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Tony Curzon Price June 17th 2008
1 Constant Scale 2 Schema—The ancient, the modern and the networked 2.1 Arguments and Forces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Modern/Libero-genic: cheap communication 4 Ancient/Libero Genic: Every web site is a republic 5 The clouds gather 6 The tyranny of society 2 4 5 7 9 10 13
7 Modern/Libero-Phobic: Kafka and Orwell 18 7.1 What about Hobbes? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 7.2 How Web2.0 technology contributes to the Kafka eﬀect . . . . . . 23 8 How are Web2.0 and market mechanisms diﬀerent? Google or Wikipedia (section for economists) 26 9 Picking the battles 29
∗ Many thanks to all the people who have commented on early drafts of this paper—Selina O’Grady, Graeme Mitchison, Victoria Curzon Price, Anthony Barnett, Jonathan Zittrain, David Hayes, Jeremy O’Grady, Stefaan Verhultz. This paper owes a great deal to a seminar funded by the MacArthur foundation in March 2008, ”Credibility in the New News” in London. Many thanks to Kathy Im and Elspeth Revere for making that gathering and space for thinking possible. This paper was presented to the Montpelerin meeting in Tokyo in September 2008— many thanks to Professor Shimuzu for the invitation. A version was presented to International IDEA in Stockholm in October 2008.
Newspapers and railroads are solving the problem of bringing the democracy of England to vote, like that of Athens, simultaneously in one agora.
John Stuart Mill, de Tocqueville on Democracy, 1840, p165.(Mill 1840)
Will the technology optimists always be with us? Each age of technology brings with it the hope that the ills of modernity will be cured. The railway that Mill pinned such hopes on also ferried troops to the front 75 years later for carnage on an unprecedented scale. The newspaper and other mass media that would bring Athens to England would also stir up the passions that ushered in the totalitarianisms of the the twentieth century. Is it diﬀerent this time, with the Internet? It might be. But the forces of social and technocratic tyranny are well poised to turn the new networks into chains. This paper tries to describe the lay of the battleﬁeld ahead. When Mill hopes to bring Athens to England, he is pointing back to the basic dilemma of modernity expressed 30 years earlier by Benjamin Constant (Constant 1816) in his analysis of the liberty of the ancients and the moderns. Constant applauds the freedom of the moderns—the ability to get on with ones own lives and projects without interference of the sovereign—but worries on two counts that we will miss the political freedom of the ancients: 1. an instrumental reason: the private and individual freedoms that thrive in modern mass society are dependent for their continued existence on a proper, wise delegation of power to representatives of government. However the very desire to get on with our private aﬀairs saps the will to hold power to account. The powerful will naturally take advantage of such political dis-engagement and our modern freedoms will eventually be undermined. This is just the agency problem that the subprime crisis has made so familiar but applied to politics rather than ﬁnance. The gigantism of modernity—driven often by apparently genuine economies of scale—produces freedom-destroying loss of control. That loss of control should be factored as a cost into any analysis of the economies of scale that are justifying the move to gigantism. Technology can certainly be gigantisms’s friend. 2. an intrinsic reason: participation in public life and collective decisions is part of the good life. Constant writes that human beings are called to “self-development [. . . ] and political liberty is the most powerful, the most eﬀective means of self-development that heaven has given us. Political liberty, by submitting to all the citizens, without exception, the care and assessment of their most sacred interests, enlarges their spirit, ennobles their thoughts, and establishes among them a kind of intellectual equality which forms the glory and power of a people.” (Constant 1816) 2
The issues identiﬁed by Constant are certainly with us still. Modernity in the West has hugely expanded the private realm of freedom, but the government of mass society has tended to destroy the meaningful exercise of self-determination in collective life—the “freedom of the ancients”. John Stuart Mill expresses the refrain of the modern techno-libertarian. The railway and the printing press accomplish Constant’s request that we need to ﬁnd social organisations that merge the two freedoms. (“Sirs,”, writes Constant “far from renouncing either of the two sorts of freedom which I have described to you, it is necessary, as I have shown, to learn to combine the two together”. (Constant 1816).) The railway reduces distance; the printing press carries wisdom and discussion. The agora, the public forum in which the citizens of Athens participated in collective decision-making, is reconstituted in virtual form. Every technology seems to call forth its wild optimists. Here, for example, Arthur C Clarke on the telegraph and the satellite: A hundred years ago, the electric telegraph made possible - indeed, inevitable - the United States of America. The communications satellite will make equally inevitable a United Nations of Earth; let us hope that the transition period will not be equally bloody. Arthur C. Clarke, First on the Moon, 1970 Today we have the same question: are the Internet and the blogoshpere at last the solution to Constant’s request that we cure mass society of its publicrealm emptiness without abandoning the gains for individuals of Enlightenment modernity? Should we now see the Internet as essentially a technology of freedom? Will the freedom of the networked be, at last, the synthesis of the freedom of the ancients and of the moderns? The alternative view is as desperate as this one is hopeful. Just as Mill saw the potential of the railway for freedom and self-realisation, Saint-Simon, keen to use the new technologies to replace the ”government of men by the administration of things”, preﬁgures a manipulative, bureaucratic attitude to mass society. Constant anticipates the position: From the fact that the ancients were free, and that we cannot any longer be free like them, [some thinkers] conclude that we are destined to be slaves. They would like to reconstitute the new social state with a small number of elements which, they say, are alone appropriate to the situation of the world today. These elements are prejudices to frighten men, egoism to corrupt them, frivolity to stupefy them, gross pleasures to degrade them, despotism to lead them; and, indispensably, constructive knowledge and exact sciences to serve despotism the more adroitly.
Does Liberty come for Free?
Will the new networked world be an instrument of Saint-Simonian technocracy or will it create an arena for Millian liberty? This series of essays will try to 3
understand whether liberty — as it were — comes for free. So far, it seems to me clear that it will not just drop out of the technological developments of the age. Every technology pits tyranny against freedom, and every technology requires the battle to be fought again. Understanding why liberty does not come for free will clarify the battles that will need to be won again in this age, for this technology. The database state, with its close ally, the War on Terror, in a powerful coalition with advertising-led corporatism are the forces that Constant warned would eventually deprive us of even our Modern Liberty if we fail to exercise our collective power of social choice.
Schema—The ancient, the modern and the networked
The dangers to freedom are summarised in the the top row of table 1. The ancients had no checks on the power of society; mores and law were fused. Here is Constant again: Similarly ostracism, that legal arbitrariness, extolled by all the legislators of the age; ostracism, which appears to us, and rightly so, a revolting iniquity, proves that the individual was much more subservient to the supremacy of the social body in Athens, than he is in any of the free states of Europe today. (Constant 1816) Society gave power to the individual, but also had absolute power over including or excluding the individual. Collective power was bought at the cost of individual rights and certainties. One of the most troubling aspects of the wired world, with its assault on privacy and its technologies of manipulation, may recreate and amplify this aspect of the world of the ancients. At the same time, centralised, personalised databases, whether they are governmental or civil, give bureaucracy great power over the individuals. These are modern concerns, classically expressed in Kafka (1925) and Orwell (1949). The industrial processing of information brings this modern abuse of power frighteningly within the reach of our states and companies. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1: Avoid the top, encourage the bottom.
