Today, I finally found the time to read up on all the blog and news comments on the We lost the war – Welcome to the World of tomorrow talk Rop and me held at the 22C3. As we intended, people got provoked, outraged, thinking, debating, accusing us of this and that, questioning our analysis, making suggestions what to do. We even got some slightly fossilized know-it-alls provoked enough to comment in blogs and news. This is good.
Of course not everyone understood the talk as we wanted it to be understood: a call to wake up, not an declaration of capitulation. This is unfortunate, but we needed the provocative title to get peoples attention.
Apparently, some people stopped listening after the first part, where we discussed the state of the world. This state is depressing, no doubt about that. Getting it all compressed into 15 minutes may be more then you wanted to hear on a long dark winter night. (Knowledge brings fear, remember?) But we need to face the realities to be able to look forward. If we take a long hard look into the crystal ball, using our intimate grasp of technology to predict how things will develop, and act accordingly, we have actually a very good chance to survive and thrive as a techno-social culture that can change things for the better and offer alternatives and options that would not be there without us. If we stumble on without understanding where the journey takes us, we risk to loose that chance.
Sure, using the term “they” to describe those in power is debatable and wrong, especially if you like your marxist-leninist or other political science flavor of fine-grained political analysis. But if you want to concentrate on the overall effect of technology and the security-intelligence complex on society and, more important, want to talk about how to prepare for the worst to come, it is justified to abbreviate. For this one goal I preferred for once a catchy “they”, instead of boring my audience to death with org-charts of the current power structures and their interdependencies.
What is certainly correct is that we need to talk about the complex relationship between techies and power. The borders are fluid. The way into a position where you can suddenly seriously influence things and get sucked into the logic of power and interest groups and realpolitik is sometimes shorter then many might imagine. Suddenly perspectives change, ethical hurdles become relative, goals shift. We need to talk about this phenomenon, especially as many of us reach a certain age where the chance to end up “inside the system” is really high. I have no good suggestions, except to try to remember where you came from, and reflect on your new goals and ideals, if they are for real and not just forced onto you by the situation.
I did not want to destroy the optimism of those who believe that blogs will save us from the evil entertainment industry powers, that podcasts will bring us eternal freedom from state-controled/controling news monopolies and that lobbying and media work can still change politics for the better. I just seriously doubt that all this will help us, once full scale surveillance and automated selective prosecution have been established, which will be the case within a few short years. Without a working set of technical solutions to preserve a breathing space, chances are that there will be little freedom left to be defended. We are the ones that need to provide this technical breathing space to the political activists.
As Rop said at the closing ceremony: We face a situation where technology has passed the point where there is any chance of toppling a dictatorship that comes into possession of all the new tools. Preventing a dictatorship from happening is no longer a theoretical exercise, but the highest priority.
You may not agree with our analysis. You can certainly point out a number of points that we forgot or ignored. You may think we are depressed doomsday prophets that neglect their own successes. You may even find it all defeatist and boring. But please keep one thing in mind: we might be right. Better to debate where to focus our energy now effectively, then just stumble along and hope that everything will be ok, somehow, magically. So lets talk.