Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hacking Hackerthink

The lines continue to be drawn between copyright owners and information sharers, with the former criminalizing the latter. I don't necessarily trust hackers, and have criticized them. This post, however, highlights their perspective. The UK's famous graffiti artist, Banksy, has weighed in on the debate between old media and the Internet, and he stresses the lack of respect that copyright owners and marketers have for consumers.

Owly Images

Image Source: Ken Kaminesky.

During the Cold War and after, advertising, mass entertainment and the media got totally out of control. These businesses have had no problem using subliminal images, product placements, psychological manipulation, and frightening and threatening messages to goad and bully consumers. For an example from the 1960s, see this leaked document on incredibly creepy imagery embedded in a cigarette ad. Or see this example, from this year's Grammy Awards ceremonies. If the Twitter feeds and news reports on the latter mess are anything to go by, the imagery and context left viewers subtly upset for days.

How free are consumers to choose whether or not they want to buy something, when they are bombarded by compelling symbolism and information that could be considered harmful? And when consumers do want a particular product, the marketing strategy, not the demand, increasingly determines whether the product is still produced over time.

The past seventy years show bad faith on the part of firms. How much loyalty do consumers owe to a corporate brand that will stop at almost nothing - including psychological abuse - to get their business? Capitalist critics would say the relationship between firms and consumers was always toxic, but the modern entertainment and media industries have become a special breed of animal. They are powerful; they are political; and they won't give up what they see as their rightful market shares of our cerebral cortices easily. Many firms and media outlets also do not seem to be all that interested in their own, mass-produced products anymore; the hype is more important than the real, sub-standard stuff for sale which is being hyped.

It might do to have a mass medium that firms and governments cannot appropriate and control to their ends. Of course, many believe that mass medium to be the Internet. For the past eight years or so, the Internet has become a battleground, as firms try to take it over and embed their manipulative marketing techniques inside it. At the same time, hackers and netizens try to retain, or claim they are fighting to protect, the Internet's integrity. They are also trying to puncture the giant bubble of screwy media-driven politicized illusions, a bubble which makes it almost impossible to hear any news about reality anymore.

This week, HuffPo reported that the Anonymous/Antisec/WikiLeaks Stratfor data dump has brought to light e-mails which directly contradict MSM stories about the fate of Osama Bin Laden's body. At the time of writing, you could still read the Stratfor leaked docs here.

I feel like unimaginative Mr. Gradgrind: I just want a news outlet that tells me the facts. I don't want spin. I don't want to be told how to understand absolutely everything. I'm aware of the conflict between security and transparency. But I really don't like it when MSM outlets lie. The same goes for culture. I don't want my culture pre-chewed and pre-digested, and stuffed with hideous subliminal crap, thanks.

Take this debate one step further and apply it to the erosion of personal privacy. Imagine if that MSM subliminal spin machine gained copyright over the facts of our private lives, and began spinning us. Consider the bone-chilling prospect that when we sign up for a site like Facebook, we have potentially signed away the copyright over parts of ourselves to Facebook and its unknown associated firms. Facebook's penchant for changing privacy rules, bit by bit, shows just how flimsy its assurances are about protecting private information. There is nothing benevolent about Facebook and its associates. I posted a TED talk about the possibility that Facebook could start product placements in personal photos, thereby subtly altering personal histories, memories, past realities. Stalin's chickens come home to roost.

I am always amazed by parents who post photos of their children online, never grasping that they have released images of, and information about, their children (who have no say or are not consulted in the matter) to the control of unknown parties. Thirty or forty odd years down the road, some of those pictures will be worth something, whether those children grow up to be important people or not. Those children will not own the right to control those images, because their parents thoughtlessly gave up the rights to them, long before. That example doesn't even scratch the surface of voluntary loss of control, which individuals have enabled globally over the past ten years, over their own images, their own identities, their tastes and values.

At present, firms can use that information to market goods and services to us. But imagine an Orwellian future with changed privacy laws, where the successors of firms like Facebook inherit control over private information that Facebook (or an Internet provider, or some random Website) quietly scored back in the period from 2000 to 2015. Imagine those changed laws suddenly allowing future firms to exploit or publish that data at will and use it however they want. And again: if post-World-War-II-era firms have not been acting in good faith up until now, why should they start in the future?

Imagine every dodgy Website you ever visited. Every comment you ever made online. Every compromising or private photo, image, opinion or video you ever posted. Or imagine the information you posted or accessed that is harmless now, but will not be considered to be so later. I have wondered how any blog (cough, cough) might be read in a Handmaid's Tale future. When blogs first started to appear, I followed one called House Atreides (I think it has been taken down: I don't think it is this one). The blogger there suddenly pulled the plug one day with a cryptic, disquieting and paranoid announcement about blogging and Internet safety.

Imagine 2025: your private Millennial Internet data is running on a billboard in Times Square, along with your name, DOB, credit card information, driver's license number, passport number, social security/national insurance number, and health and employment records, your personal connections, your education, and your whole personal photo album.

These potential nightmares help reveal why hackers and their supporters are struggling so desperately against copyright as enforced by the modern media, entertainment and marketing industries. The principles of copyright as the legitimate legal statement of the provenance of creation, and the means by which artists and creators are compensated for their works, are sadly far removed from the alarming issues at hand. It also helps to explain, although not justify, hackers who take aim at the establishment. This is why some people regard anonymity, hacking and whistle-blowing to constitute the last barrier for protection of private information as private property.

Addendum: Ars Technica and Hacker News report that the FBI traced hackers involved in the Stratfor hack and have arrested them. (7 March 2012)

Addendum: "Viral Banksy Quote on Advertising Plagiarizes 1999 Zine Essay" (tweeted by All New York News and reported by Gawker; 11-12 March 2012).

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  1. Or as another saying puts it, "Steal from one person and it's plagiarism; steal from many, and it's research." Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, I don't know who originally said it.

    I've done my part to fight SOPA et al. -J

  2. There is some chatter that Banksy's quotation was plagiarized. Plagiarism is rampant in Humanities courses in the universities, perhaps because of the erosion of copyright due to the Interent and hacking. It is a serious problem. Also, it is becoming difficult to make it clear to students that intellectual provenance, the copyright statements of where and when ideas appeared and who had them first, are important parts of history. They are part of how we understand the past. This is another example of the Internet eroding our concept of time.