Saturday, March 21, 2015

Telephone 911-1984

Guambat's Log 21032015

George Orville published his book 1984 in 1949. His science fiction of a Big Brother with eyes and ears everywhere in the year 1984, 35 years later, was pure hyperbole. He missed it by a generation, a close call in galactic terms. By that time, his dystopian vision was replaced by a utopian one. This whole timeframe was witnessed by Guambat, including the Aquarian utopia of his coming of age years.

Perhaps this accounts in some small measure for the manic depression Guambat harbours in his burrow.

For Orville's 1984 to work, it needed a backbone, a skeletal technology to hang its ears and eyes on. Guambat has seen that one grow from the jelly dish of made science, too. Today, he plays with its toys. He has his own CCTV eyes and his own broadband handheld soundboard to the world. Through his own eyes and ears, the whole world can watch him, hear him. His every word and thought are traceable right back to his keyboard and search engine.
It didn't take much. Although field phones had been a significant feature in WWII, they predated that. The Happy Chappy's pictured pictured here with that phone booth to his head made the first hand-held phone call in 1973, two years before Microsoft was born.

The internet wasn't even a glimmer in ISIS' eyes when Orville's 1984 arrived. Al Gore invented that one in 1991, which no doubt had something to do with the analog hand-held phones becoming digitalized in the 1990's, adding data transmissions just before September 11 in 2001. Now it's broadband capable, and has been since before Guambat's grands were born. The Iridium satellite phone launched in 1998 didn't prevail as a satellite phone service for high costs alone; it was too compact, and therefore vulnerable, a web, and the successful webs of this era are the ones that promise autonomy bordering on but not reaching anonymity amongst ubiquitous dispersion, though their true strength and talent lies in their omniscient cloud presence.

So, what was that utopian vision that displaced Orville's 1984? Read the links below for the full stories.

Meet the man whose utopian vision for the Internet conquered, and then warped, Silicon Valley by Jacob Silverman
Twenty years ago, the period equivalent of “net neutrality” was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Even as Silicon Valley began to capture the country’s imagination, the tech elite were souring on their government. They accommodated it where they thought they needed to — telecom firms, for instance, enabled surveillance by acquiescing to records requests from the intelligence agencies — and they received tokens such as start-up tax breaks and STEM investments in return. But eventually the predominant attitude was alienation: The Internet was theirs, not Big Brother’s. Meanwhile, they routinely compare their corporations to city-states or call for the secession of the San Francisco Bay Area.

To understand where this cyber-libertarian ideology came from, you have to understand the influence of “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” one of the strangest artifacts of the ’90s, and its singular author, John Perry Barlow. Perhaps more than any other, it’s his philosophy — which melded countercultural utopianism, a rancher’s skepticism toward government and a futurist’s faith in the virtual world — that shaped the industry.

The problem is, we’ve reaped what he sowed.

“A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” was an utterly serious document for a deliriously optimistic era that Wired, on one of its many valedictory covers, promised was a “long boom”: “25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world.” Techno-skeptics need not apply. Barlow’s 846-word text, published online in February 1996, begins with a bold rebuke of traditional sovereign powers: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” He then explains how cyberspace is a place of ultimate freedom, where conventional laws don’t apply. At the end, he exhorts the Internet to “be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.”

It wasn’t the first viral document, but it was one of the period’s most pervasive and influential, appearing on thousands of Web sites within months of its publication. More than that, the language and sensibility suffused Silicon Valley thinking. When Eric Schmidt describes the Internet, however misguidedly, as “the world’s largest ungoverned space” in his book “The New Digital Age,” he is borrowing Barlow’s rhetoric. When tech mogul Peter Thiel writes, in “The Education of a Libertarian,” that he founded PayPal to create a currency free from government control and that “by starting a new Internet business, an entrepreneur may create a new world,” it’s impossible not to hear Barlovian echoes. [Bitcoin? Sure, that little bit, too.]

All this was an unlikely achievement for a man who personified what the British theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron called “the Californian Ideology.” Barlow wrote songs for the Grateful Dead, tended to his parents’ Wyoming ranch in the waning days of family farms and eventually helped co-found the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy organization. The trajectory of his life is embodied in the title of Fred Turner’s excellent history of the era, “From Counterculture to Cyberculture,” about how hippie communitarianism found its way into early Web communities like The WELL, a popular message board.

To Barbrook and Cameron, the Californian Ideology reflected a “new faith” emerging “from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley.” It mixed “the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies” and drew on the state’s history of countercultural rebellion, its role as a crucible of the New Left, the global-village prophecies of media theorist Marshall McLuhan and “a profound faith in the emancipatory potential of the new information technologies.” Adherents of the California Ideology — many of them survivors of the “Me” decade, weaned on sci-fi novels, self-help and New Age spiritualism — forsook the civil actions of an earlier generation. They thought freedom would be found not in the streets but in an “electronic agora,” an open digital marketplace where individuality would be allowed its fullest expression, away from the encumbrances of government and even of the physical world.

Part of this belief system’s appeal was its ability to combine a host of sometimes incompatible ideas: radical individualism and digital community; neoliberal, free-market capitalism and an Internet industry pioneered by government grants; spiritual truth-seeking and corporate conformity. For hackers turned systems engineers or graffiti artists turned graphic designers, it held great appeal. It promised that they had value and might make the world a better place. Joining Microsoft or AOL didn’t mean selling out; it just meant recalibrating one’s sense of how utopia might be achieved.

