Chapter 16

This book's coming to an end soon, and I should make some predictions of what we can expect on the electronic front in the days to come. If you want a nightmarish vision, then you could read my futuristic novel-in-progress called Digitala Dagar ("Digital Days")(1), but this is science fiction. However, the book is relevant to what follows - which is my personal predictions, not pure fact. Everything I write from this point on is speculation, and since the future is always in motion, I might reconsider the points I'm about to put forth.

The electronic universe is actually a new world, which we call cyberspace. It is a place where small communities of information have been allowed to exist in the state of a sort of loosely organized anarchy. Cyberspace is in the process of becoming civilized as it grows. Within a decade or so, everyone in this country will have access to the Internet and be part of the electronic community, and just like all other communities it suffers from crime and internal conflicts. At the same time, the human factor is always present. Cyberspace is a place occupied by people, and wherever you find people, you find politics and culture. As a tool, the computer is unbeatable; it can construct and visualize with a unique precision. Electronic art is not a fad, but something we will see more and more. The musicians and painters of the future will leave traditional methods and migrate to virtual reality and instruments that don't exist as of yet. Motor skills and rhythm won't be required to make music. The ability to mix colors and execute pen strokes won't be required to make art. The only prerequisites will be imagination and the ability to use technology - which becomes easier and easier to use. Artists who only work with artificial worlds, spacemakers, will basically be able to act as gods in the artificial realities - for better and worse. (Nietzsche's statement that God is dead is frighteningly tangible in a virtual reality). Perhaps professional artists will go away in favor of a large number of amateurs following the introduction of advanced technology into the mainstream.

In early computer art, such as demos, the computer was used like a musical instrument. Just as a guitarist finds hidden attributes in his or her instrument when he/she finds out it's possible to play flageolets, or notes affected by the physical characteristics of the string, early computer artists found hidden potential in their machines. This was particularly the case with the C64 and Atari ST. Modern computer art is more a matter of constraint - in virtual reality, everything is possible: it's the nightmare of the canvas. It's easy to overdo it and become totally incoherent.

Like I said before, the digital universe is just a mirror image of the "real" one. The only thing that's really strange about cyberspace is the sudden proximity of information and other people, and the breathtaking boost in cultural and social evolution that this proximity causes. We hate it for its distorted image of ourselves, reflected as if by a twisted mirror. The behavior patterns of people are ever so obvious within the framework of a computer. Soon, our society will be so interlinked and complex that it will become as dependent on computers as our bodies are on a circulatory system. There is (unfortunately?) absolutely no return. Not even now, today, can we turn back. Our last chance to guide society away from computerization came and went with the 50's. It's not a question of computers or not - it's a question of how to use them.

The new communication channels will fundamentally change the way public opinion is formed. There will be more responsibility on the part of the individual for sorting information. If Swedish youth would suddenly start showing a great interest in certain suspect publications, many people would probably react strongly to this. There would be a public debate of the publications' agenda and opinions.We have no control over electronic publication. No one knows the distribution size, how many copies exist, and when a reader has viewed the paper, it's erased from the computer's memory, leaving nothing - except new ideas, thoughts, and opinions in the brain of the reader. The only way to find out what a person reads electronically, is by monitoring him or her at all times. The responsibility for forming public opinion will wholly or partially shift from society and established media to the individual. Media will have a hard time keeping track of all the interest groups that will arise. All people will be forced to think on their own, whether they want to or not.

The possibility of having an opinion without having to stand up for it is considerable. If political discussions to a greater extent are held electronically, on the Internet and on BBSs, it becomes virtually impossible to resort to personal attacks on people with different views, since every modern conferencing system contains the often-used option of remaining anonymous (under a pseudonym). The rhetoric of public debate will certainly also change in accordance with Rule #3: distrust authority. By extension: distrust the entire social hierarchy. Power always corrupts; the fourth state - the media - is no exception.

The chronicling of history won't be as geographically centered as before. It won't be possible to say that "this idea emerged in Chicago, USA, around 1997". Maybe not even what people were involved. Ideas and social perspectives will spread globally almost instantly. Opinions, ideologies, and innovations of all kinds will be created in the discussion groups on the networks, and they'll be created on a global level and by people from totally different walks of life. Some will be CEOs, some will be thieves, some 70 years old and some 14. The most important thing will be the ability to articulate oneself. No one cares what you look like, where you're from, or how you dress. Perhaps there will be a distinction between ideas that have originated in cyberspace and those that haven't. Debates will be held between those who are interested and seek out the discussion by themselves, not by "pundits". The distance between debaters will become purely intellectual.

