Information Age or Dark Ages?

January 30, 2012

In the Guardian today (30 Jan, 2012),  the prize-winning writer Jonathan Franzen says that ebooks “will have a detrimental effect on the world” because they lack permanence.  “Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now,” Franzen says, “but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring,”

Franzen may have something there.  I think our growing reliance on electronic communication (eg email) and publication (eg ebooks, .doc and .pdf documents) leaves future archaelogists and historians very little to work with.  No doubt many readers think that the present will be remembered for all time, that we live in a never-ending Information Age.  Well, the Romans were also arrogant enough to believe that their imperial glory would last forever; well, the ancient Roman age didn’t last forever, and their written literature was lost for a long time, resulting in the so-called “Dark Ages”.  So, if we put our arrogance to one side for a moment, we have to accept that the Information Age will come to an end; and that our ever-growing reliance on electronic forms of documentation will lead to the loss of our literature and written history, and our wonderful Information Age will be looked back upon as another Dark Ages.

The only way to prevent our civilisation from receding into obscurity is to make sure there are hard-copy backups of everything we create.  But that’s not going to happen.  We are not going to print every email we write or receive, every essay or article or novel we write, for posterity.  Where will be able to store all this stuff?  We have back-ups on external hard drives and DVDs and tape; and we also have “the cloud” to store files, so we may not even have physical possession of the storage medium. We can act like little Ozymandiases and claim that our data will always be accessible – but that isn’t necessarily true.  I’ve got files saved in old proprietary formats on floppy disks.  I might be able to retrieve the data if I try really hard – but this is just 20 or 25 years after its creation.  Will it still be accessible in 100 years?  1000 years?

We think our progress and ideas and creations are so Earth-shatteringly grand and important; but in the end maybe all our achievements will amount to nothing.  And ironically, it will be our technological achievements that cause their own disappearance – if only we’d used a pen to write everything down on paper.

 

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

~”Ozymandias”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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SOPA and PIPA down but not out. Watch this space…

January 21, 2012

The Wikipedia-led “black Wednesday” seems to have done some good. SOPA and PIPA votes have been postponeded, seemingly because of the onine action. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said: “The decision to postpone the votes was made in light of “recent events,” – taken to be a reference to Wednesday’s day of action.

But remember, the votes have been postponed, not cancelled. The issue is bound to resurface at some point, probably while the world’s attention has been drawn elsewhere by a tsunami or something. So Watch This Space – and other spaces too, I’m not exactly the most regular of correspondents. SOPA and PIPA are hurt but not dead. We gotta be ready to administer the coup de grace.


Megaupload.com shut down by USA… even though it’s run from New Zealand

January 21, 2012

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere the past few days, I thought I’d fill you in: the popular “internet locker” storage site Megaupload.com has been closed down by the USA because of charges of alleged “piracy”. Apparently:

Shotguns, a Rolls Royce Phantom and millions of dollars were seized from properties linked to Megaupload on Friday, as the US sought to extradite the file-sharing firm’s founders over online piracy claims

and it seems that our of the seven Megaupload executives arrested, including founder Kim Dotcom, appeared in a New Zealand courtroom for a first appearance in what is likely to be a lengthy extradition process. USA authorities, clearly following orders from the vested interests in the SOPA/PIPA controversy, the US wants to put Megaupload bosses on trial for charges including accusing them of racketeering, money laundering and copyright infringement. It’s widely reported (even by the Guardian, damn their eyes!) that Aukland police seized luxury cars, firearms and millions of dollars in cash. As if ownership of nice legal stuff somehow makes these people guilty.

When Kim Dotcom spoke to press, apparently unfazed, he said he has “nothing to hide”

I really don’t get this raid at all. Megaupload.com is an online locker service, where the pubic can buy storage space for files. Megaupload does not examine all these files, but if someone reports that their intellectual rights are being infringed, Megaupload immediately take down the content in question. This all suggests to me that Megaupload is exactly the lawful, prudent service that should be protected under “safe harbor” laws. Ad I certainly don’t get where the US authorities are involved. As the EFF put it: “If the United States can seize a Dutch citizen in New Zealand over a copyright claim, what is next?”.

This is all clearly meant to bolster the case of those who back the draconian SOPA/PIPA laws being considered in the USA. SOPA/PIPA garnered a lot of bad press on “black-out Wednesday” and President Obama’s stated intent to veto the ridiculous laws.

One more interesting factoid: The Pirate Bay was nearly wrecked by Swedish authorities following US orders. And now New Zealand has done the same. So tell me something: when did the entire world become USA juridiction? And WTF are we going to do about it?

Go to Megaupload.com and you get to see this

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Wednesday 18 January 2012… The Day The (Online) World Stood Still

January 19, 2012

Thursday, 19 Jan 2012

Well, what a to-do “Blackout Wednesday” caused! A world of students couldn’t do their homework because Wikipedia went offline (Does serve em right though…students should not be using Wikipedia as the basis of their online research/plagiarism. Google and Bing were still working, as were most other websites; and in a worst-case scenario they could still haul ass to the local library and, you know, look at an actual book!. In fact, all sorts of stuff happened (or didn’t happen) during Black-out Wednesday – far too much for me to catalogue here – so here’s a link to a Guardian webpage that handily links on to lots of news and comment on the momentous day and its meanings and effects.

I’m not an American, and, like most people (including Americans FFS!), I don’t know much about the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws. But I do know this: SOPA/PIPA will enable intellectual property owners (mostly media, movie and music corporations) to block access to any websites the corporations claim are infringing their intellectual property rights – without any judicial or statuary oversight. And Americans won’t be the only victims of this censorship. As a lot of the internet’s infrastructure goes through the USA or US-related systems, online users everywhere will be affected. SOPA/PIPA isn’t just an American problem: its tendrils reach out everywhere. So come on, American action heroes – it’s time for you to save the world again!

I already said I’m not a PIPA/SOPA expert. But these guys are. So click that link (here it is again), find out what SOPA and PIPA would actually mean to your life, and learn what you can do to stop it. There’s some pretty simple action you can do to help, without even leaving your seat – but, because PIPA and SOPA are US legal proposals, only Americans can do them. So go on, USA, do the right thing – cos if you don’t, it might end up that no one anywhere will be able to do their homework from the comfort of their basement!!! :p

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