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The Missing Piece of Rheingold's Manifesto

by Simon Wiscombe

It is difficult not to be completely absorbed into the idea of a global network. The idea that there is an intelligence and an entity that lives within nature itself -- connecting the trees, the animals, and the earth itself. The idea that every living thing is absorbed into this interweaving higher consciousness is a hard one not to marvel at and not to compare to the current state of modern networking. However, this biological neural network serves equally as a warning as a sense of future endeavors. It warns of a dystopian network that could soon dominate the current social landscape and, in many cases, is already here.

Rheingold's, "Mobile and Open: A Manifesto," outlines what he believes to be the future strive of open and mobile networking. He yearns for a world in which people are free as both users and consumers, where there is an "open innovative commons," where people have the ability to create networks as they see fit, and where people have the, "freedom to associate information with places and things." While this list is far from complete (in the vein of his open beliefs, he asks others to contribute to these four principles), it serves as an interesting point of comparison for the network reflected in Avatar. It can easily be argued that the Avatar network nails all of these four points. So why, then, is Avatar much more of a warning than it is a promise of greener pastures?

The issue lies within a matter not discussed in Rheingold's manifesto. Rheingold, it seems, imagines an ideal utopian open network. He even highlights the lofty dream he conceives in the beginning (with perfectly good intentions). The difference with Avatar is that those who are live on this planet have no choice to participate. There exists no option to "opt out" of the neural network. Yes, it is possible that one of the Navi may decide not to connect their hair tentacles with any other, but societal life is so rooted to this idea of networking that it becomes almost impossible to not. We see this phenomenon happening with society as well. For those of us who use smart-phones, or those of us who are constantly connected through our laptops or through cloud computing, imagine trying to be productive without it. It becomes a seemingly impossible task. And this is the direction that society is headed. This isn't a phenomenon isolated to a specific industry of professionals either: both white and blue collar workers are connected by some sort of network, whether it be internet, radio, constant cell-phone access, satellite, or any other number of devices that connect us together and facilitate easy sharing of information. Information itself has become part of the commons, and private information is beginning to seep as well. It is this private information seep that Avatar presents as an accepted benefit, while Rheingold makes no mention.

The problem, then, is not in Rheingold's manifesto, but in the idea of privatization of information, and whether this is still a moral value of modern society. In a discussion with peers the other day, we came across a revelation that might explain the current trend: our elders do not understand the technology well enough to know the dangers, we understand the technology, and are afraid of what it can do, while the youth, who have grown now knowing any different, accept it as a part of their lives. It is here where we must take pause and evaluate our outlook on private information. What information is important to us now? Is any information truly private? Is it worth protecting this privacy? And, most importantly, if we all finally shared who we really are, would anyone care?

Avatar, Fiber-Optics, and Information Access

The erotic beauty of fiber optic cables

from Avatar (2009)
Creator: James Cameron
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Posted by Critical Commons Manager