It is not often that the poster hanging over the computer in any given internet café has a lot in common with what I intend to blog about, but today is one of those days.
I was wandering around in the early minutes of my lunch hour, having endured a second (or is it the third now? I've lost count) Health and Safety Induction all morning and I was feeling a little mentally hyper (as you do when you arrive at a different office and find that they have an ACTUAL coffee machine) but also reflective, as let's face it, Health and Safety Inductions and the like are really only there for companies to say 'Don't Die On Company Time', and when you do, they can turn to your grieving loved ones and say 'We Warned Him!'...so not too involving.
Two old men in the first charity bookshop I went into were discussing All Quiet On The Western Front, and swiftly moved on to the subject of how today's leaders have learned nothing from History...the world was in terrible shape, money, power, corruption, oil deals...I was caught up in the stream of pure cynicism flowing liberally around the tiny shop.
The tones of voice and mannerisms set me in mind of a couple of my lecturers...having started a degree in Green Engineering and aiming to save the planet from ecological disaster by halfway through the second year...and finishing my course after three years with the most prominent men in the Green Engineering (ie reduced emission, wind power, generally being sensible) telling me that, you know, really, to be honest, there's not much hope, I was a little older, I thought I had lost my idealism, and now I was a realist.
But the men in the charity shop made me think 'Well, then, what the hell are we actually going to do about it all?'
We're in what will probably turn out to be the early days of the War On Terror, information on how to make all kinds of bomb and generally nasty devices is freely available, small groups of motivated people with only limited resources can really Do Bad Things.
Then I had about three ideas at once.
At the moment there are strict rules about the flow of information. Some people have it, some don't, most are trying to get more, and it's not always easy.
Information, for instance, about...say...how much money you earn, what your savings are and which shares you own, is something you might sincerely hope that your employer, your bank, and the yellow folder on top of the wardrobe will keep fairly secure.
But information is King now. Our society has been turned on it's head and a lot of the old rules don't apply. If you're an MP, for instance, you have to declare shares in companies to avoid allegations of surreptitious favouritism. Credit agencies can check to see how much you earn...how much money you have saved.
...and they can do all of this pretty much instantly.
So...maybe freedom...or a kind of it, certainly freedom from terror, or activities like September the Eleventh ever coming to fruition, is if all information, every kind of it, is completely and unrestrictedly available. Any person can see how much money anyone else has, where that money is, what companies they have Direct Debits set up to...that whole lot.
Big Brother, welcome home, you might think.
This was idea Number One. I didn't like it.
But then I thought about webcams. How many are there? A fair few.
Blogs. Bloody millions of the things. No one can have or ever could read them all.
Imagine...all information is freely available...what do you do? Spend your weekend browsing your neighbour's finances? No. You check your email, write some blog, maybe order a new shed to put the lawnmower in.
To a certain extent Big Brother wouldn't be arsed.
Still not too hot.
The big fears that came out of Orwell's 1984 was the action of a draconian government with huge arrays of surveillance equipment everywhere, listening, watching, spying and generally succeeding at controlling the population. From there came the Big Brother concept and the paranoia coming from surveillance, or at least the threat and intrusion into our personal space by technology. I've felt the same way myself about my mobile. Sometimes you just don't want to be hassled by the bloody thing.
But the benefits of a financially transparent society don't have to mean Big Brother. You could tell when a suspected international terrorist had just spent a large amount of money at Nukes-r-us.com, and then which of the multitudinous Russian mafia groups had just ordered in a suspiciously large shipment of Athlete's Foot Powder. To a large exten the intelligence agencies of the world can already do this, but...freedom of information...all information, anywhere, anyhow.
Think about it...not only do you have a tool for crime and terrorism reduction, but anyone can learn about anything. Information could go both ways between companies and clients...prospective clients...clients they almost got but went somewhere else for some reason...companies can find out what the public wants...(this bit is a Douglas Adams point) we have one-to-one communication, and one-to-many and many-to-many (hey there, blog reader/writers)...many-to-one communication is a little rusty.
Information needs to flow freely, as a denial of access to information is and always has been a way of maintaining power over someone...even Lao Tzu stated so in The Art of War.
Once we have free flow of information, to prevent undesirable use of that information will require a rehashing of a lot of legal bumpf - harassment laws, who can use what information for what...
I'm now getting the impression that I haven't fully thought this out, even though this is probably going for the world's longest blog entry ever...
I'll shut up now.