For the Week of June 13, 2005
There are times when history, like television, goes into re-runs.
We have literally turned Iraq into another Vietnam. But we've seen this movie before, so when Rumsfeld does his McNamara imitations, or Bush plays like LBJ's dumber brother, we change the channel.
Yet the fact is that when history repeats (unlike television) it does so in spades, in triplicate.
World War I was horrible. World War II was worse.
Iraq is not the only Vietnam repeat out there. We're doing the same thing with the Internet.
We're ignoring history. We know what would work to secure our computers, and the networks they run on. But we don't act. So we get this incremental escalation, this drip-drip-drip that leaves us, in the end, worse off than we would be had we taken decisive action at the start.
There are laws on the books that should deal with spam, with spyware, and with the problems of identity theft. They can be found under headings like fraud, theft, and fiduciary responsibility. Nothing is being done today that wasn't done before - only the means have changed.
Instead of moving against these problems together, as was attempted in the 1990s, we're leaving everyone on their own, and sometimes the cure winds up being worse than the disease.
Across the board we see escalating conflict.
The Copyright Wars are now putting people in jail for linking. In response we get new software that can't be tracked. The needs of content and the growing open source movement are moving into direct conflict. No one is paying attention.
How bad is it? This week I found a new niche, anti-bloatware software. The Ultimate Troubleshooter evaluates what is running on your PC and tells you whether you need it or not. I was, frankly, shocked to learn that several programs, from reputable vendors, were loading into memory and performing no useful work. Some, in fact, were little more than spyware.
When you can't trust the people who made your PC - and this program makes it clear you can't - you're bound to be changed by the experience. You're going to start questioning other things. You're going to go over to the other side.
What we need, more than anything, is respect for law, for rules, for norms of behavior, and the shunning of people who violate those norms. Laws and contracts that are one-sided are also short-sighted. They encourage people to violate them, to move from healthy skepticism to unhealthy cynicism, and turn a handful of terrorists into an army ripe for revolution.
Where is the tipping point? That can't be predicted. Bush and company believe they have carte blanche. So do Microsoft and the Copyright industries.
But they don't. No one ever does.
The permission voters, or users, give is always conditional. They represent trust. Violations of trust are always punished over time, and the greater the violation the greater the punishment.
There are many circuit-breakers, both in our political and technical systems, aimed at maintaining respect for order. These circuit-breakers have been broken, leading both our country and our technology toward a very dangerous cliff.
The fall will be hard for those who broke trust with us. But there will also be significant collateral damage. From the dot-bomb I know that my fate is tied to society's fate, and not my foreknowledge. I warned you of the dot-bomb, but suffered along with you during it.
There are bigger disasters ahead. Good luck.
I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source for ZDNet.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of mediator for mobile phone users.
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Best of the Week
Why is consolidation such a bad word? Because it means that innovation is over, that the business is now about squeezing out profits. Unemployment inevitably follows. So too does bad service.
We do have a values problem in this country. Too many of us have short-term values.
Mark Glaser's best column yet for USC's Online Journalism Review is on the subject of Googlebombing.
When we count the costs of spam we usually think in terms of bandwidth, the hours spent clearing it out of our systems, and (sometimes) the cost of our anti-spam solution sets. But there are other, uncounted costs to spam which dwarf those.
National business magazines are deader than Mr. Pinstripe Suit.
In order to succeed a blog must be spontaneous, fun, news-oriented and irreverent. If it sounds like a corporate communication it will be treated as such, and either be ignored or laughed-at.
the Digirati are reacting like Anderson just discovered fire. And the Long Tail is no less obvious.
What's non-trivial is finding a way to profit from these atomized markets.
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is a market solution to the Copyright Wars, which iTunes is beginning to provide.
Clueless are housing prices, and the price of Google. All booms bust. Don't try to be the last out the door.
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