When we built Imity - bluetooth autodetecting social network for your cell phone - we did - of course - get the occasional "big brother"-y comment about how we were building the surveillance society. We were always very careful to not frame the application as being about that, careful with the language, hoping to foster a culture that didn't approach the service on those terms. We never got the traction to see whether our cultural setup was sufficient to keep the use on the terms we wanted, but it was still important to have the right cultural idea about what the technology was for, to curb the most paranoid thinking about potentials.
It's simply not a reasonable thing to ask of new technology, that it should be harm-proof. Nothing worthwhile is. Cars aren't. Knives aren't. Why would high-tech ever be. And just where in the narrative of some future disaster does the backtracking to find the harm end? Computers and the internet are routinely blamed for all kinds of wrongdoing, whereas the clothing, roads, vehicles and other pre-digital artifacts surrounding something bad routinely are not.
What matters is the culture of use around the technology, whether there is a culture of reasonable use or just a culture of unreasonable use. And you simply cannot infer the culture from the technology. Culture does not grow from the technology. It just does not work that way.
I think a lot of the internet disbelief wrt. to The Pirate Bay verdicts comes from basically missing this point. "But then Google is infringing as well" floats around. But the important thing here is that Pirate Bay is largely a culture of sharing illegally copied content whereas Google is largely a culture of finding information.
I think it's important to keep culture in mind - because that in turn sets technology free to grow. We can't blame technology for any potential future harm; we'll just have to not do harm with it in the future - but the flip side of course is that responsibility remains with us.
I haven't read the verdict, but the post verdict press conference focused squarely on organization, behaviour and economics of what actual crossed the Pirate Bay search engine, which seems sound.
- that being said, copyright owners are still squandering the digital opportunity by not coming up with new ways of distribution better suited for the digital world, but the internet response wrt. The Pirate Bay that they just couldn't be quilty, for technological reasons, does not really seem solid to me, if we are to reason in a healthy manner about technology and society at all.Posted by Claus at April 17, 2009 06:03 PM | TrackBack (0)