As a Kid, I used to swap and copy Amiga games and scene demos with friends and I built up quite a sizeable collection. Prior to that I copied ZX Spectrum games tape to tape, and really didn't think much of it. Sure, I'd seen adverts warning me
about the illegalities of copying but they were in direct contradiction to what my Mum always used to tell me "sharing is good."
My sister's boyfriend at the time worked for HM Customs and Excise and he would regularly bust people who profited from selling pirated VHS videos, seizing their wares in the process. Ironically, his private collection of pirated VHS videos was the biggest I'd ever seen. I guess one of the perks of his job was to bring home copies of Point Break and Dirty Dancing, just like a Starbucks worker might pinch the odd cookie to take home.
My sister later went out with a cop (I guess she must have had something for uniforms). I remember sitting in the cop's car one day and remarking on what an awesome music collection he had; it comprised nearly without exception of pirated music on C60 cassette tapes. You know, like how most peoples' cars in the '80s and early '90s looked.
I though to myself, well If a policeman didn't care much for the copyright law then does that tell us more about the cop or the law itself?
I've met several cops since who openly admit to smoking weed and taking ecstasy and few of them would think twice about downloading the latest movie over bittorrent. These aren't bad cops, they're some of the finest people I've met in life. "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other"
- Stewart Brand, 1984
One of the Amiga disks that fell into my collection as a kid was a huge e-book called 'The Jolly Roger's Cookbook'
. I was about 13 or 14 at the time. In it were in-depth how-to's on everything from how to make LSD and get high from banana skins to detailed guides on hacking VAX machines, ATM's and phone booths, and even bomb making instructions.
This book, for me, personified the geek mantra that 'information wants to be free'. I read every chapter avidly, fascinated, transfixed, as did many of my friends. It was better than any chemistry lesson.
We have this notion, of course, to err towards protectionism. "Some information is too dangerous to be free" those in possession of it will often argue. No doubt that had I told my rather conservative Mother of the dangerous instruction manual residing in my disk collection, she would have called the police for my own good. Fortunately, I and my friends had the good sense to keep our copies of the Cookbook as secret as the hidden porn mag stash we found in the bushes behind our school.
And so here I am some 20+ years later with all the knowledge of the Jolly Roger's Cookbook stored in my noggin and still I haven't done anything more dangerous with it than make an exploding tennis ball and the odd free phone call to see if my mates wanted to go play football in the park.* (*No people or animals were harmed during the explosion of the tennis ball but some shareholder profits may have been harmed by the phone calls).
Three or four years after I read the Cookbook, I remember going to watch Fight Club at the cinema with a few friends. I had no idea what the movie was about before going in, but I came out of that cinema a different person.
Palahniuk's blistering polemic on western consumerism and excess, culminating in the controlled demolition of skyscrapers housing the financial records of every American, as the Pixies 'Where Is My Mind'
pumped into the cinema at 1000 decibels simply blew me away. As a buregoning idealistic computer scientist, the fall of those skyscrapers represented nothing more than the eradication of 1's and 0's in a mainframe… Just bits of information, something that - at least in theory - could be erased with nothing more than a series of gentle anarchistic keystrokes. Certainly, Tyler's vision could be achieved without the need for bombs or the sacrifice of poor old Robert Paulson's tear-soaked manboobs
For many a geek and hacker around the world, Fight Club felt like a call to arms. And, whilst fighting SOPA, the NSA, RIAA and many others in the name of freedom of information, we patiently awaited the arrival of Tyler Durden and a set of rules…
And arrive he did, almost exactly 10 years after the release of Fight Club.
His name was Satoshi Nakamoto. (His name was Satoshi Nakamoto).
And he proved to be as elusive and otherworldly as Tyler himself. He came prepared with a full set of rules too, rules as simple and immutable as those of Fight Club (although it was fine if you bought shoes and a shirt with you). "[Bitcoin] was the beginning, now it's moved out of the basement, it's called Project Mayhem."
We hear a lot of talk about revolution nowadays: from Russell Brand
and the Occupy Movement to the Arab Spring, the internet is bringing people together in an unprecedented way, giving oxygen to ideas, information and viewpoints that need no rubber stamp from authorities, nor approval from incumbents looking to protect the status quo. Crucially, this information is getting out there at close-to-zero cost, at an ever-increasing velocity and with global reach.
Bitcoin, your bank balance, like the DNA in your body or the cluster of an atomic nucleus, is just information
. And, just like that DNA in your body, it neither needed nor sought permission to come into being.
The technology luddites and those who profit from keeping information expensive will give their all to stopping this information revolution and stemming the flow. Be it in the name of corporate profits or National Security, they will tell you that some information is just too valuable and/or dangerous to be free. And nothing is more dangerous or valuable than the information that represents the amount of loaves you can put on a table, or the amount of votes you can buy to keep those loaves in the coterie of you and your friends.
And yet their efforts to censor and subvert will be thwarted time and time again, just as we have seen with the entertainment industries failure to stop bittorrent, the taxi drivers' attempts to stymie UBER, and the futile governmental backlash against Snowden and Assange.
Slowly but surely the gatekeepers are being deprecated. Deprecated because, embedded deep in the psyche of every one of us, is the voice of our Mother telling us that 'sharing is good'. And that idea took hold long before the middlemen could contrive to trick our psyches into believing otherwise.
No matter who you work for, what flag you live under or party stripe you wear, the idea that 'sharing is good' is common to all humanity.
And it is with this in mind that there's a policewoman right now downloading a "Let's be Cops" torrent from Piratebay to watch with her son and daughter, who have just cut their cupcake in half.
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