The lower part of table 1 represents technology-optimism. The networked world oﬀers a myriad of new opportunities for participating in collective spaces, some new and some old but newly enhanced by technology. Wikipedia has brought encyclopaedic knowledge-gathering into the public realm (openDemocracy is working at doing the same for news analysis and commentary); Flickr has brought photographers from all over the world into the creation of a public photo archive; YouTube hosts any number of niche communities that provide a public space for performance. In the digital age, Andy Warhol might have said, everyone can be famous to 15 people (Weinberger 2002). This creates opportunities for the sort of socially rich, collectively oriented self-realisation and self-determination that Constant saw that modernity had destroyed. At the same time, that quintessential freedom of the moderns, the expansion of the realm of unrestricted private choice is being expanded by new goods and services, some very cheap, many free, and many seemingly free (more later on the indigestion that the Web2.0 ”free” lunch is likely to cause).
Arguments and Forces
Figure 2: Lines of battle. (The weight of the line represents my assessment of the scale of the danger) The remainder of this article is an elaboration of the forces depicted here (See Figure 2) . Brieﬂy, these are the eﬀects I will cover: Finkielkraut, Warner These are all thinkers who have described the way in which technology is changing—mostly for the worse, they claim— our thoughts, individuality and identities. The tyranny of the group is moulding us as never before. These are interesting speculations, but I argue that they are not the fundamental vector of tyranny. 5
Sunstein (2007) argues that the new economics of knowledge dissemination fragments society into non-communicating shards; solipsistic communities that grow apart and potentially ﬁnd it increasingly hard to co-habit as any habit of compromise is lost. We thus are moving from the freedom of the moderns, with its “broad tent” political institutions like parties and newspapers, to an “unfreedom of the ancient” with its warring city states squaring up across the Peleponese. Zittrain (2008) sees that the Internet, once the fertile ground for all sorts of creative, “generative” communities organised on Athenian grounds and delivering the social goods of ancient freedom, is in danger of becoming the “ﬁrst self-closing open system” under the weight of insecurity, theft and other bad user experiences. Governments will be tempted to regulate, corporations will reduce the freedom of users that created the realm of pure possibility that the Internet brieﬂy was. Kafka (1925), Orwell (1949) and McNealy Technology is being used to realise the nightmares of the database state. In some countries—China, Russia, Iran—the process is advanced. In the West, it has gone much further than most of us realise. These are not just government databases, but the use by governments, criminal organisations and some corporations of all sorts of overlapping databases of personal and quasi-persoanl information. We are building a world in which Jozef K.’s paranoia will become a natural state of mind for many. We are willingly contributing, in the name of convenience, security or out of sheer ignorance, to the databases that could be used to enslave us. Imagine the world of the Stasi as decribed in Donnersmarck (2006), with information willingly auto-submitted and eﬃciently processed. Scott McNealy is the Sun CEO who famously declared: (See Figure 3)
Figure 3: Get over it! 6
Hope In all this gloom is the hope, expressed in Net-Topians like Anderson (2007), Benkler (2006) and Lessig (2000) who argue for the transformative potential of the Internet. “The Wealth of Networks” will allow for the fusion of the freedom of the old and the new: alienation and anomie, the diseases of the freedom of the moderns, will be banished by the ﬂexibility and abundance of the virtual world; social tyranny, the disease of the ancients, is banished by the endless multiplication of identities and aﬃliations that we can now enjoy.
Modern/Libero-genic: cheap communication
The networked computer revolution is at heart a massive reduction in the cost of ﬁnding and distributing information. Private choices of all sorts have expanded in this huge improvement in productivity. The cellphone may be even more signiﬁcant than the tethered, PC-centric web in this respect. Jan Chipchase (See Figure 4), anthropologist for Nokia, says the cell-phone has come as close to being a modern cultural universal as money and keys. He explains this by the ultimate safety it provides, a fundamental component of the freedom of the moderns.
Figure 4: Keys, money, cellphone. Chipchase ought to give more weight to the ability the cellphone has provided to move around mass society while never being more than a thumb-twiddle from our friends—the private realm of family and friendship has become portable.1 There have been previous massive changes in the cost and technology of disseminating information, and these have had profound eﬀects on society and the progress of freedom. In 1557, in reaction to the printing revolution introduced to the West by Gutenberg,2 Pope Pius IV published the ﬁrst Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the titles that printing had let into minds to corrupt them. Pius IV had it right
1 I am told—and would love to ﬁnd a reference—that Karl Popper thought that mass society would be civilised only once instant communication between any members became possible. 2 Note, from Korea, and not from China as often mis-stated. The Chinese bureaucracy encouraged the printing of a small number of classic texts. These could be produced quite easily with ﬁxed-type technology. It was the Koreans who ﬁrst introduced moveable type, the invention which allowed the printer to re-use and re-assemble the plates used by the press. The Gutenberg revolution was one of movable type—just as Zittrain (2008) argues that the true revolution of the networked PC is its myriad, decentralised re-purposability, which he calls “generativity”.
that printing would revolutionise religion and fundamentally weaken the church, but had it wrong that he could stop it. Or take the mass-circulation dailies and weeklies that appeared in the nineteenth century after paper-making and steam presses cut the cost and time required to publish fast and in huge quantities. Governments quickly imposed selective taxes on printed material (like the Stamp Act of 1765, with the riots this caused in the Americas) designed both to raise revenues and silence sedition. They could do the ﬁrst, in the short term, but not the second. We can see that the technology we have for the making and sharing of information might change humanity profoundly. Plato famously complains that the development of writing and papyrus will destroy humanity’s ability to remember. There are growing numbers worrying that Google (rather than age, for instance) is ﬁnishing oﬀ what the original scribblers started. Here, for example, is N. Carr’s self-diagnosis (See Figure 5)
Figure 5: Net brain syndrome. The printing press—the epoch that some are already calling the Gutenberg parenthesis —can be argued to have destroyed the authority of the Church, created the Protestant individual, made the industrial revolution and organised mass social movements. The technology of the press and later of broadcasting impose large ﬁxed costs of production, so encouraged the development of mass markets.3 Changing production functions in the transformation of information are likely to be signiﬁcant social events because knowledge is itself such an important input to the creation of social behaviour. We would expect the networked
3 The capital costs of the Internet are huge too, but they are general purpose and, often by regulation, open access—the same telephone line is used for all the content that passed down it.
computer to have very broad social impacts—similar changes in the costs of ball bearings would be big news, but probably not socially transformative in the same way. The almost zero ﬁxed costs of information dissemination and retrieval; the almost zero marginal cost of serving an additional copy of the information—the ﬁrst round eﬀect of this is to create ”The Long Tail”: the micro-markets for informational goods and services that were previously ruled out by market-size constraints.