Barlow’s writings were tailor-made for this period of techie euphoria, which seemed to herald a revolution not only in communications and commerce, but also in social relations and culture. Barlow, with his ranching background, saw the Internet as a vast, borderless electronic frontier. Whereas the hippie generation explored Eastern religions and hallucinogenic drugs as pathways to enlightenment or psychic renewal, Barlow’s generation seized on the consciousness-expanding potential of the Web.

Yet there was something quixotic about “A Declaration.” Barlow was articulating noble principles (free speech; egalitarianism; freedom from discrimination, bias and oppression), but his desire for “independence” from the world of flesh and bureaucracy was naive. From its earliest incarnation as ARPANET, the Internet owed its existence to the U.S. government. It was always an infrastructure project with a physical presence in the world — wires, routers, servers, data centers and computers to interface with them. It may have helped bits cross borders, but that didn’t mean that borders or laws no longer mattered. With today’s debates over mass surveillance, it’s clear that governments exercise a great deal of power online.

The text itself has aged poorly, too. Its dateline — Barlow published the document from the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland — shows that Internet pioneers were far more wrapped up in the traditional power structure than they might acknowledge. (Barlow had worked on one of the congressional campaigns of Dick Cheney, a fellow Wyoming man.)

And it’s not just governments that have grown more powerful online. Companies have used the notion of an independent Internet to justify calling themselves its sovereign authorities. Using the vaguely humanitarian rhetoric of “connection,” they cast themselves as the handmaidens to our digital emancipation. But at the same time they have become even more adept at bulk data collection than the government. Meanwhile, they are the ones that decide how to manage our communications and which reforms are instituted. Even a populist measure like net neutrality was shepherded to passage by some of the industry’s biggest players.
Privacy Isn't All We're Losing, a Declaration by Peggy Noonan
The U.S. surveillance state as outlined and explained by Edward Snowden is not worth the price. Its size, scope and intrusiveness, its ability to target and monitor American citizens, its essential unaccountability—all these things are extreme.

The purpose of the surveillance is enhanced security, a necessary goal to say the least. The price is a now formal and agreed-upon acceptance of the end of the last vestiges of Americans' sense of individual distance and privacy from the government. The price too is a knowledge, based on human experience and held by all but fools and children, that the gleanings of the surveillance state will eventually be used by the mischievous, the malicious and the ignorant in ways the creators of the system did not intend.

For all we know that's already happened. But of course we don't know: It's secret. Only the intelligence officials know, and they say everything's A-OK.

If—again, if—what Mr. Snowden says is substantially true, the surveillance state will in time encourage an air of subtle oppression, and encourage too a sense of paranoia that may in time—not next week, but in time, as the years unfold—loosen and disrupt the ties the people of America feel to our country. "They spy on you here and will abuse the information they get from spying on you here. I don't like 'here.'" Trust in government, historically, ebbs and flows, and currently, because of the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, Benghazi, etc.—and the growing evidence that the executive agencies have been reduced to mere political tools—is at an ebb that may not be fully reversible anytime soon.

How did we get here? You know. In the days after 9/11 all the clamor was for safety. Improve intelligence, find the bad guys, heighten surveillance. The government went to work. It is important to remember that 9/11 coincided almost exactly with the Internet revolution. They happened at pretty much the same time.

In the past 10 years technology sped up, could do more and more—big data, metadata. Capabilities became massive, and menacing.

Our government is not totalitarian. Our leaders, even the worst of them, are not totalitarian. But our technology is totalitarian, or rather it is there and can be used and abused by those whose impulses tend, even unconsciously or unthinkingly, in that direction.

So what's needed? We must realize this is a crucial moment: We either go forward with these programs now or we stop, and think.

I feel that almost everyone who talks about America for a living—politicians and journalists and even historians—is missing a huge and essential story: that too many things are happening that are making a lot of Americans feel a new distance from, a frayed affiliation with, the country they have loved for half a century and more, the country they loved without every having to think about it, so natural was it.

This isn't the kind of thing that can be quantified in polls—it's barely the kind of thing people admit to themselves. But talk to older Americans—they feel they barely know this country anymore. In governance it's crucial to stay within parameters, it's important not to strain ties, push too far, be extreme. And if you think this does not carry implications for down the road, for our healthy continuance as a nation, you are mistaken. Love keeps great nations going.

Some of the reaction to the NSA story is said to be generational. The young are said not to fear losing privacy, because they never knew it. The middle-aged, who grew up in peace and have families, want safety first, whatever it takes, even excess. Lately for wisdom I've been looking to the old. Go to somebody who's 75 and ask, "So if it turns out the U.S. government is really spying on American citizens and tracking everything they do, is that OK with you?" They'll likely say no, that's not what we do in America.
Guambat appreciates the nod of the head to the oldies, being one himself. A little respect, as Aretha noted, goes a long way.

Now Guambat must respectfully acknowledge there are two sides to every story. As Fox claims to prove, reporting should be fair and balanced. In keeping with Fox' display of that notional ideal, Guambat would ask that you kindly consider the following. NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love Unfortunately, Mr. Murdoch's Wall Street Journal requires that you pay a toll on the internet highway to read that. Please to put a penny in the old man's hat.



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