Dystopia lfnw2013

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Can free software help us stop or ameliorate the coming apocalypse? Maybe... I discuss technological literacy, monopolies, open formats and free software through the lense of classic power structures.

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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.
  • Dystopia lfnw2013

    1. 1. Technology and Dystopia:How Free SoftwareCould Save the WorldDeb Nicholson4.27.2013
    2. 2. Appalachia
    3. 3. Power isntalwayscomplicated
    4. 4. Knowing the rulesdoesnt mean you can change them
    5. 5. I dontsee alion
    6. 6. Robotoverlords?
    7. 7. Increasetech literacy
    8. 8. Avoidconsolidation
    9. 9. Whos really in charge?
    10. 10. CC-BY-SABoat! by Kwame NkansahGiant Eye by swanksalotPublic DomainNosferatu from WikipediaCC-BYRed Sky by Michael LehenbauerSmokehouse by Don OBrienGirls in Papua New Guinea byOLPCCouple by Aditya RahkmanRobots by jerekeyCat and Mouse by steve p2008Referee by Dan 4thLion by Fountain HeadGenoese Fortress by vanderfrogdeb@eximiousproductions.comPower and Powerlessness:Quiescence and Rebellionin an Appalachian Valleyby John Gaventa

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