Ancient/Libero Genic: Every web site is a republic
The Internet itself has grown in an admirably Aristotelian way (Curzon Price 2008a). Intended from the beginnings of ArpaNet as a network so decentralised it would allow the basic functioning of government even after a targeted nuclear strike, the Internet invented rules for its operation as it went along. Experts who needed to get a job done formed ad hoc committees and established de facto standards. The Unix gurus who were the head of computer systems at the big American Universities, in the major research establishments and in a few early-adopting corporations formed an aristocracy of nerds who built an open, scaleable network architecture that became the Internet we know. Zittrain (2008) tells the story of the development of this “generative” technology. At every turn, the ad hoc groupings made decisions that maximised the ﬂexibility of the network. The principles of experimentation, procrastination— “make constraining decisions as late as possible”—and contribution rule in this world. Academic institutions provide the ”infant industry environment” in which systems that rely in their early stages on expert users all providing good will that allows the Internet to stabilise, open itself outwards and become the phenomenon of general scalability we saw in the 1990s. There is a profoundly non-market aspect to this development of open systems. The market, with Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL tried to deliver closed, controlled and safe networks. The French State, with its Minitel, did the same. The American academe provided the world with a remarkable interconnected hierarchy of public goods—from the most basic protocols like TCP/IP to the machines that could operate the network (Stanford University Netowork, SUN) to the complex software that bundled all this together (Berkeley Standard (Unix) Distribution, a version of which this Apple still runs on today) and the millions of lines of useful code, much of it developed under the watchful eye of Richard Stallman, the austere high priest of the free software movement, at MIT, that provided end-user functionality. This is (Zittrain 2008): The generative Internet and PC were at ﬁrst perhaps more akin to new societies; as people were connected, they may not have had ﬁrm expectations about the basics of the interaction. Who pays for what? 9
Who shares what? The time during which the Internet remained an academic backwater, and the PC was a hobbyists tool, helped situate each within the norms of Benkler’s parallel economy of sharing nicely, of greater control in the hands of users and commensurate trust that they would not abuse it. That culture of expert-led generative development has extended into the domain of web applications with projects like Wikipedia. A self-selected and self-appointed group of under 5,000 editors, fact-checkers, conﬂict resolvers and coders have created a compendium that will rank with the Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie as a great achievement of human culture. Under the aegis of open-access, transparency and the power of self-determination, Wikipedia is its own republic. It levies voluntary taxation from users; its aristocracy makes critical decisions about the common good. It gives away what it makes, since making it, and having it used and perceived as useful, is its own reward. Benkler (2006) ﬁnds in this sort of project “The Wealth of Networks”, and these are enabled in all sorts of new spaces by the technology of near zero cost information dissemination. openDemocracy, for example, has staked its ground as being the global Public Service provider of news analysis and commentary.
The clouds gather
The story told by Zittrain (2008) and Benkler (2006) is of the netowrked computer as a tool of the freedom of the ancients. It is hard not to be taken up in the enthusiasm. The wired world enhances both the freedom of the ancients and the freedom of the moderns. How can we not be at the point that Mill thought the railway and the printing press had brought? The world, and not just England, can now become that mythical Athens that Mill so desired, surely? Zittrain (2008), however, is not a Millian optimist. His very ambiguous title tells it all: “The Future of the Internet (and how to stop it)”. Stop what? The Future or The Internet? Zittrain (2008)’s is the forecast that, soon, the Internet could end up as the ﬁrst ”self-closing open system”. The impetus for closure comes, for Zittrain, from the wrong-headed approach to solving the problems that open systems inevitably, he argues, throw up:(See Figure 6)4 Zittrain (2008) argues that companies will be tempted to “lock-down” open systems in the face of malware, spyware and privacy breaches. Governments will be called on to regulate, imposing privacy laws (which they will exempt themselves from, naturally). The Internet will be balkanised as telephone companies
4 The parallel between Zittrain’s worries about the Internet and Hayek’s in the “Road to Serfdom” are clear. In both cases, there is a call to action against speciﬁed dynamics from within that threaten all that is best about the system. The Great Depression provided the impetus for the sorts of government actions that Hayek thought would undermine the market economy, just as Zittrain thinks malware, spyware and the abuse of private information threatens the sorts of control that will undermine the open, creative, re-usable Internet.
Figure 6: The self-closure of generativity. create “safe havens”, networks that bar the use of peer-to-peer ﬁle-sharing, privilege one sort of traﬃc over another, and generally tether the appliances and software to avoid the ills and risks of openness. The game consoles and smart phones are a Trojan horse. Sony and Microsoft have designed their gaming platforms to be walled gardens of computing. The iPhone and other ultra-portable computers are an alliance of consumer electronics with telecoms monopolies, none of whom seem to want to make the business “mistake” IBM made in outsourcing and opening the critical pieces of the PC. This is a story of how the Internet moves from being a privileged domain for the freedom of the ancients to being a battleground for the libero-phobia of the moderns. He describes the tendency towards a move from the bottom left quadrant to the top right. Zittrain’s own schema is of a move from “emergent hierarchy” to “top-down polyarchy” as a principle of organisation. (See Figure 7) Zittrain’s solution for countering this trend is to return, as often as possible and with as much imagination as possible, to the expert self-regulation that solved the Internet’s problems in the past (Curzon Price 2008a). Before govern-
Figure 7: Keeping my distance from a useful taxonomy. ment regulation, let us ﬁnd “communitarian” solutions. Zittrain, for example, suggests that we try to address real privacy concerns in the same sort of way that the early web controlled crawlers with robots. As we travel with phones, making payments, with store cards we leave a trace through the ether as surely as any click-trace through the web. Early on in the history of the web, automated services—for example indexing services—started crawling web servers automatically for information. How could a webmaster signal that content should not be indexed? For example, on openDemocracy.net, we want our editorialised articles to be indexed, but not our free-form forum discussions. When a Google search returns an openDemocracy address, we want it to be for a piece of content that we have vetted, as part of our brand management. The solution to the problem—the creation of the robots.txt de facto standard— is described by Zittrain (2008) (See Figure 8): This could be a template to decentralised, emergent, locational privacy protection. My own personal ”robots.txt” could instruct cell-phone operators, ticketing agents, credit card companies, what information about my comings and goings was sellable and what not. I could speciﬁy who it could be shared with, and with what degree of anonymity. I would want my medical record available to hospital emergency rooms in extremis, but not to my employer, for example.We should as much as possible try to stop the accumulation of information by inventing the right expressive means to do so. Such “easy wins” should not be passed over. Zittrain (2008) sees the emergence of ”robots.txt”-style solutions as the victory of hierarchic bottom-up organisations versus poly-archic top-down organisations (Curzon Price 2008a). His exhortation is that we should, wherever
Figure 8: Robots control crawlers possible, look for solutions to information processing problems that live in the “hierarchical / emergent” corner of his taxonomy.
