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> Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2003 21:01:30 -0400
> Subject: Article: High-Tech Heroin
> From: Richard Forno
> High-Tech Heroin
> Richard Forno
> (c) 2003 by Author. All Rights Reserved.
> Permission granted to redistribute this article in its entirety with
> credit
> to author.
> 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
> road.
> 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.
> # # # #
> Richard Forno is a security technologist and author of “Weapons of
> Mass Delusion: America’s Real National Emergency.” His home in
> cyberspace
> is at