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08/16/2004 Archived Entry: "The Future of Computing Freedom"

I'm going to go out on a limb here and prognosticate about the future of computing. And at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, or alarmist, or apocalyptic, I'm going to predict that before long there will be two classes of computer users. And I don't mean the "haves" and "have-nots". I mean the "free" and "enslaved."

"Enslaved?" I can hear you ask. "Isn't that a bit absurd?"

No, and here's why. First, for many of us, our livelihoods are as dependent upon the use of a computer as our lifestyles are on the use of an automobile. Try to imagine right now doing without computers, at home and at work. No word processor or spreadsheet or database. No Internet or email. Would you still have a job? How much harder would you have to work?

Second, for many of you, your ownership of your computer -- by which I mean your control of your computer hardware, and of the data files stored on it -- is gradually being taken out of your hands. Not by some sinister plot, but by the gradual encroachment by the State and by corporate Leviathans, out to pursue their own ends with no concern for you.

The State wants to be able to tap all your communications, read all your files, and prevent you from having any data privacy (encryption). Microsoft wants to rent you software instead of selling it, pry into and change your computer without your knowledge, prevent you from using competing software, and prevent you from reading your own files if you don't pay up. The RIAA and MPAA are also hot on "Digital Rights Management," the buzz-phrase meaning "you don't own what you bought." And a whole lot of people want to infect your computer, turn it into a zombie, and sneak off with your personal data.

And all of this will happen, in the famous phrase, if "good men do nothing" ...if you follow the herd and keep accepting what is being sold to you, from Windows upgrades to iPods to the latest "anti-terror" legislation.

It's too late to reduce our dependence on the computer; and I wouldn't want to, because the spread of computers has made our lives (and our pocketbooks) enormously richer. But it's not too late to prevent "ownership" from leaving your hands.

This is why I harp on about "computing freedom" and "owning your data." The very concept of ownership is under attack; and ironically, from those who are bleating the loudest about their desire to "protect intellectual property." Get educated and defend the right to own your computer and your data!

Some number of you will ignore this advice...and in ten years I predict that you'll be paying a monthly "Microsoft tax" and "music tax", you'll be worried that your computer will spontaneously hiccup and disable all your business files, and you'll be panicked about the latest Internet worm.

The rest of us, however, will resist. We'll own computers that continue to operate, that obey our instructions, and don't hold our data for ransom. We'll have the ability to protect our data from spying and intrusion. Because we made the effort now to get informed, and to get off the enslavement treadmill.


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