The tyranny of society
The tendency of the Internet to move from ancient freedom to modern control is not the only worry with the ancient spirit of the modern networked technology. Constant was clear in identifying the tyranny of society that had also come with the freedom of collective, discursive self-determination. The counterpart to the freedom of collective determination is that the collective can call you to arms, ostracise you, even put you to death without recourse or rights. When the group is small and the community tight-knit, its power extends far beyond law, and can be a real source of oppression. You won’t need to remind Star Wars kid (See Figure 9)of this, still suﬀering depression (surely the modern form of exile) after the largest school-yard humiliation in history. The unfortunate boy ﬁlmed himself using the school video camera doing a Star Wars light sabre routine with a broomstick. A mixture of narcissism, hubris and, most of all, the dramatic irony for the audience of
knowing that this person did not know he would be watched by millions . . . He did not delete the sequence; some peers posted the video on the web; the public shaming of the notoriety may never leave him. There are many other anecdotes which illustrate the way in which the recreation of tight community is also a loss of the protection of anonymity.5
Figure 9: Painfully learning the new rules. Is this new tyranny of the wired communities a passing phase? Something that we will learn to navigate once the unfamiliarity of the new spaces passes? When cameras became a cheap mass consumer good, just before World War I in the UK, there was a national privacy scare. Anyone was at risk of being captured in a private act. And the risk is with us still, of course, although a combination of copyright, libel and press-privacy laws allow us mostly to navigate the new contours of privacy. David Cameron, the leader of the UK’s opposition, had to spend a good deal of family money to buy the copyright of a photograph taken of him during his student days as a member of Oxford’s notorious Bullingdon club. Employers regularly check Facebook and MySpace to ﬁnd the real person they are about to employ. In a mirror image of the Bullingdon club example, celebrities are exactly the people who cultivate their private lives as a business model: they generate monopoly private information in order to sell it to an eager public. There was an eighteenth century version of this trade: an enterprising late eighteenth century theatre entrepreneur in London took the muslin curtains oﬀ the boxes in his newly launched theatre. The mob crowded in, not so much to see the spectacle but more to rubber-neck
5 The relationship between anonymity and the freedom of the moderns is very strong. It has its counterparts in the modern notions of anomie and alienation. Hayek picks up on the relationship in his discussion of the exercise of market power through price discrimination:
It is probably not much of an exaggeration to say that almost all really harmful power [...] rests on this power of discrimination because it alone, short of violence, gives them [ﬁrms] power over potential competitors [. . . ] Though the majority of people may still be better oﬀ for the existence of such a [discriminating] monopolist, anyone may be at his mercy in so far as the nature of the product of service makes aimed discrimination possible and the monopolist chooses to practice it in order to make the buyer behave in some respect in a manner that suits the monopolist [. . . ] Since the power of the monopolist to discriminate can be used to coerce particular individuals or ﬁrms, [. . . ] it clearly ought to be curbed by appropriate rules of conduct. (Hayek 1982, Vol.IIl, page 84)
at the much more attractive soap-opera of the wealthy in their boxes. But the business model was not right: the wealthy got nothing much from the sale of their privacy and left for more traditional venues. “Hello” and “OK” would perfect the model by buying monopoly access to the lives of the “Pipol” [People] (as, in a lovely inversion of meanings, celebrities are known in France).6 The similarity between the patter on a facebook feed and the gossip of ”Hello” is striking (See Figure 10). It seems to me likely that the popularity of exhibitionism is quite likely in part due to the exhibitionism of our celebrity heroes. Their status is measured by the column-inches devoted to them, so the democratisation of print-space leads to a proliferation on “micro-Hello” publications. Facebook is to “Hello” as the academic blogosphere is to the opinion columns of the “mainstream media”. Doing what the stars do, be it intellectual or social, makes us all a bit more like them. The whole point of MySpace and Facebook is that they are public, and give each the opportunity to be a bit more like the role model in the abandonment of privacy. And just like the academic blogger versus the WSJ columnist, the main diﬀerence is the ﬁrst do it for free.7
Figure 10: “Hello” is the Pipol’s Facebook.
6 However did the celebrities become “les Pipols”? There is a real cunning of language in this appropriation—a recognition that there is nothing between celebrities and people except for celebrity. 7 It brings to mind Keynes’ joke that GDP falls when a bachelor marries his maid— what was previously recorded as a monetary transaction is now subsumed in the un-measured domestic economy. Similarly, every journalist replaced by an academic blogger lowers GDP without necessarily reducing welfare.
A closely related danger to freedom from the tyranny of community—possibly to the institutions of liberal democracy that have more or less upheld freedom for 150 years—is the argument made by Sunstein (2007) (See Figure 11)that the new facility for niche information provision also fragments communities, allowing each of us to live in narcissistic halls of mirrors where we face no great challenges to our views and opinions. There is the possibility of a radical communitarianisation of news and opinion that will eventually, argues Sunstein, undermine the “broad tent” institutions that forced us as nations to seek compromise and agreement. This is a story of the Balkanisation of politics because the economics of the production of knowledge and opinion no longer forces us to share costs with those we might disagree with. Sunstein (2007) produces many examples of the danger. My colleague Felix Cohen made this short ﬁlm about the community of ”Vaccine Deniers” on YouTube to illustrate the danger. The power of the example, of course, comes from the potential public health externality created by the development of these credible but not belief-worthy communities. Nozick (1974), in the “Utopia” part of the book, considers what an individualistic approach to community-formation might be. He asks us, as a thought experiment, to consider a world in which each individual can will into being all other individuals; individuals so willed can either opt to stay in the world imagined by others, or exit to another world of their own willing; the process is imagined to continue until a stable conﬁguration—if there be one—is found. If there is an equilibrium, then by construction we have a world in which “none of the inhabitants of the world can imagine an alternative world they would rather live in” (Nozick 1974)[page 299] which has the stability property of being arrived at in this Utopian way. When wondering how far this Utopian construction might be from a feasible realisation, Nozick points to the limitations that include the fact that groups impinge on other groups; that it is costly to discover groups that one wishes to join, and one might stay in sub-optimal groups for fear of not ﬁnding a better solution; that communities might actually try to restrict the freedom of choice of members in order to perpetuate themselves. The ﬁrst and the last of these “failures” of Nozick’s individualistic communitarianism are the most troubling in the context of the re-communitarianisation of knowledge-making. The ﬁrst is a concern, in our context, that the beliefmaking of one group will aﬀect another group. The vaccine deniers are a case in point. Sunstein (2007) provides evidence that the last point is a danger: that the “hall of mirrors” entraps people into solipsistic world views and ampliﬁes the diﬀerences between groups. Mark Hunter, a professor of media a INSEAD, argues that the commercial future of news is represented by both Rupert Murdoch and Michael Moore. Both of them know how to give an audience a sense of itself. The quickest way to do this is through polarisation, the exaggerated invention, even demonisation of the “other”. As the ﬁxed costs of community creation disappear (a
Figure 11: Communities create poles. printing press, a distribution network), society can fragment into many noncommunicating shards. The return to ancient Greece was not meant to also repeat the Peleponesian wars. Posner (See Figure 12)makes the argument that this communitarianisation of news might be a good thing: it avoids the deadhand of orthodoxy stamping out the diversity of views that it is socially best to express, even if only to better monitor.8
8 There are real success stories of citizen journalism bringing to public attention stories that might otherwise have been covered or buried. The great pet food scare of 2007 may be the clearest example, (especially because it is an example so devoid of politics). All over North America, pet owner forums started reporting that their cats and dogs were ill. Forum and blog members thought this was all too much for coincidence, and traced the problem to a single Canadian manufacturer. The pet-owners did all the investigation and coordinated their work through their blogs. As Jay Rosen says, they moved from the demand side of news to the supply side. The old-media caught up with the story once the journalistic work had been done at the grass-roots, by these consumers turned producers. In terms of political positioning, the technology here is a tool of negative freedom: consumers can aggregate information and protect their rights as purchasers against the previously superior informational power of the producer. This is an enhancement to the normal freedoms
The argument, however, relies on there being not-too-great a feedback between the encapsulation of a community in a publication, or blog, or forum, and the path that this community takes. The strength of the worry Sunstein raises comes from this dynamic eﬀect: the types of communities you end up with are dependent on the technology used to keep them together and deﬁne them. The Rwandan massacre, for example, would not have been possible without Radio Mille Collines. The Kenyan violence of January 2008 was made possible by SMS.
