens (talking about Italy, here) maybe we wouldn’t have reached this point.
Bruce Schneier argued that the the solution to this problem is political. I’m not sure that this is entirely correct. We do live in a State that is Kantian in theory and Hobbesian in practice. This means that the State has its own agenda and that citizens are a non avoidable collateral annoyance to be disposed of at will to protect the “greates interest” (wathever it means.) So, as in the street-fighting world, whatever
works, works, and so long “civil” rights.
I don’t want to imply that the solution is fighting back with the same attitude (the State is the Enemy.) This would be the start of a civil war.But what is possible to do is to consciously limit the way we use those geek-created gimmicks. Leaving our houses, meeting real people in real place do things as humans used to do before the raising of The Matrix: coming back – as much as possible – to the stone age.
When the first hints of Echelon (Prism’s
godgrandfather) existence surfaced, an high level Italian bureaucrat told the press something like “we’re not in danger. Our networks are so primitive that we have almost nothing to fear”. But we’ve lost the “privilege” of being stone-age men, having turned into “smart”-people. So smart that we walk carrying a locked and loaded gun aimed at our temple, with our finger on the trigger.
No, I don’t want to be THAT smart.