Prelude to the Singularity

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:26:55 PDT

(thought I'd give you guys a peek at a short op-ed piece I'm working
on, re the RIAA's actions and the proposed boycotts. :-)

The Day the Music Died II

This is a really grim day, all around. Not only have we thrown the
baby out with the bathwater, we've stabbed it a few times on the way
out. The RIAA's legal victory over Napster and the imminent shutdown
of the Napster service are only the opening shots in what will be a
bloody and protracted (if virtual) civil war, complete with its own
arms race. Far from protecting the music industry's broken and
antiquated business models and practices, this will merely ensure that
technologists --- in particular, bright kids and college students with
talent, motivation, little money, and definite anti-establishment
biases --- will escalate the battle, creating ever more secure,
untraceable, decentralized tools to accomplish peer-to-peer
filesharing, secure and free communication, anonymous commerce, and
other possibly "illicit" applications. That is, tools that cannot be
shutdown by a court order, and tools that by virtue of their anonymity
and lack of traceability will be impossible to regulate legally short
of draconian law enforcement that steps on everyone's civil liberties.

Popular folklore has it that the Internet was designed with
decentralized routing protocols in order to withstand a nuclear
attack. That is, the Internet "senses damage" and "routes around
it." It has been said that, on the 'Net, censorship is perceived as
damage and is subsequently routed around. The RIAA, in a sense, has
cast itself in a censor's role. Consequently, the music industry will
be perceived as damage --- and it will be routed around. There is *no
doubt* that this will happen, and that technology will evolve more
quickly than businesses and social institutions can; there are
numerous highly-visible projects already underway that attempt to
create technology that is invulnerable to legal challenges of various
kinds. Julian Morrison, the originator of a project (called Fling,
cf. [1]) to build a fully anonymous / untraceable suite of network
protocols, expresses this particularly eloquently:

     Fling is the weapon of last resort, but it is needed. Since
     the law is has become a tool to commit armed crimes against
     disarmed victims, Fling will make online communication
     forever lawless.

The music industry has opened a pandora's box by refusing to recognize
the need for changes to their business models and practices in the
context of the Web. I fully support a total boycott of RIAA
recordings and bands, not only in August of this year, but perpetually
until the music industry recognizes the need for change and begins to
work towards solutions that truly and fairly balance between their own
needs and those of and music fans.

It's All About Change

What's really going on here is scary in a very big, very real, very
global way. The basic problem is that the pace of change due to
technology has begun to outstrip society's ability to accommodate
change. My great grandparents spent weeks travelling across the US in
a horse-drawn wagon; my grandparents on both sides of the family grew
up in houses without electricity or indoor plumbing. Until as
recently as three generations ago, change was gradual; you could
safely assume that the conditions you grew up and lived in were
approximately the same as the conditions your parents, or even your
grandparents, grew up in. Social institutions, business practices,
and everyday philosophy only had to change gradually, over
generations. Today, not only are the conditions we live in vastly
different from those of previous generations, there are even vast
intragenerational differences in assumptions and conditions.
Example: I was talking to a friend who has two teenage daughters; he
told me that they *never* use the telephone anymore --- instead, they
use buddy lists / instant messaging / chat as their primary and
preferred means of communicating with friends. The preferred method
of P2P communications for decades - the telephone - has been or is in
the process of being replaced among teenagers (who are admittedly more
"change-capable" than just about anybody else) by an innovation that's
less than 4 years old!

This goes beyond questions of fashion, coolness factor, and trend.
The problem is simply that as change happens, the things that worked
and were efficient and useful yesterday are no longer useful and
efficient. This applies to business models, communications
mechanisms, almost every aspect of popular culture, and so on.

The problem's only going to get worse. Despite the massive change
that's taken place just in my adult lifetime (I'm 32) we're just
*barely* into the "elbow" on the change curve. I've come to believe
that Moore's Law, the lesser-known so-called Poor's Law [2] (density
of network addresses, i.e. a metric for connectivity) and similar
things are merely specific instances of a more general, perhaps
physically fundamental law related to increasing complexity in
self-organizing systems. I believe that "technological society" ---
its institutions, its interrelationships, and its infrastructure ---
consititute just such a self-organizing system, and such systems
appear to inevitably grow non-linearly. And therein lies the rub.

The First Web War

What we're seeing here, with Napster, is one of the first really
serious instances of conflict between a large, powerful, change-averse
collective organism (the music industry and its supporting memes and
systems, i.e. copyright / IP law and its institutions) and a newer,
more "highly-evolved" meme / organism (i.e., technologically-empowered
kids / college students / fans) that's pushing the change curve. The
reaction on the part of the RIAA - ignore change, ignore demand,
refuse to adapt, and then attempt to use legislation / government /
law enforcement as a tool to maintain the status quo - is probably
going to be standard operating procedure in all such conflicts. And
we're going to see more and more of this as technological change and
innovation continue to accelerate. We're witnessing the opening shots
of the First Web War.

What I worry about is this: is it possible that we human beings are,
at some fundamental level, hardwired to be averse to change? Even
bright, technologically savvy people such as David Coursey seem to see
this in black and white, in purely "traditional" terms. [3] Is it
possible that our psychosocial "elasticity" with respect to change is
beginning to be exceeded? If that's true, what happens as the change
delta over unit time grows bigger and bigger?

I don't know what's going to happen, but this whole thing stinks.


PS - I kind of make a hobby out of tracking "meme evolution." Check
out my feed - Seis-meme-meter - on [4]

[4] http:/|3|65|

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