Figure 12: Letting oﬀ steam? There is a resurgence in the tyranny of the group just as there is in the power of collective self-determination. The two are inextricable. Liberal Whigs have to hope that re-communitarianisation does not have to be Balkanisation. It is as if the “National” phase of the evolution of the just society was a dry-run for its global version. Re-communitarianisation, with global communications technologies, is part of the unpicking of the unitary Nation State, with the adherence to the tribe returning to many overlapping communities, some digital, and the functions of the State being spread both above and below the old Nations. The economics of community-making are an important part of this large-scale historical process. To make it a historical evolution, and not another return, we should keep our eyes open to the the new forms of the ancient social tyrannies.
Modern/Libero-Phobic: Kafka and Orwell
We have considered two types of danger so far—ﬁrst, the privacy and Sunstein (2007) eﬀects point to the transformation of ancient liberties into modern communo-tyrannies; second,Zittrain (2008) and Curzon Price (2008a) point to the sliding from the new communo-freedoms to the modern stiﬂing technocracies of government and other natural monopoly. Possibly more dangerous than all of these are the forces that transform modern individualistic freedoms into the hyper-modern nightmares imagined Kafka (1925) and Orwell (1949). This is the story of the harnessing of technology into a database State. A little like nuclear power, so attractive in the 1950s and 1960s, accumulates waste that today appears to pose small risks of very large harm, so centralised databases are stockpiling a resource which has a small probability of becoming highly noxious. The behaviour, identity, past and reputation of each us is now reproduced around large numbers of state-level and corporate databases creating dangerous
of civil, contractual relations.
concentrations of personally identiﬁable information (PII).9 The dangers are of two basic types, call them Kafka-esque and Orwellian.10 The Orwellian, in which the State accumulates information for direct purposes of control, is the most obvious and dramatic. Take the example of the hapless mechanic from Stoke-on-Trent (See Figure 13).
Figure 13: An innocent’s arrest and DNA forever more on the record Darren’s credit ratings, job prospects and life chances have been permanently aﬀected by his record on the UK arrest and DNA databases. As technocracy would have it, this information gets shared between more and more government agencies and even in some cases to private sector subcontractors of government. Of course, the data also gets lost and may ﬁnd its way into the public or criminal domain. The impacts on lives and liberty of such Orwellian events are clear, and our ability to inﬂuence through policy is also clear.
9 And quasi-PII—it is often possible to combine databases none of which have PII to, in the overlap of data, personally identify individuals. 10 The important distinctions between the Orwellian and Kafkaesque abuses of information is made by Solove (2007)
The UK, together with many states since the start of the “War on Terror” (WoT) have increased the powers of surveillance available to it. There are real threats, and some surveillance is necessary to protect citizens. But it is important to understand the Orwellian habits that very naturally come to a State. Here is an example from Scotland: In Falkirk, which used Ripa [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] 380 times, citizens could be spied on for noise nuisance, littering, if they were suspected of driving a taxi without a licence, for breaching the smoking ban and if their expense claims were thought to be exaggerated. (The Sunday Herald, July 18 2008) Jozef K., the anti-hero of The Trial, never knows who is accusing him or what he is accused of. He has no control over the information that is disseminated about him or any means of recourse. The story of Jozef K. has become the archetypal story of alienation, one in which the modern atom has no understanding of the forces at work at him. The case of Mr Bunce (See Figure 14), a story, with a somewhat happier ending, hints at a modern version of the story where the information and crime have escaped your control—it certainly shows a very concrete example that those who have nothing to hide might nevertheless be caught up in nightmarish information-traps. The police knock on the door. You are accused of having bought paedophilic pornography over the web. You are innocent, and unlike Joseph K. you certainly understand the accusation here, but what have you done that relates to it? Why are you being accused? What piece of information about your life has been disseminated which leads to this point? (See Figure 14) Mr Bunce comes out of this sounding like a saint: his salary quartered, his family forgiven for disowning him . . . but many others would remain more resentful. Commercial databases are increasingly the repository for Privately Identiﬁable Information. The case of Yahoo’s Chinese blogger debacle is an example of commercial data-gathering being put to State use. (See Figure 15) (See Figure 15) Information ﬂow from state to corporations is increasingly common. For example the UK government’s ”Tranformative Government” agenda includes oﬀering corporate access to the National Identity database (for example, for background checks on criminality). Sub-contractors to government have ways of accessing data—where this can go from multinationals running IT systems to small operations running local authority wheel clamping services. The ﬁlm of the useful UK Department of transport web page on Who we share information with and why provides a small glimpse into the complexity of the multi-way ﬂow of information. Can every outﬁt identiﬁed as a worthy recipient of information be counted on here to have a careful, responsible attitude towards the data? How much will lead to stories like that of Darren, Bunce or Shi Tao?
Figure 14: A modern-day Job
What about Hobbes?
