Technology and Dystopia:
How Free Software
Could Save the World
Deb Nicholson
Indiana Linuxfest
7.27.2013
Pollution
Overcrowding
Totalitarianism
The road to hell?
Good for the gander
When things fall apart
“Power and Powerlessness”
“Power and Powerlessness”
By John Gaventa
Primary power
No pretenses
Might makes right
Lunch money
Secondary power
Subtle
One does not simply
walk into Mordor
The vice-principle's kid
Expect the Spanish Inquisition
Moderate reforms
Tertiary power
Insidious
"They worked their men for a song --
and the men sung it themselves."
An unnamed miner
Tom Sawyer
Rebellion?
dissappears
Technology
Technology
changes everything
...except the nature of power
Ignorance
… is very convenient
… is very convenient
for the powerful
Framing the debate
“It's good to be the king.”
Who green-lighted the
Terminator project?
Recommendation #1:
Increase technical literacy
This also empowers people!
Diversity helps us build
better technology
Consolidation is bad
Water
Air
1984
News
Books
Social media
Television
Radio
Recommendation #2:
Actively work against monopolies
How can you fight the unknown?
How big is the enemy?
How can we
choose the right tools?
How can we
choose the right tools?
ZOMBIES
OMG ZOMBIES
OMG ZOMBIES!!!
“cannot open your file”
Sahana
Recommendation #3:
Choose free software
and support open formats
Your browsing habits
May not get you killed
...but then again, they might.
The panopticon encourages
conformity.
Recommendation #4:
We must preserve privacy
I usually confine my scariness
...to the much drier topic of
software patent aggression
Sorry.
More technical literacy
also means more cool ideas
A vibrant marketplace
is more fun
Transparency leads to
a better world
More privacy
means more weird
OMG ZOMBIES!!!
Sorry, again.
Help me make the world
a better place!
CC-BY-SA
Boat! by Kwame Nkansah
Giant Eye by swanksalot
Public Domain
Nosferatu from Wikipedia
CC-BY
Red Sky by Michael Le...
Thanks!
deb@eximiousproductions.com
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013
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Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013

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How free software could save the world, the morning keynote at the Indiana Linuxfest 2013

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  • Slide 1: What is Dystopia? What do I mean by dystopia? A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia, everything is wrong, the system doesn't value people and there is no real recourse. Fictional and real dysopias can be the result of pollution, overcrowding or depletion of resources. These problems lead to some combination of political repression, extreme censorship and/or suppression of history. A totalitarian regime may wield control via phyiscal force, propaganda or by pressuring citizens to relinquish personal control for the betterment of the group -- either for a spiritual goal or an economic one.
  • John Gaventa's seminal work on Power and Powerlessness chronicles 100 years of the struggle for power between the miners and the mining company in an Appalachian valley. He identifies three stages in the struggle for power. 1) Primary power is obvious. Physical power is primary. When miners know that the company controls who eats and who doesn't; that's a primary power structure. When someone is larger and stronger and they demand your lunch money, that's primary power. 2) Secondary power is a bit more subtle. Miners have the illusion of control over their destiny. Features of a secondary power structure include allowing elections for representatives, recourse for grievances and personal decision making -- as long as those things don't hurt the Company. Shorter work days or expensive safety measures aren't up for discussion. People know things aren't right, but they hold out hope for the issues that are currently "outside the scope" of the discussion. Going back to our lunch money example, when the vice-principal's kid asks for your lunch money and you know they have a habit of reporting kids who don't give up their lunch money -- that's secondary power. Your life will be worse if you refuse, but you still know you're being had. 3) Tertiary power is insidious. In Appalachia, miners are proud of being poor, they enjoy identifying as the kind of person who "works hard and plays hard" the kind of person who spends most of their paycheck on Friday night drinking. In this scenario, miners are voluntarily making the choices that are in the company's interest. There is no more rebellion. In our lunch money example, imagine a savvy modern-day Towm Sawyer who convinces the other kids to compete for the chance to give up their lunch money to him. That's tertiary power in a nutshell. These are abstract concepts, so more often than not you'll see a combination of different types of power being exercised at once.
  • Technology is a fantastic tool for exercising secondary power aka framing the debate, It's very easy to control what users do and don't see in the virtual world. Especially when the user doesn't know what to look for. There is the illusion of choices, but the array is limited. The way many people use web services contributes to the erosion of privacy which has the potential to encourage more conformity -- at least outwardly. I'm not a conspiracy person, but when everything you're doing is visible, it can be subjected to scrutiny. In the case of social media, I don't believe that anyone set out to eliminate or diminish our privacy, it just happened. One of the most universal features of totalitarian regimes - both real and fictional - is consolidation of power. In the case of tertiary power, the powerless no longer know they're being had. This is when we welcome our robot overlords with open arms.
  • In 1984, mainstream news tells blatant lies. Citizen journalists in China use Tor (anonymizing software) to write about local events to encourage social change and political reform. Many parts of China currently look a lot like the Appalachian company town I mentioned earlier. Sahana's Eden project (written in Python!) is software designed to help in the wake of a disaster. Any number of post-apocalyptic dystopias could be avoided by careful allocation of resources at a critical moment. Open Document Formats could help us avoid or return from a Farenheit 451 situation where no one reads anymore. Take a look at the Matrix or any of the singularity scenarios. What if the source code was available for those technological overlords? It wuld certaibnly make overthrowing them much easier than trying hack the binaries.
  • ** 1: Increase technological literacy. The more people who understand how technology works, the better they will be able to discern the goals and priorities of the software they use. ** 2: Support software that makes the source code available to users whenever you can. Transparency is critical. Think about voting machines or the way we store government data. What if the information you need to fight off zombie hordes is in an old unsupported format? ** 3: Whenever a technology has more than 60% of the market share, look around for alternatives. Especially if it's got anything to do with the flow of information, like sharing news or media. Social networks that encourage you to use everything through their site or too few outlets for books, music and movies should be regarded with suspicion.
  • hanks for listening! I would urge each and every one of you to work to increase technological literacy, work to promote and improve free software and support a diversity of news and media outlets. Even if we aren't about to usher in a terrible dystopic era, each of these goals is good in and of itself. More technological literacy means more ideas! And a larger pool of people to write software! More ideas from different types of people widens the range of problems we can solve with technology. Free software makes vendor lock-in less likely, which means more autonomy for users and autonomy is good. Working against monopolies, even benign ones, means more competition, more choices and more accountability. So, even if you don't think the robot overlords are on their way, I hope you'll still help save the world with software.
  • hanks for listening! I would urge each and every one of you to work to increase technological literacy, work to promote and improve free software and support a diversity of news and media outlets. Even if we aren't about to usher in a terrible dystopic era, each of these goals is good in and of itself. More technological literacy means more ideas! And a larger pool of people to write software! More ideas from different types of people widens the range of problems we can solve with technology. Free software makes vendor lock-in less likely, which means more autonomy for users and autonomy is good. Working against monopolies, even benign ones, means more competition, more choices and more accountability. So, even if you don't think the robot overlords are on their way, I hope you'll still help save the world with software.
  • Technology and Dystopia, Indiana Linuxfest 2013

