The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. So said John Gilmore in an article published over twenty years ago. A few years later John Perry Barlow came up with A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
Growing up in India in the 1960s and 1970s, people like me thought of this guy as a hero. Max Yasgur. A stream of consciousness that included Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills and Nash and Matthews Southern Comfort. Camping out on the land and setting my soul free.
My grandfather’s generation lived through two world wars and a struggle for independence; my father’s generation through a good deal of that; Korea and Vietnam were soon t0 follow, and the Middle East was all set to take centre stage.
Not surprisingly, many in the generation I was and am part of took heart at the promise of community, of togetherness, of connected people changing the world. Not surprisingly, that is likely to have influenced much of how I thought about the internet, the Web, connected communities. I wasn’t alone in that, whole shelves of books have probably been written about it.
That’s the kind of reason why I’ve always said that the roots of my understanding of open source were more in the Grateful Dead and in the Well than in anything else.
This optimism had an early payoff. Those who were in India between 1975 and 1977 will remember the Emergency. Dark days. Totalitarian control. Terror. Censorship. Opposition in jail. Total. Control.
And then they called an election.
The opposition cried foul.
The opposition won.
I was 17 when the Emergency began, 19 when it ended. Many said that the 1977 election was the greatest show democracy had ever put on.
Roll forward to today.
Polarised opinion everywhere. Polarisation that quickly became hate, with physical violence close to the surface, leaking out here and there. Extremism. Guerrilla terrorism. People and parties hitherto considered unelectable getting elected, with the likelihood of more to come. A connected world getting rapidly disconnected. Barriers coming up, not just the ones of the past, but new ones as well. Hatred everywhere.
That wasn’t the way it was meant to be.
I grew up in the Summer of Love. I was seeing something closer to the Winter of Hate.
As a grandfather, I found myself in the same place that many generations before me had found themselves. What kind of world are we bringing our descendants into? Is it better or worse than the one we came into?
I believe in the power of connected people working together for good. I believe that those connections get harder and harder to game, to filter centrally, to control. I believe that as a result this world can be a better place.
I believe there doesn’t have to be a continuing Winter of Hate. But it needs three things.
Ubiquitous, affordable connectivity.
More than anything else, a respect for human dignity, a tolerance for diversity.
Whatever happens with the current polarised debates, referenda, elections, wars and terrorism, it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong; there is an after to come, an after where there are no winners and losers. Just people who have to learn to live together.
That “after” requires all three things: the connectivity, the education, the respect for human dignity.
That’s what we have to ensure we leave to our children’s children.
Routing around obstacles.