Prattle & Jaw

Two blogs about a whole lot of nothing

The Inevitability of the ACTA

So there's a blog post I've been meaning to write for a while now, and I'm taking the opportunity of me being ill (or at the end - hopefully - of my illness), and spending yet another day on the sofa, to gently write it. God knows how it'll turn out, as it could quite easily get out of hand, and probably should be left until another day when I'm not only feeling 100% but also have more time to spend on it. However, I'm writing it today, and that's that.

I've been seeing some tweets and links about the ACTA and not really knowing what this was, I Googled and read stuff and have come to learn a little about it. I say 'a little' because I really do mean a little. I do not, in any way shape or form, claim to have extensive knowledge on this subject. I've read just a few articles and the like, giving me a rough background knowledge on the matter, but from what I can gather, it all makes sense, and by making sense, I mean; inevitable.

Hmm. Where to start....

Some years ago, during my BA, we had to read the book The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. In a nutshell, one of the main points is that the internet has levelled the playing field in terms of commerce; everyone has an equal opportunity. I didn't really believe this then, and I still don't now. I don't see the world as 'flat'. It's definitely smaller, yes, but flat; no. Maybe we can see it as a kind of world within the physical world; a virtual world , smaller and faster than the one we live, breath and eat in, but very much there, and very much active.

So we have our virtual world. Actually, we've had our virtual world for years now, and day by day, it swells and swells, with more people joining through ease of access and greater understanding. So much of our life is online it's hard sometimes to know where to draw the link. The post I wrote about Seppukoo only demonstrates how merged our online lives have become. Indeed, people are hesitent to use the acronym 'IRL' when talking about their 'physical' life, as online lives are now just as 'real' as 'physical' ones. 'AFK' seems to be a good one to use so far (away from keyboard). It's fascinating this shift in our lives. This merging of what was once a pure sci-fi virtual world, with our normal everyday lives is completely new and has brought, and is bringing, about changes we've never seen, and no real idea what to do with. It presented a kind of utopia; a fully democratic world where one could let go of all your insecurities and create a new 'you' online. Who cared what race, colour, religion or sex you were? What does it matter? Suddenly you could access texts, music, films, what-have-you, previously unavailable to you (whether that be due to cost, distance, social status and so on); you could create things, or get people to help you; you could look up information and join chat rooms safe in the knowledge that everyone there was for the same purpose, held the same beliefs, and believed in the democratising, community spirit of the internet, and we were all, for a while, frolicking in blissful technological ignorance.

This recent poll for the BBC World Service shows how incredibly quickly we've grown accustomed to the internet, showing that almost 4 out of 5 people believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told the BBC News that governments must "regard the internet as basic infrastructure - just like roads, waste and water", and that, "We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate." This fundamental access has become so widespread that we are able to, and perhaps need to, map the world in terms of social networks (I'm going to use social networks as a point of reference a lot in this blog post, mostly because it's what everyone uses the internet for - mostly). Everyone has heard the 'if Facebook were a country it'd be bigger than the US' line, but here is a world map showing what countries use which social networks, just to get a clearer picture (just use the link or click on the picture, and the clearer picture will be much clearer):

Wow. A lot of people use Facebook. But then we knew that right? So my point with this map and the fundamental right thing is that we're now at the point where we use a 'real' world map to map out our usage of our fundamental right of our other (real?) world. So where's the difference? We're at the point where the internet, our online lives and our AFK lives have all merged in to one. They are all so interconnected, that the lines are sometimes extremely blurry, and it's easy to lose track and get confused over what's right or wrong where, and what should be or shouldn't be OK. A little example of this would be the arguement of people doing jobs for free, thereby robbing someone who had trained for the job, of their wages. Fair? Most people tend to think not. But crowdsourcing? That's OK. You can do anything through crowdsourcing, giving people who would never had had a chance, the opportunity to get their ideas heard, while simultaneously 'cheating' trained professionals. What's right? I don't know. I love that every person has their shot, but I would hate to be replaced by crowdsourcing.

The Copenhagen Institues for Future Studies published this report, Anarconomy, which argues that "All purely digital products will become free, and physical products that can be digitally produced won’t cost more than the raw materials. The commercial products of the future will be unique products, services and experiences – and the raw materials from which they are made of – and company/customer relationships." This arguement came back to me as I watched Henrik Moltke on DR2, explaining ACTA, and why he loves and believes in the slight anarchistic aspect the internet has. I too love this aspect. It is an incredible thing, and there is not enough space or time to go in to all the benefits the internet has given people, suffice to say it is liberating in the extreme. Perhaps a little too liberating sometimes.

As the internet grew and as it continues to grow, as is with any form of society, bad elements either enter, or are born. This is a sad, inevitable fact. There exist countless cases of internet abuse, and by that I mean people using the internet for bad things, be it to lure in an unsuspecting child for some terrible abuse, or to plan a terrorist attack, or 'lighter' things, such as fraud, cheating, bullying, lying and the like. It's not only 'us' the people who do this either; everyone does, from huge corporations, to everyday dicks through eBay. You could even put VisitDenmark in there, with all the uproar over 'Danish Mother Seeking'. The same survey from the BBC shows that the aspect of the internet that causes most concern is fraud, closely followed by violent and explict content. State censorship of content comes really quite low on the scale, and given that Facebook recently requested government data so it can remove sex offenders, I'm not surprised, as who wants sex offenders on Facebook?

Let's sum it up by saying basically, all the bad stuff that happens AFK, happens online. Our world is no longer the hollow illuminated globe we have spinning in the corner, it is a globe that contains a smaller, faster, more accessible world inside it. This speed and accesability made it once a virtual utopica, where everyone was equal, where anyone could join, and where no one was judged. But this speed and accessibility has also proved, or is proving to be, the downfall of our utopia. As numbers grew, and the full extent of what the internet was capable of (not that we're anywhere close) was realised by the great masses of people, the inevitable bad guys also joined in, turning many aspects of the internet upside down, proving that, just as when AFK, life ain't simple. We will never live in a true democracy. We'll never live in a idealic anarchic society. There is some kind of tipping point, when the bad people realise the benefits and the powerful realise the potential, and when that happens, the rest of us need help.

Although the internet might still be virtual, it is a virtual world, in ever sense. I wish it were a world where everyone was equal, where full democracy reigned, where everyone respected everyone because this was our chance to get away from The Man, and be free! It might have been, once, but...not so much anymore. As with anything that reaches a certain size, laws will be made, powers will enter the playing field, and the once free-for-all utopia becomes just another place.

We use real world maps to measure virtual world networks, and our AFK lives and our online lives as as important as each other, so why are we surprised and angry at the ACTA? I don't like the idea of my internet usage being monitored, or the prospect of being fined millions of pounds for downloading, but at the same time, I think I'd be OK with some sort of regulation. Some kind of safety. I download now, but if there was a sure way I'd be caught, I'd bite the bullet and stop. I'm not saying that I think the ACTA is completely free of wrong, and is being handled in a wonderful manner (anything but), but I am for some kind of regulation. I do believe that just as anarchy would get out of control AFK, it will too online.

And no, I didn't pay for the cartoon.

Copyright © 2014, Lara Mulady. All rights reserved.