The accumulation of ever-more personal databases creates threats that are both Orwellian and Kafkaesque. A common response in this age of the War on Terror is that a Hobbesian state, one that takes seriously its duty to ensure the safety of its citizens, needs to employ the necessary means against an enemy that has found modernity’s Achilles heal. An enemy that has learned to take advantage of the open society will prompt counter-moves from the primitve, Hobbesian state, that will close some of the loop-holes. Hence the justiﬁcation for extensive surveillance as well as “collateral damage” in innocent lives destroyed. A report by the Mail on Sunday on CCTV surveillance by police in Shenzhen and Leeds illustrates the point. In Leeds, police prove the innocence of a supposed wife-beater with CCTV footage . . . a petty thief is caught after the police thought they would have to let him go . . . in Shenzhen, crime rates are down 10% and detection rates are up thanks to a state-of-the-art surveillance system. Here comes the downside:
Figure 15: Corporate and State databases cooperate, 1 anti-government demonstrators are identiﬁed and picked up for questioning — and images of those still “at large” are posted on public information pillars . . . 11 The Hobbesian state has its attractions. But we have a sort of “surveillance trap”: how to ensure that information is used only for the good purposes of ﬁghting crime, and not for the bad purposes of manipulation and discrimination? It is very hard for a modern mass state to carry out extensive Hobbesian information processing without also, to some groups, becoming Kafkaesque. Take the (hypothetical) example of a young male Muslim rounded-up in a terrorism prevention operation. He is innocent (known to him, unknown to us), and has been arrested because he is a friend of someone who is not. During interrogation, it becomes clear that the State has a huge amount of information about this person. He is eventually released without charge. He returns to his community knowing that the authorities follow him closely and that he is now on a national DNA database, and that his arrest is a fact viewable by all manner of oﬃcial departments (and even private sector companies). When he does not get a job; when his mortgage is refused; when he is burgled . . . a suspicion has
to fall on the involvement of the state. Is this a state he is likely to cooperate with? is he likely to inform against a genuine threat that he knows about? The Kafkaesque State is the one that creates sub-cultures of mistrust in which real threats can ﬁnd protection and thrive.12 We can view the Kafka eﬀect as an externality of information acquisition. As long as the process of acquiring information generates ”false positives”—cases where the informational inference is incorrect—then it will invite false positives in the other direction: inferences by the citizen that the state is involved in shaping outcomes even when it is not. So the often well-intentioned process of collecting information for Hobbesian purposes produces a side-product, the false positive, which creates a paranoid sensitivity. Philip K Dick oﬀers a particularly gruesome twist to the basic plot in Dick (1956), where information processing by the state has got the point of forecasting and preventing crime. The Kafkaesque impact of information collection is pernicious: if a state gives you reason to believe that it is falsely and obscurely accusing you, then your trust in that state evaporates. Any Hobbesian justiﬁcation for freedom-reducing measures should always account for the ultimately freedom-destroying loss of faith in the State that the Kafka eﬀect produces. Of course, the same piece of technology in Leeds is less of a worry than it is in Shenzhen, because civil liberties are more respected in England than in China. Trustworthy states should be allowed to take Hobbesian advantage of technology, and if we want more surveillance, we should start by making, through politics, more trustworthy states.
How Web2.0 technology contributes to the Kafka effect
We are building corporate databases of personal information on an unprecedented scale. Much of this is coming from the advertising-ﬁnanced ”free lunch” of Web2.0 technologies and services. The advertising model on which these services rely for information is probably in itself benign (despite the possibility of deep but non-inﬂuenceable eﬀects of advertising . . . as parodied in XXXX; there is also the possibility that highly targeted advertising may contribute to a background belief in a Kafkaesque state). However, the databases it creates will themselves be irresistible to State agents. The psychological irresistibility of the free lunch is accumulating a large and risky liability —- like the promise of nuclear power ”too cheap to meter” has created a stockpile of nuclear waste whose risk we will always have with us. It creates a datamine that acts a a magnet to states and organised crime. As I will argue in the conclusion, the worst of it is that the model that accumulates personal information in exchange for web services is not even necessary to provide the services that we are now enjoying for free.
12 Just as Jozef K. was Jewish and felt anyway on the edges of Viennese society, a ready target of radicalisation, so those who come into contact with the most Kafkaesque aspects of our states are those likely to be close to today’s radicalisable edges of society.
To understand the process by which these databases are being accumulated, consider the ill-fated case of Gator (See Figure 16). Gator was an application that oﬀered to ﬁll in web forms for you. Very nice functionality. But Gator also—and not very transparently—relayed all information about web surﬁng back to HQ. HQ knew the browsing history, purchase history, passwords, bank account balance, sexual preferences, ﬁlm tastes etc. of its users. Gator could have been much more malicious than it was with all this information. In fact, its team of crack statisticians applied themselves to the simple task of predicting which of an available number of advertisements a given user at a given browsing moment was most likely to click through. So, if I was booking a holiday to Hawaii—as I remember doing when I last had Gator installed in 2003—as soon as my ﬂight was booked, Gator served me an oﬀer for a condo and a car; Gator’s statisticians had built up quite a proﬁle of me, and could oﬀer sun-suits for the children, prescription goggles for the snorkelling, a guide book and a bird-watching tour for my wife (how had they ﬁgured that one out?). Gator was achieving click-through rates with its proﬁling that were ten times what Google can oﬀer. Gator’s accounts managers were oﬀering corporate customers highly complex advertising campaigns: “if a middle class mother has been looking at car web-sites and arrives at GM, make the home page from soft green tones and emphasise safety; if it is a rugged young male, serve up the Hummer . . . ” (this was before oil prices rose).
Figure 16: The friendly alligator All inoﬀensive, even helpful, you might think. But it is easy to imagine some more problematic cases.13
13 Obviously, the proﬁling could be used for old-fashioned price discrimination. The old headache for tariﬀ setters trying to implement Boiteux-Ramsey pricing (Boiteux (1956)) for utilities was how to achieve a “separating equilibrium”—how to make sure that the simple set
The corporate databases that Web2.0 is creating can be agents of Kafka and Orwell eﬀects just as much as government databases. Already today, the large web-sites have entire divisions devoted to dealing with the subpoenas served by courts. (See Figure 17)The information exists, and will be used in accordance with the laws of the land . . . as Chinese bloggers have found to their cost.
Figure 17: The battle ﬁeld If our old liberties and rights did a good—though restricted—job in the late 18th Century, with State power where it was, they certainly need reinforcing with state power where it is today. In the UK, for example, Habeas Corpus has been restricted to a huge extent—police can hold suspects without charge for 28
of tariﬀ choices on oﬀer would distinguish customers by their elasticity of demand. No such constraint with Gator’s proﬁles, where the identity, or at least identity-type of a customer could be determined by the logs of browsing history. “TCP is likely to click through for car hire, so don’t oﬀer the special deal . . . ” (For the story, Gator was hugely proﬁtable. It was nearly sold to Microsoft for large amounts, until Redmond, in its due diligence, broke oﬀ discussions. It was widely presumed that the scale of the privacy violations that the company had engaged in was frightening. Gator changed its name, and now trades honestly as Claria).
days, moving to 42. And this in an environment where discovering information about suspects can be done at the cross-tabulation of a handful of databases. If it took 24 hours to charge a suspect in the past, the increased eﬃciency of information gathering would suggest that it should now take less time to charge, not more. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the War on Terror has been a boon to the institutional interests of technocracy (see (Barnett 2008)).