    1. 1. Technology and Dystopia: How Free Software Could Save the World Deb Nicholson Indiana Linuxfest 7.27.2013
    2. 2. Pollution
    3. 3. Overcrowding
    4. 4. Totalitarianism
    5. 5. The road to hell?
    6. 6. Good for the gander
    7. 7. When things fall apart
    8. 8. “Power and Powerlessness”
    9. 9. “Power and Powerlessness” By John Gaventa
    10. 10. Primary power
    11. 11. No pretenses
    12. 12. Might makes right
    13. 13. Lunch money
    14. 14. Secondary power
    15. 15. Subtle
    16. 16. One does not simply walk into Mordor
    17. 17. The vice-principle's kid
    18. 18. Expect the Spanish Inquisition
    19. 19. Moderate reforms
    20. 20. Tertiary power
    21. 21. Insidious
    22. 22. "They worked their men for a song -- and the men sung it themselves." An unnamed miner
    23. 23. Tom Sawyer
    24. 24. Rebellion?
    25. 25. dissappears
    26. 26. Technology
    27. 27. Technology changes everything
    28. 28. ...except the nature of power
    29. 29. Ignorance
    30. 30. … is very convenient
    31. 31. … is very convenient for the powerful
    32. 32. Framing the debate
    33. 33. “It's good to be the king.”
    34. 34. Who green-lighted the Terminator project?
    35. 35. Recommendation #1: Increase technical literacy
    36. 36. This also empowers people!
    37. 37. Diversity helps us build better technology
    38. 38. Consolidation is bad
    39. 39. Water
    40. 40. Air
    41. 41. 1984
    42. 42. News
    43. 43. Books
    44. 44. Social media
    45. 45. Television
    46. 46. Radio
    47. 47. Recommendation #2: Actively work against monopolies
    48. 48. How can you fight the unknown?
    49. 49. How big is the enemy?
    50. 50. How can we choose the right tools?
    51. 51. How can we choose the right tools?
    52. 52. ZOMBIES
    53. 53. OMG ZOMBIES
    54. 54. OMG ZOMBIES!!!
    55. 55. “cannot open your file”
    56. 56. Sahana
    57. 57. Recommendation #3: Choose free software and support open formats
    58. 58. Your browsing habits
    59. 59. May not get you killed
    60. 60. ...but then again, they might.
    61. 61. The panopticon encourages conformity.
    62. 62. Recommendation #4: We must preserve privacy
    63. 63. I usually confine my scariness
    64. 64. ...to the much drier topic of software patent aggression
    65. 65. Sorry.
    66. 66. More technical literacy also means more cool ideas
    67. 67. A vibrant marketplace is more fun
    68. 68. Transparency leads to a better world
    69. 69. More privacy means more weird
    70. 70. OMG ZOMBIES!!!
    71. 71. Sorry, again.
    72. 72. Help me make the world a better place!
    73. 73. CC-BY-SA Boat! by Kwame Nkansah Giant Eye by swanksalot Public Domain Nosferatu from Wikipedia CC-BY Red Sky by Michael Lehenbauer Smokehouse by Don O'Brien Girls in Papua New Guinea by OLPC Couple by Aditya Rahkman Robots by jerekey Cat and Mouse by steve p2008 Referee by Dan 4th Lion by Fountain Head Genoese Fortress by vanderfrog deb@eximiousproductions.com Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley by John Gaventa
    74. 74. Thanks! deb@eximiousproductions.com

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