The Freedom Cloud: The future of our culture is in the balance

#okcon2010 #okfn

I have known Becky Hogge for several years – Becky is deeply involved in the Open movement and is inter alia a board member of the OKF. She’s just published an essay which so exactly mirrors my own thoughts ( and leads them) that I want you all to read it. It also mirrors keynotes at OKCon10. The message is simple:

At this very moment the freedom of the world’s culture is in the balance

That’s a strong statement and it’s an act of faith. We are in the middle of a great cultural change (due to the Internet). Because we are in the middle of history we cannot (by definition) asses it objectively. But in 20 years historians will look back and say that in 2010-2015 the battle for freedom was won or lost. (Of course if the loss is too traumatic – a 1984-like newspeak culture – there will be no historians. And no language in which to express our loss.)

Read Beckky, not my summary. But in essence the forces of control (mainly large corporations, Google, Apple, Microsoft (though diminished), Thomson-Reuters, Macmillan, Elsevier, Murdoch) are looking to monopolise our thought and culture. The printing press liberated our culture, but printing presses can be controlled. The heady days of 1993 when everything was possible have withered and we have Facebook, Google, etc.

So why aren’t these a “good thing”? Google does no evil, so we shouldn’t worry. But history teaches that all large organizations self-corrupt. I used to work in pharma (Allen and Hanbury’s). It did no evil. I knew the people who ran it. They made medicines to cure people or manage diseases (e.g. Ventolin). I know they would be incapable of the excesses of current pharma. But now the pharma industry is managed by standard corporate goals. So it wasn’t surprising that a publishers and a pharma got together to create a fake scientific journal solely for making money for both. Truth was abandoned.

By analogy that has to be true for all large industries. Some have better corporate roots than others but the benevolent dynasties of 19th Century industrialists (from which my personal history springs) – Cadbury, Rowntree, Lever, Nettlefold have gone and there are no moral or religious checks. So we have to questions and check everything that large corporations do.

The key problem is the control of information and through that the control of people and people’s thought. Facebook controls people. Google controls people. And through their lobbying of governments publishers and media control people. Net-neutrality is critical – we have to fight for it. Established laws are not a useful precedence – we have to create the visions that thinking moral citizens would adopt. Charters and constitutions (e.g. why the OK definition is so import ant). Our 21st C equivalent of the Bill of Rights.

The good thing at present is that there are many more educated literate humans than in C 18th. Even in Scotland, whose Enlightenment was responsible for much of our current freedom of thought.

Some days I wake up and think – what a lot of things we are liberating. And other days I think how much is being ripped away before our eyes. Why does not academia rise up and protect its freedoms? Its primary job is to define our possible cultures and put them in front of us. And if we want to pursue freedom (as opposed to personal glory) to help us and to go to the wall if necessary. Yes, as Becky recounts, freedom is in the balance from Libya to Bahrein. But it’s also in the balance in Washington and London.

All I can do is “keep buggering on”. And hope that the little bits of very hard won freedom will inspire and can be aggregated to an emergent phenomenon of world internet freedom.

It can happen.

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