How are Web2.0 and market mechanisms different? Google or Wikipedia (section for economists)
There is a temptation to equate Web2.0 mechanisms with disaggregated markets. This is partly useful. For example, Google can be seen as a great auction for attention, with payment made in links (Curzon Price 2008b). Or Wikipedia can be seen as eliciting evolutionarily stable memes. (A mutation is a change in a Wikipedia article . . . does it survive the environment of selection?). But in other ways, the analogy misses important centralising features of Web2.0 services like Google. In the realm of attention, Google might also be thought of as the ultimate central planner. Google established its dominant position in search through its patent on the PageRank algorithm. In essence, PageRank counts a link to a page as a “vote” for that page. These votes are weighted by the number of votes that a page itself receives. If a page that many people link to links to yours, that is considered an important vote of conﬁdence. In signalling-theory terms, linking to another page is considered to be a costly and therefore meaningful signal of value. PageRank worked very well in the early days of the web, but its own dominance has reduced the meaning contained in each link as content providers self-consciously try to increase their page ranks. The number of links to pages are like bids into an auction, and the auction has become increasingly gamed.14 Just as prices work as allocative signals as long as costs are real, so links work as allocative signals in search rankings as long as they represent relevance.15 But the very existence of the mechanism undermines it, and does so much more than analogous “market manipulation” does. Models of market manipulation show the cost inherent to ﬂexing market power: buyers cut back on quantity consumed, entry is encouraged, etc. In the classic account of a English auction, it is even a dominant strategy to tell the truth about value (or cost, in a reverse auction) and be rewarded transparently for market power. The dominant
14 There is a second aspect to Google’s operation which is less innovative but logistically very important. It needs not only to judge the “worthiness” of a page through PageRank, but also needs to come up with a list of relevant pages to return for each query. This is done through statistical text-processing heuristics. 15 One of the most troubling features of the subprime crisis has been that one of the most important prices in the economy—the price of risk—was found to have been set through processes that would almost surely vitiate against it being a reﬂection of real costs. This was the lesson of the layer upon layer of agency and regulatory failures. Getting the price of risk wrong has huge repercussions in the world of goods; getting the price of attention wrong—as is happening with Google today—has a similarly leveraged eﬀect in the world of bits.
strategy argument relies on precisely the self-limitation of the exercise of market power: push your luck too far, and you will end up buying something for more than you value it or not owning something you wished you had had. Scarcity continues to do its limiting work, even under market manipulation, and prices continue, therefore, to carry meaning. But the manipulation of ranking suﬀers no real scarcity constraint. Links can be invented at very low marginal cost, and at a cost which has no real relation to the relevance, to the genuine meaning, of the link. Search Engine Optimisation experts build “link-farms”—web sites rented out for their potential to link to others. PageRank, predictably according to price theory, was very good at indexing the web before it became generally understood, and is now doing poorly. Google, instead, plays a complicated and obscure cat and mouse game hoping that its historical lead has enough natural monopoly in it to keep search working. Google hoovers up the work of Stakanovite linkers and aggregates it by simple formula into tables of relevance whose quality is certainly questionable compared to the organisation of knowledge that preceded it (think of the search results from a good library compared to Google’s). But, as in so many industrial processes, Google makes up in quantity what it sacriﬁces in quality against the old artisianal methods. More disturbingly, however, Google’s business model encourages it to operate a Stasi-worthy accumulation of personal data. Google does not simply license search to people who demand search. It gives away search in exchange for the right to a small piece of users’ screen real estate. It optimises the value of that real estate by knowing as much as it can about the property—what is the behaviour of its eyeballs. Most markets are extremely decentralised.16 You can enter a market without registering with some central authority. This is a signiﬁcant factor in the association of free markets with the freedom of the moderns. No centralising authority or registry is required; entry and exit are easy, etc. But Google is diﬀerent. It is much more like a formal exchange, and even then, it is not a simple bilateral match of trades. Google (in its search service) processes an input—”raw” web pages—and oﬀers sorted web pages to the searcher. You cannot compete in the information economy without doing the equivalent of ”registering” with Google: you make the web pages visible to its spiders, and usually further than that, you ”sex them up” with (search engine optimisation) SEO to increase their salience to Google’s algorithm. Google, in the sense of the behaviour that it elicits, has a huge degree of control over content on the Web. Entry into the information economy has a gatekeeper, registrar and rule-maker. No wonder Google needed to persuade us that it would ”not do evil”. So although PageRank looks as if it is doing something market-like in its processing of information, it should probably be seen instead as the ultimate tool in the centralised processing of information. Google should be considered to be a ”mechanism”, in the sense of ”mechanism design”, and one that is at a
exchange traded markets, but all others.
particularly un-spontaneous, centralised end of mechanisms.17 Google’s business model is to sell your screen-space to advertisers and swap you free-search in exchange. This strange barter economy is very common to Anderson’s world of “Free” (Anderson 2007). But note that there is no fundamental reason not to split out those transactions: I could rent out my screen space through a third party, on privacy terms I could speciﬁy, while I could buy search services from a search provider. The hidden cost of the “Free” lunch is, ultimately, Freedom. Wikipedia, on the other hand, does not centralise personal information. We can think of Wikipedia in terms of costly signals: a change to a wikipedia entry is an eﬀortful move . . . it is like a mutation in genetics. Will the mutation survive? If it elicits others to overcome the cost barrier of making a counter-modiﬁcation, it does not survive. Wikipedia is therefore mostly composed of “evolutionarily stable statements”.18 The evolutionary method is distributed in a way PageRank is not: on most articles, anyone can make a change, even anonymous users. Moreover, Wikipedia has no advertising revenue to optimise, and therefore has no particular interest in the systematic collection of personal information. Wikipedia is much more like the libero-genic market than Google—a background institutional framework that allows and encourages competing entry without any systematic monopolising of manipulating tendency of its own. Although this characterisation is true of much of Wikipedia, it is not true everywhere. Some articles are locked. Here is a ﬁlm about the details by my colleague Felix Cohen, showing the locking of the Israel entry. These hard cases, of course, are an important part of the collective action of the Wikipedians. They are never more responsibly solicited than in cases of lock-down. The deliberation amongst the self-appointed elite is a great example of the freedom of the ancients that the web, at best, re-creates. The similarities between Web2.0 services and markets: both ﬁlter information and create ordered rankings that help with choice; both take decentralised behaviour as inputs . . . should not lead us to think that the most liberogenic characteristics of markets automatically ﬂow from this. Centralisation of information is a business necessity for Google as it optimises click-through. Wikipedia is not data-phagous only because it does not have much of a business model beyond the highly Nozickian one of voluntary taxation.
like the mechanisms that were meant to produce ”good allocations” in utility regulation, PageRank cannot of itself undo any deep forces towards uncompetitive and manipulative behaviour. 18 The evolutionary process can, fascinatingly, be observed on Wikiscanner, the very brilliant piece of software built on top of Wikipedia by Virgil Griﬃth, a student at Caltech, lets you ﬁnd out what anonymous Wikipedia edits have been made by which organisations. The subtle change in the Walmart entry, from a Walmart computer, describing its average wage rate not as “20% less than other retail stores”, but rather “double the federal minimum wage,” shows the kind of micro-mutation that lies behind the Wikipedia process.(Although Wikipedia does not centralise information, a trace of the identity of who has made the change is kept, allowing for a degree of control, for example to exclude consistently unhelpful contributions. Wikiscanner has taken advantage of that information to produce its information sleuthing service.)
