You’re in a car and as you go around a bend there’s this sense, expectation really, of another car coming in the opposite direction. You can’t see it yet but you hope it stays on its side of the line so as not to swipe you. The feeling I had after watching this brilliant documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, was that the dystopian society we all fear isn’t coming, it is here and headed for us from around the next bend. I think we all secretly sense this and out of denial pray that it stays on its side of the line, hoping it doesn’t side-swipe us during our lifetimes.
This movie details the saga of a genius in our lifetime, Aaron Swartz. He was reading books at the age of 3, doing algebra in elementary school, coded the forerunner of Wikipedia before he was a teenager and by the time he turned old enough to buy his own PG-13 movie ticket was giving lectures as an expert in the fledgling field of computers. He is most famous as one of the founders of Reddit. Deciding he wasn’t interested in joining the ranks of the stock option boys of Silicon Valley where the likes of Zuckerberg care only about money, he became increasingly involved in activism. In his last year of life, he lead the upset charge to stop SOPA. He was becoming a political force to reckon with and that made him dangerous to the powers that be.
The FBI went after him because he downloaded academic journals – not to resell on some Napster like website – but to make the information free. MY GOD! HOW DARE ANYONE MAKE SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION FREE??? Well it turns out that academic journals is a multi-billion dollar business so they were none to happy about having their little criminal enterprise interrupted. The U.S. Government went after Swartz and for the crime of making knowledge free, was prosecuting him, intending to send him to jail for 30-40 years. Americans are use to the horror stories involving the Department of Justice and prosecutors more interested in advancing their careers than delivering true justice. Having spent millions in his defense, his family hounded, his every move monitored by the Feds, Swartz took his own life. He broke under the pressure.
I’ve blogged here about the growing list of people driven to suicide with their own hand or ‘suicide’ with a little help – by car bomb or two bullets to the head – once they become a threat to the Feds. The list has gotten so long over the last couple decades the victims could have their own monument on the Washington Mall – and frankly, probably should.
Freedom is not what we have any more. Swartz not only argued that but proved it. Maybe we never had it. Maybe it was always an illusion. What we increasingly face is a dystopian society that we use to think was only a product of Ray Bradbury and George Orwell stories.
This week I’ve read about how the NSA can now determine who swiped a cell phone, not by a fingerprint, but by the type of swipe used. It seems our fingers move in a distinct pattern. They have facial recognition running on street corners with cameras we don’t even see, they are storing information on how each person walks so that they can be picked out a video clip. Might not see the face but the walk will give you away. The military has robot fighters now, drones taking pics of everything overhead and killing when need be, and there are tanks now that fire by remote control. It has become a game mentality designed to insulate a small slice of society from the rest of us. Americans were surprised by the armour on the streets during riots this past year, should we have been?
Our dystopian fears aren’t fiction any longer, they are an unseen car coming around the corner. For most of us, we just pray it doesn’t hit us and becomes the next guy’s problem. On the other hand, when those in control are drunk on power and money driven, what are the odds of that happening?
This movie is a top-rated film. I’d give it 5 by 5 and say see it! Oh, and the freedom that the Feds wanted to prosecute Swartz for? A 14 y.o. boy read one of those journals Swartz tossed into the public domain for free, and that boy developed a procedure for early prostate cancer detection using what he read. God only knows how many lives that will save though I’m sure it hurt someone’s stock shares when the information was no longer proprietary.