Social self-censorship (which means that, for example, publications which defend the use of drugs don't get press subsidies and are consistently resisted) doesn't exist on the networks. Instead, it's up to the individual to decide what's right and wrong. Instead of hiding behind an editor-in-chief, you have to stand for what you write. This tendency is notable in the daily press, where it's become more of a rule to sign articles.

Putting an interactive terminal in the hands of a normal person means considerable change. At first, it's not terribly exciting. You discover the Internet through the World Wide Web, which isn't much more captivating than a library or a TV program. It is one-way information for the individual, and not very interactive. Today, the big companies and institutions largely control the World Wide Web, even though there are brilliant exceptions. It's not too surprising that the small amount of material that isn't commercial has been produced either by public institutions or hackers.

But then, you hopefully discover Usenet, where you can discuss anything between heaven and Earth without being spoon-fed ready-made solutions by experts. You might discover IRC, where you can hold real-time conversations with other people from anywhere in the world. And then you discover that you have many equals, and even that you're an expert on many things, and that your own knowledge is valuable. Then, things start to happen in the homes around the country. Swedes are transformed from passive consumers to interactive world citizens, and this is the real digital revolution. If no market forces (Telia, Microsoft, etc.) succeed in stopping, commercializing, or obscuring it before it has a chance to grow…

It's the case that this planet we inhabit, Spaceship Earth, is starting to become so internationalized that all the people aboard are starting to develop certain common values. It's a rough, uphill ride, but it's happening everywhere. Information technology, especially the two-way kind, will be the decidedly most important link in a society that can stand united in Sweden and Australia as well as in Japan and on Madagascar. This demands communication free from monopoly, and freedom of information. I am convinced that we will find a compromise.

A few years ago, many politicians and sci-fi authors cautioned us about the risk that information technology would be used to control people everywhere. (The examples used included Ira Levin's This Perfect Day, Karin Boyes' Kallocain, and George Orwell's 1984.) This is what organizations like the EFF want to stop at all costs. The encryption program PGP was created just for this purpose, and this gift should be considered a social good deed. The encryption expert, Zimmerman, is maybe deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize for his service to the protection of "healthy disobedience".

When I was younger, I had a diary with a small lock on it. Many adults have one too. Now I don't need to lock my computer, because encryption is enough. It's in any case much more effective than physical locks for protecting information. The problem is that criminal investigators, for example, may very well consider my diary part of the investigation material. I don't think so. My thoughts belong only to me, and I'm not going to abandon them to anyone. The desire to read other people's diaries is, in my view, just a step on the way to the desire to read other people's thoughts. Diaries are an improvement of one's memory, an extension of the intellect. Where is the person? In the body, or in the diary, or both? Some diary-keeping people discover details of their past that their brains have forgotten… "My actions occur in my body, but parts of my mind are on the bookshelf". Yes, we're information-processing individuals, all right. And information technology is so many times better than a library ever was at storing and processing information.

If you want to write anything hidden from the mafia, the government, or your family, you should use encryption. The possibility to erect a "firewall" against the oversight of authorities is vital to any democracy. PGP, in one swoop, puts humanity's collected mathematical science between you and the superior powers. Zimmerman's crypto also allows you to set up "bug-free" communication channels.(2) Encryption is a fact, and I suggest that anyone who wants a bit of personal freedom and privacy use it. I'm not going to deny that well-applied encryption will make it impossible to stop nazi propaganda, child pornography, violent movies, and that it can partially protect criminal syndicates. I'm split on this issue, but I ultimately think that it's worth the price to protect the private lives of individuals from governmental, corporate, and organizational control. Furthermore, there's already crypto around the homes of the country. As for me, I got my copy of PGP on a CD supplied with the magazine Mikrodatorn (a Swedish home computing magazine), and which can be found in any well-stocked library. No authority in the world has the possibility to decrypt information that's been encrypted, using today's technology. Prometheus has already stolen fire from the gods, and no one can call it back.

I observe the changes in society with excitement: encryption can perhaps end the Pepto-bismol policies that, for example, in the case of child pornography, treat the symptoms instead of the disease. For we all have to conclude that it's not pornography in itself which is the problem, but rather that there is demand for it. This, however, is a harder problem to address…

It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was soon another debate about prohibition in our stuck-up Swedish media. A debate such as the one in 1980, which started when Kulturarbetarnas Socialdemokratiska Förening (the Social Democratic Association of Culture Workers) wanted to prohibit TV satellite dishes in order to prevent Swedish residents from watching unsuitable television programs. (Which, in retrospect, looks pretty absurd). Of course - attack technology, there's never anything wrong with people.

