I read the news today, oh boy.
I usually read the New York Times daily. On paper, which may surprise those of you who think news only comes electronically. Reading on paper helps one to see how each of the individual articles fit with each other, to discover trends from a context that is not obvious from each of the articles taken alone. And today, Im disheartened.
It is a truism to sociologists that hegemony always carries within it the seeds of its destruction. And sometimes these seeds are blindingly obvious if you just stop looking for trees and just appreciate the forest.
On the front page of the Nov 8 NYT Business Section, an article about Grokster shutting down is positioned next to an article on shoplifting, which in turn is next to an article on Wall Streets glee over the size of their upcoming bonuses, all of which are above an article delineating how retired people are getting nailed by their ex-companies who are using the pension funds as operating capital.
All of these articles are linked together by the metatheme of socially approved greed and socially unapproved greed. These articles delineate the specifics of how people and companies get whatever it is that they want. All of them show the ongoing breakdown of a social compact that a society needs in order to function.
If a company is willing to exploit the very people that contributed in the past to whatever success it now has, how can it justify whatever repressive action it takes when it is, in return, exploited by the consumers it sells to? (Im purposely ignoring the legal arguments to be made here for both actions. This is not about laws; its about causes and effects.) If there were a way to normalize the economic relationships that exist between producer and consumer, the perceived imbalances that exist (when viewed from either partys viewpoint) would not have the same ability to cause the functional disconnects between the two.
Putting it another way, if you dont care about the record label; you dont care that you are ripping it off. If the RIAA shuts down Grokster, you just move to another network and keep downloading. Downloading of copyrighted material is just one example of the kind of problem seemingly solvable by security techniques, but the effort either blows up in your face (think of the Sony/BMG rootkit mess) or is ultimately ineffective (your DRM gets hacked and stripped.)