a glob of nerdishness

December 5, 2011

Beyond 1984

written by natevw @ 4:08 pm

A few weeks after writing that personal computers are no longer quite what they could be, I came across an article declaring that The Personal Computer Is Dead — with the implication being that this is not quite what it should be.

Jonathan Zittrain, in this article (which you should read) and in his book (which I should read), argues that a society in which a few corporations completely control our devices in the name of security, and to better serve their profitholders — that a society which allows that will ultimately end up an un-safe, and un-growing, society. So we should be building up and building on platforms that don’t discourage freedom and sharing and other similarly unpatriotic ideas.

Which is half, but not the better half, of my little Beyond 1984 project.

I’m tempted to say the other half is about homeland-warming things like such as in money making and consumer happiness. But that’s a cynical take. The other half is about putting away cynicism. We already have Zittrain’s “angry nerds”: they’re the Stallmanites, the cypherpunks, the anarcho-pacifists and other tinfoil-hat flouride-fearers that you’d never want at your company Christmas party.

Angry nerds? Angry nerds are a dime a dozen! We’re the solution to what exactly now?

Meanwhile, Twitter’s repressed are excited that maybe Google+Path can re-centralize the violence inherent in Facebook — O frabjous day! And if that’s already more than what 99% of computer owners care about, it’s certainly not the world’s richest 1% who are going to patronize the development of a free society either.

So the other half of going Beyond 1984 is going not so much by avoiding what’s wrong with the Orwellian but by embracing what’s good. Embracing well-distributed, privacy-respecting, citizen-empowering hardware and software designs may be a worthwhile goal — or maybe not.

I don’t imagine anger, or fear, or even schadenfreude, can inspire much great industrial design. Angry nerds like me need to go beyond building systems that are Anti-Ungood. Going beyond what 1984 represents will require abandoning those themes ourselves.

So that’s what this little Beyond 1984 project is: researching libertarian technology, if it could be built for healthy reasons.

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