(Written fully seriously with a little smile)
Draft 0.1 for comments
Many of us spend much of our time in the virtual world. In fact, while in the physical world we basically care to some basic needs, most of our creativity and spiritual interaction take place in the net. Naturally, the design of the net has a crucial influence about our personal lives and our society. This by itself is a compelling reason to spare some time to understand this design, why is it the way it is, where does it help us and how does it hurt us. As a result we will be able to explore what we can do to make it better fit for our needs as human beings.
More than two hundred years ago, we thought we were entering the era of enlightenment. In addition to knowing more, this was supposed to imply that people will have basic rights and that they will take part in the design and control of social institutions. Through many struggles and some achievements, we even started to believe that some sort of progress toward these ideals was taking place on the political level…
But now, just as we make leaps forward in the accumulation of knowledge and science, we fell back in the framework of the social organizations that control the new domains of human behavior to a political paradigm that have more to do with slavery, feudalism, absolute monarchy and robbers capitalism.
Take, just for one example, Facebook, which controls most of the space of our social interactions. We are the tireless producers of the contents that give the net all its value, but we are not paid for producing it, neither own what we produce. Facebook is ruled by a single man for the goal of his own material profit. Even absolute monarchies will pretend to have some obligation to protect the common good. We are not citizens, neither subjects, nor have any bill of rights. The absolute rulers control what you can say and what you will hear from all that others are saying.
For any suspected activity the Facebook dictatorship may punish you by paralyze and bans, with no right to appeal. They will not hesitate to apply even the most extreme punishment – executing your virtual personality, cut you from your social contacts, wipe out your memories and destroy your accumulated creativity – with no pretense of due process.
Facebook also spies on all of us, helping governments to oppress restive citizens. The information that they collect about us, to which we are not allowed access, is sold to third parties that want to make a profit at our expense. They even sell our time and mind by spamming our walls and feeds with advertisement and trash.
And, even if all was well, change must come. Nothing stays like it is. With the rapid technological developments things change faster. So the right question is not “why change?” but is it really responsible of us to wait for changes to happen, or would it be more logical and beneficial to start planning for the next stage?
The Science of Social Change
I joined Facebook only after the Arab Spring proved it an indispensible tool for social change. I soon bumped against Facebook’s arbitrary rules. I issued a call for all of us, as good Facebook patriots, to make a revolution against the Facebook Dictatorship. I believe it is the duty of all patriots to struggle for democracy and justice wherever they are. Not surprisingly, nobody answered my desperate calls.
This reminded me that social change is not the result of the wishes of individuals but of the accumulation, maturation and conjunction of material, cultural, social and political processes. If you want to work seriously for the future you should study the contradictions in the current order, identify the counter-currents that work for its destruction and develop potential agents of change and partners for the creation of a new, better, order.
In parallel to the search for the seeds of change within current conflicts, we should also try to define what is basically wrong in the current order and what should we do in order to make sure that whatever comes next will be better. The forging of the new order is dependant both on objective and subjective conditions: what material changes may make it more effective than the current one and what social forces may win the battle to establish it and go on to safeguard and develop it.
Also, when we look for the practical path to solve current problems and establish a better world, and in spite of the revolutionary appeal of destroying everything and building a whole new perfectly logical and just order, we must remember that real history is going through a much more complex process with many twists and bounds in the plot. You can start with a revolutionary movement and find that all that you achieved for now is frightening the current rulers into making some reform. Or you can start with a reformist movement but have all your efforts at polite protest produce more oppression, causing the situation to explode. To be really effective in your struggle you should be ready and able to exploit divisions and splits in the system and the ruling class to create space for your movement to grow and take hold.
Obstacles and Seeds of the Future
There are many reasons why Facebook netizens are not revolting. First, even by the standard of fast forward movement, typical to our modern times, we are still in the beginning of the new era. Many people still remember the days that they were not able to publish anything or express their opinions about what they read – and thank the new rulers for their generosity in providing whatever they give. We also lack the ideology and the organization that may produce a revolt. Our citizenship of Facebook and Google pretends to be voluntary, ignoring the fact that they control the global resources of networking that are vital for our lives. As a result many potential opponents and trouble makers simply stay out of the system – making life easier for our rulers.
Like bourgeoisie democracy, which promotes the illusion of “democratic change“ within the system, the corporate monopolies hold the illusion that change can come through capitalist competition. You can always choose another supplier or build your own startup. But this is an illusion, as those that have the big money set the rules of the game and can always block or buy any competitor. The most that can come out of the current “competition game” is another predator dinosaur to share our stolen creativity.
But this is not the whole story. While the corporates’ rule over our lives seems ever more total, there are other new continents (or at least some islands) that were occupied by free thinking people with other motives and a different way of social organization. Wikipedia is one astonishing example of what people can achieve by voluntary organization for the sake of humanity, with nobody becoming rich at the expense of our efforts. The community of open shared code is producing some of the most important pillars of the new technological order, between them Linux that drives most data servers and Android that manages most smartphones.
On another level, China, which blocked Facebook and Google, enabled the development of local alternatives. Today it is the source of some of the most advanced operating eco-systems for net users. Perhaps the Chinese net-corporates are not better, but, at least, they are a living proof that there is life after Facebook if you have the political and economic muscle to get out of the maze.
Some Possible Elements of a People’s Net
Facebook and Google developed from providers of simple services to be the emperors of data and connectivity. They didn’t plan the world order that they created and control.
But if we want to build a new net order that will be the result of voluntary collective effort of many developers and contributors, it might require deeper understanding of what is wrong and what we want to do. It will be a collective product that will develop over time and experience, but here are some small contributions for inspiring your imagination and creative thinking:
1. Who owns the content?
Today all users have plenty of memory to hold their content. Cloud storage is a public utility that should be cared for by society like roads, parks, hospitals and natural reserves. There is no reason that if I want to share a picture with a friend it should become the property of any third party. Hands off our data!
2. Who owns the knowledge?
The data that we place in the internet, including our activities there, are the source of the most valuable knowledge. In order to use our data in the most efficient way we have to gain control of the storage, organization and analysis tools.
3. Who owns the net?
There should be no kings or central rulers. Services should be available on demand – like applications that you can download.
4. Where is the money?
A world without advertisement is possible – Cuba has proved it. But if anybody wants to pay to make me read about his new product, they should pay me. I would still probably prefer to be a smart consumer and read an objective review about whatever service or product I might like to buy – but this is a personal choice.
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