May 142012
 

I’m not crazy about Blu-ray, so I started to think of alternative ways to deliver the 1080p version of the movie and came across these usb bracelets. When I started to think about what else you could put on it, I realized there was a connection to one of the ideas in the movie: that in 2025 the Cloud was repossessed. I like the idea that people can also use it to store their own locally owned data, as insurance against that day. Or even if nothing happens, for a time when you make the choice to get off the Cloud (or the grid) and find out that something you clicked I Agree to years ago limits that choice.

You can buy it here. (Sorry, only DVDs left now.) More thoughts below.

There’s lots of ideas in the movie. Will the Nigerian Spam Cartel really have a military? Will a decimated Zurich make the slums of Toronto look good? For that matter, do I really believe that China will be the first world and North American become the third? I dunno! I’m not a futurist. I haven’t done a ton of economic research, but then again, it’s rare to find a person writing about zombie apocalypses who have done extensive research on disease vectors: that’s where the suspension of disbelief comes in. My role is to tease out the undercurrents of fear and anxiety that exist in our culture to explore this possible future, to populate it with people rather than graphs, to give slang and specificity to it: partially to stimulate political discussion and partially for entertainment. Science fiction can be an inoculation against the future it’s predicting. Without giving the surveillance state a name, I have no doubt that Big Brother would be watching much more closely. There’s always gonna be a mix of sincerity and satire in my stuff — but I think it’s telling that my most sincere work of science fiction, Everyone In Silico, is still inspiring awesome videos like this ten years after I released it.

But in opposition to this fairly lazy-faire attitude I have about a lot of the ideas, I find the notion of the Cloud being repossessed a very real one. The Cloud is dominated by a few companies, and by then they could have merged into one and been sold to the highest bidder. I personally see myself being more and more dependent on Google services: having been frustrated for years by incomplete syncing options, the fact that they’ve done it well has engendered in me an almost pathetic gratefulness. But any centralized power is prone to exploitation and, in an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket way, is vulnerable. It’s nice that the culture at Google is currently anti-Evil. It’s nice that Twitter is not rolling over and handing over data about Occupy activists. But cultures change. And the people who start innovative companies that become huge & powerful are one type of person: the kind of person who is attracted to huge, powerful companies are a different kind of person. When this second wave take the reins they’ll make different decisions.

The dangers of slowly consolidating power is not a very sexy battle cry. I used leaving HarperCollins as a way to discuss this issue in 2000 and have spent a fair amount of time talking about Rupert Murdoch. Of course he’s a terrible person: but he’s just a particularly egregious example of what happens when we allow unlimited consolidation to occur. These days people will bring up Murdoch to me as if finally, my nemesis has been caught: that it’s my time to pull a Malcolm X and opine that chickens have come home to roost. But to be honest I feel like he’s just so consistently outraged people by not playing nice and laying bare the unfairness of the system that he is, in a weird way, a scapegoat.

Our society has enabled Rupert by rewarding him for his unethical behavior with money and influence — the phone hacking scandal is just the most obviously evil stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he’s getting a licking. But my point is that we have to think through ways to limit consolidation of power in these internet services, because otherwise we are building a huge machine for unknown people to use. Sure it’s useful now, but a few generations down the line some equally unethical Murdoch-esque person will weasel their way into the machine’s cockpit and start wreaking havoc on the world. It’s kind of irrelevant if that person happens to be Chinese or not.

  5 Responses to “Syncing Selling and Sincerity”

  1. Sure it’s useful now, but a few generations down the line some equally unethical Murdoch-esque person will weasel their way into the machine’s cockpit and start wreaking havoc on the world.

    Probably by getting the sole-sourced government contract for it, after the fear du jour makes people willing to let anything, anything happen just to make the bad men stop trying to hurt them.

    The possibilities are very real. Obviously I share your fears about how these technologies will evolve so that the general public is the tool of the technologies’ owners, not the other way round. But I’m an optimist — I have to be, with so much of my own life tied, in so many ways, to Google’s and Amazon’s servers.

  2. I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist. To me, consolidated power is like a loaded gun, and it’s just a matter of time before it goes off. I’m in favour of gun control.

  3. I think the USB bracelet is a fantastic idea so I bought one. Thought you should know.

    Also, grammar Nazi here: surely you meant “laissez-faire” and not “lazy-faire” ? These things are like crooked picture frames for me :|

  4. […] awesome. The USB bracelet deliverable of the movie is even more awesome. Also if I was swimming in disposable income I would […]

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