For those of you who read these writings regularly, understanding the running theme that sovereign nations’ physical borders are very quickly becoming meaningless is a regular subject here. Whether we choose to understand that the Internet is changing our lives in ways we really can’t begin to fathom or acknowledge that almost everything we do in our lives is being influenced by this new communications platform makes little difference, the “net effect” is there nonetheless.
If you need a few concrete examples, some of the laws proposed by well-intentioned but clueless members of the United States Congress with respect to copyrighted materials or even pornography would be a good place to start. But other, less publicized stories are probably showing the impact of technology, oftentimes done by only a few people in a dark basement are making major changes in the way this infrastructure will influence the future.
Take these three gentlemen, the creators of Psiphon, which is a incredibly disruptive technology designed to skirt censorship in countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia among others. This latest version of the pick that opens the newest lock is another push in the direction of loss of control by a sovereign nation as to what is acceptable use for their citizens to use the Internet.
If we look to the examples I used earlier that the US Congress is trying to enact, we can see a corollary between the US government’s enforcement of morality and the Chinese government’s enforcement of “acceptable information” and how neither country is really fully capable of any kind of real control.
In the case of the United States, we have the somewhat difficult regulation which allows the local community to set their own standards as to what is considered to be obscene. The “I know it when I see it.” law (clearly detailed here) is now becoming almost unintelligible as the entire world becomes our local community.
When the US Congress wanted to make hosting pornography more difficult, the “Adult Entertainment industry” simply moved their hosting business offshore to countries that have no such regulations. The net effect to the subscribers of this service? In all reality, none.
What is happening here is a migration from what control a government actually has over their citizens. While there is certainly the implied understanding that is someone is caught violating local law they can and probably will be dealt with the other side of the discussion must include how much longer it will be possible for local governments to even be able to monitor their citizens or control their activity.
The ramifications of this is nothing short of staggering.
What happens when a government loses control over many of the aspects they used to believe they had the right to control? Do they mandate that we will have to comply? And if they do and too many people refuse to listen? Would this lead to a situation like what happened with Prohibition where prosecutors were unable to get convictions and the law was overturned? How about the “war on drugs” and how successfully that is being waged? We have the highest percentage of population of any industrialized country in the world incarcerated in “for profit” prisons and drug use still hasn’t declined in any real measurable way.
Are we looking at a fundamental breakdown in how our system works? If more and more laws are passed to prevent the free exchange of material (yes, even objectionable materials) how long before we reach a state where very few people are actually complying with these laws? How long before we come to the conclusion that government is no longer serving the majority of the people? But most importantly, at what point does the local government secede control to the greater world since it can no longer filter what can and cannot be exchanged?
It appears that the next revolution will be carried live on the Internet. The strange thing is that I don’t think a fair number of people understand that it is happening right now, as you read this and it is gaining momentum very, very quickly.
We all know change is coming. If history has taught us anything (and that is still up for debate) change has been one constant and no matter how much we try to fight it change will continue to happen. The real question that needs to be addressed is can we shape this change or should we learn to graciously accept it?
My concerns are that we will refuse to acknowledge it and fight harder against it. Where the real problem comes in is the rate change is occurring. Technology has passed the point of innovation happening at breakneck speed and has now become so pervasive that it has reached the point of overwhelming for the majority of us.
And that is where the real contention lies.
We will learn to adapt or cease to be relevant.
Thankfully, there are some truths that never change.