The debate will naturally be caused by something that upsets the average family: drugs, pornography, political or religious extremists. All of this is now available on the Internet, mostly in the form of text or pictures. Tomorrow, it'll be there in the form of sound and motion pictures. In the future, it might be some form of virtual reality. The U.S. Congress has tried to prohibit effective crypto, and the European Union has issued directives banning un-crackable encryption. Naturally, nothing will come of either one, at least nothing that will be respected any more than the prohibition of, say, jaywalking. Human nature includes an ability to resist every form of thought control. (Or should we call it information control?)

If people have any sense (and they do), they'll realize that we're dealing with international problems. Mom and apple pie are disintegrating, and the problems of the world are approaching from every direction. At some point, perhaps we'll realize the need of even more international cooperation, and of course it's just as difficult to keep international problems outside the EU as it is to keep them out of Sweden. The information society grows towards internationalization by its own force. All of this thanks to some hackers who created ARPAnet, later to become Internet, and which interconnected the whole world, for better or for worse. The change has just begun. It is without doubt the most beautiful, magnificent hack ever executed. The university hackers hacked down barriers between educational institutes, then between countries, economic interests - and yes, between people. Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean.

Rave culture and electronic pop music aren't fads - we'll get more and more of them, more genres, and we'll educate professional musicians who've never played anything but techno music, even at public institutions. The joy and vitality of rave culture's futuristic shows yields optimism and a belief in the future. With luck, rave culture will become for today's youth what 60's rock was for the baby-boomers; a symbol of rebellion, identity, and creative thinking. And in contrast to dystopic cyberpunk and many other modern trends, it is happy and optimistic, not regressive or doomsaying. The same goes for many other forms of electronic culture, including electronic film as well as multimedia and online culture.

The most prominent danger to democracy in conjunction with new technology is the risk that not everyone will have access to it. In the US, almost every well-to-do middle-class family has a computer, and even a modem. In the ghettos and industrial suburbs, it's a pipedream. In Sweden, where the gap between classes is not as wide as in the States, there's a marked risk that the gap will increase if not everyone has access to computer technology. If not, information will be available only to those who can afford it. Remember the second rule of hacker ethics: All information should be free. Internet and public computers at all the schools and libraries around the country, even grade schools and community colleges, is a given. A computer for each student is desirable. State subsidies for computer equipment is a valid issue.

I'm fully aware that I express political opinions now, and I'm placing myself squarely against those who think that technology, high-level jobs, etc. should be reserved for the elite. Neither do I look up to hackers that are just out to show off and don't care about anyone else. Following political and economic democracy, we're now approaching a democracy of information. Information for the people, perhaps. It's my hope that information technology will provide the foundation for a more democratic society than we have today.

You should think before judging a hacker. A hacker is generally a middle-class youth who have acquired possibilities that normally only the richest upper-class kids can revel in, using computer technology. They've done this simply by going out there and grabbing everything possible. Isn't this really what our whole modern, class-based society's rules of the game are all about - that the privileged should be able to pick and choose, but the less privileged get long sentences if they try to get some of the goodies?

To categorically state that hackers, phreakers, virus makers, or crackers are public enemies is bullshit. It's simply pointing to superficial factors and appealing to authority. Saying that a phreaker, taking some phone time in a fiber cable to talk to his buddies in the States, is a thief because the law says so, is placing 100% trust in the makers of the law. It's reducing the problem to legal text. It's a senseless oversimplification. Every law is constantly in motion - that's how it actually works. You're one of the people that are obligated to change the law if you realize that it is wrong.

Isn't the real crime of the hacker that of challenging values and power structures that seek to distribute influence and property unequally? For his or her own gain in the beginning, certainly, but still. The true crime of the hacker is perhaps that he or she has "cracked" human software, the social protocol that's been programmed into out minds since birth.

And the university hackers - without them, we wouldn't have any of the computer technology we have today. All new ideas of any worth have emerged at MIT, Stanford, or Berkeley, by kids who've worked passionately for minimal pay and under uncertain employment terms. And most of them haven't earned a dime of profit from their inventions. Instead, IBM, Microsoft, and the other giants have raked in the profits. And the hackers are not at all upset! They think that technology - information - should belong to everyone. They never had any commercial interests. They thought it was fun!

On the pinball games at the autonomous rave and anarchist club Wapiti in Lund, Sweden, the text OBEY AUTHORITY is sarcastically displayed on the kitschy LED screens. Man has assumed control of the machine.

1. And I'm damned if I know if I'll ever work on that project again.

2. Currently limited to electronic mail, but a telephony version is under development.


Design and formatting by Daniel Arnrup/Voodoo Systems