The FoRKless revolution...

Gary Lawrence Murphy garym@canada.com
30 Oct 2001 11:45:22 -0500


Is geek sociology a geeky subject? ;)

>>>>> "A" == Adam L Beberg <beberg@mithral.com> writes:

    A> I have noticed an unexpected thing. As the recession and things
    A> have hit, geeks have pulled away from working on open source or
    A> revolutionary projects

I have peerkat monitoring about 40 feeds, and yes, since 911, almost
all of them have stopped --- _except_ FoRK.  Curiously, normally
self-professed "socially conscious" newsgroups like rec.music.folk
almost completely ignored 911, whereas the list with the most seasoned
commentary and excellent international references was FoRK.  I don't
remember how many posts from here I forwarded to my local news media
and government reps, but there were many.

Curiously, another channel that stopped post-911 was an international
development list run by the Internet Society.  There was a brief
flurry of messages as cultures clashed over points of mutual propaganda,
a very good thread by Vint on the value of Internet in a civil crisis,
then dead silence.

What is interesting to me is how so much shut down almost completely
after the bombing started.  Or was it the bombing?  We had lively
exchanges of counter-spin (not just here), and then --- silence.

Maybe it's a combination that serendipitously converged in Sept 2001.
IT bubble burst, P2P hit hard problems, Napster and the DMCA, WTC and
new security rules, a new McCarthy-esque reactions to non-conformity,
and Windows-XP...

    A> ... their geek skills now a worthless commodity. I expected the
    A> opposite since everyone from economists to engineers always
    A> claim a recession is when all the neat things happen.

Sorry to be the bringer of bad news, but geek skills have always been
worthless ;) We work on imaginary stuff for unproven gains.  repeated
studies show our computer-enabled world is less productive, costs more
to run, and is generally worse off. Constant "innovation" means our
infrastructure is never complete, and must be replaced long before
it's either paid for itself or been amortized off the books.  There
are exceptions, but aren't we drowning in our own technological
progress?

Could the reason for the apparent 90's boom due directly to hysterical
spending on IT in the hopes it would lead us to a StarTrek world
promised land? -- in the mid-90's, IT industries pulled ahead of
smokestack industries in share of the GNP, leaving us with an economy
fueled by feeding on itself, a circular economic argument. Let's face
it, it was doomed.  In those few projects which beat the 60% project
failure rate, IT was largely used not to increase productivity, but to
replace and displace people, creating more social strain in a world
where the Baby Boomers were soon to join the retirement set and add
even greater social burden.  IT may have had local gains, but could
the whole-system gains from IT cope with the growing social debt?

Of course, that's only an assessment if you subscribe to the
non-libertarian (small 'l') economic models.  Traditionally, ubergeeks
contain a disproportionate percentage of libertarianist thinkers,
hence ...

    A> Where did the dreamers and revolutionaries go anyway? 

As Gil Scott Heron pointed out, "The revolution will /not/ be televised"

Are they gone or vanquished, or is it only that the mainstream is
based on the Old World Order and thus, when threatened, ceases to toy
with the revolutionaries, believing them to now be dangerous?  Big
Money's attention shifted from "Ubiquitous and Open Communications" to
the direct opposite carnivore-world of "Everyone is Suspect" in an
almost classical McLuhan-style flip, and ubergeeks, being
libertarianistic, tend to align with the first group more than the
second.

I don't believe that means the "Information Freedom League" is
disbanded.  I think they are outside the tunnelvision of the
zeitgeist.  Who wants to talk about Hacktivismo if it could be used to
plan the next terrorist attack? --- if we all remember correctly, and
if we recast that statement into the frame of reference of the Chinese
Government, isn't this, after all, /exactly/ why Hacktivismo was being
developed?  Could it be the "IFL" are now afraid to speak lest
authorities make that connection and shut them down as "those who
support terrorist activities"?

A brief look at monster.ca shows there are still just as many job
postings, just as many new business projects.  So "needing to work"
per-se is maybe not an excuse any more than it was pre-911.  What has
changed is the side of the Freedom coin of those jobs.  They are
almost all security related, or financial trading systems.  Also (IMHO
fortuitously) missing are those IT-bubble jobs where you get paid top
dollar to play arcade games while listening to MP3s; these have
largely collapsed (or been sucked up someone's nose) but that was
probably inevitable and hey, when a pop festival is over, you don't
moan that its over, you remember the good times and move on.

Maybe this is all just another manifestion of consumer confidence.
After the 1993 WTC bombing, consumer spending returned to normal
within 3 months, and after the Gulf War, it took a year, but the
culture eventually absorbs the shock and gets back to the day to day.
Maybe what we're seeing is just another manifestion of the same thing.
I remember the Gulf War's effect on Usenet as somewhat the same case
of freedom-thinking submerging while pro let's-kick-butt-for-oil-profits 
attitudes were so prevalent, I almost left this industry for good.

-- 
Gary Lawrence Murphy <garym@teledyn.com> TeleDynamics Communications Inc
Business Innovations Through Open Source Systems: http://www.teledyn.com
"Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers."(Pablo Picasso)