Data centralisation is a threat to the individualistic freedom of the moderns. Whenever Google or another Web2.0 behemoth announces a new “free service”, look at the data ﬂows and remember Tim O’Reily’s analysis of where the money is in Web2.0. (See Figure 18)
Figure 18: Follow the money . . . to the database Whatever services can capture large portions of the data relating to who, what when, where and how about every habitual human activity will be sitting on an advertiser’s dream. The commercial incentive to build large information collections is huge.
Picking the battles
The forces of tyranny—whether social or technocratic—seem aligned to make the most of the power of technology. Should we disconnect from the cloud? come oﬀ the grid? return ourselves, if not society, to primitive innocence?19 No. The hopeful potential for the network technologies exists, even when we recognise their power to help tyranny. Once the forces that tend technology towards unfreedom are identiﬁed, we can ﬁght them in the right ways. Kafka, Orwell, McNealy The ﬁght here has to be almost entirely political— our civil liberties need to be fought for against naturally power-loving technocracies. When a state can be trusted, we would want it to deploy surveillance responsibly. When it cannot be trusted—or is not trusted by crucial parts of society—then it must be stopped from using the power of surveillance. Of course, the task of creating trust-worthy states is huge and never-ending. a good place to start is to take a lesson from the freedom of the ancients: collective self-determination was a reality in Athens largely because of its scale. The gigantic states of today, made possible by their eﬃcient use of technology, are not possibly the sorts of bodies over which anyone can feel they exercise determination. De-gigantifying the state is a huge political task, and one that can certainly be helped by technology. Here are just a few links to organisations that are using information to “shame” states into better behaviour. FarmSubsidy.org collects all the information from diﬀerent EU member countries
19 There is certainly a conservative current that has come to this sort of conclusion. Here we have the French conservative, Alain Finkielkraut and a commentary on his ”worrying ecstasy”. XXXXXXX
about who receives what payments from the Common Agricultural Policy. Making the information easily available—for example showing how much the CAP beneﬁts Nestle, large landowners etc—should make it harder to keep acting like this. Mwali Matu, at Mars Kenya catalogues the private interests of members of the Kenyan parliament to keep a check on corrupt legislation. These positive uses of information technology against the might of gigantic states are small. Traditional political action—the support of campaigns to protect civil liberties, for example; or movements for the reform of political institutions, like the eﬀort to re-localise much of our politics—has to be a large part of a sensible course of action. Once we have trustworthy government, we can empower it with technology. Until that point, we should resist moves to the creation of the database state. As entrepreneurs and consumers, there is much we should and could do. This is repeated from the section above, labelled ”for economists”: Google’s business model is to sell your screen-space to advertisers and swap you free-search in exchange. This strange barter economy is very common to Anderson’s world of “Free” (Anderson 2007). But note that there is no fundamental reason not to split out those transactions: I could rent out my screen space through a third party, on privacy terms I could speciﬁy, while I could buy search services from a search provider. The hidden cost of the “Free” lunch is, ultimately, Freedom. Zittrain In the ﬁght to preserve the libero-genic nature of the Internet, the solutions proposed by Zittrain seem right. Prefer those solutions that rely for their incentives and organisation on the freedom of the ancients. Prefer Wikia to Google. Be a good digital citizen and do the equivalent of picking up the litter in public spaces—contribute to the properly decentralised web services. Use what means there are (for example anti-trust) to level the playing ﬁeld against those whose business is, at heart, the centralisation of information. Putting this into practice has implications for us as users, as entrepreneurs and for public policy. Sunstein The Sunstein eﬀect seems like a minor worry compared to the previous 2. Although communities may splinter online, the digital world oﬀers opportunities for multiple overlapping identities. I can be “admin” in the OpenDemocracy forums and “bigtone” on foilpilot.com; TCP on twitter, and I can choose what people see of my activity on FriendFeed. Walzer (1983) argued that the USA more than anywhere else practised an equality between overlapping spheres of justice. A ﬁreman might not be a billionaire, but was certainly a valued ﬁreﬁghter . . . For Walzer, the multiplicity of shperes gave rise to a “complex equality” wherein lay the strength of American society. Online, the idea can be extended. Sunstein’s narrowing of visions should be countered by the proliferation of
identities. The Health Ranger is not only that . . . somewhere else, he will be asking for technical help on how to get rid of a (computer) virus . . . the beliefs, behaviours and people whom he ﬁnds in that role will have an eﬀect on all his other beliefs. as digital citizens, we should always think of who we might be interacting with, of how this particular interaction might break through a Sunstein-barrier. The web is likely to re-inforce the trend that other forces of globalisation contribute to of multiplying our identities (Sassen 2008).20
Figure 19: A call to action Here is a ﬁnal summary in terms of the freedom of the ancients and the moderns (See Figure 19). The unfreedom of the moderns stems from the dangers of agency, dangers exacerbated by gigantism, itself permitted by technology. The unfreedom of the ancients comes from the tyranny of society, the absence of
Mark Pesce has recently written about a ”hyper-Sunstein” eﬀect. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a rapid descent into the Bellum omnia contra omnes, Thomas Hobbes’ ”war of all against all.” A hyperconnected politywhether composed of a hundred individuals or a hundred thousandhas resources at its disposal which exponentially amplify its capabilities. Hyperconnectivity begets hypermimesis begets hyperempowerment. After the arms race comes the war . . . Naturally, governments will seek to control and mediate these emerging conﬂicts. This will only result in the guns being trained upon them. The power redistributions of the 21st century have dealt representative democracies out. Representative democracies are a poor ﬁt to the challenges ahead, and ’rebooting’ them is not enough. The future looks nothing like democracy, because democracy, which sought to empower the individual, is being obsolesced by a social order which hyperempowers him.
Apocalyptic techno-visionaries are also always with us. The Sunstein eﬀect is a slow and weak force, too little to be hanging this sort of apocalypse on.
any notion of the rights of the individual against the group. If techno-society can combine that unfreedom with gigantism—maybe the rise of online nationalism in China is just that sort of a move—then freedom lovers must work to stop it. Technology empowers, but power is the raw material of both freedom and tyranny.
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