Thursday, July 29, 2010


WikiLeaks just pushed us over the edge into the next stage of the information revolution.

Lots of people talk about how much the internet has changed the way we work, and the way we live, and how we communicate with each other. Though it is a fundamental truth, it has become cliché, by virtue of repetition. Mostly, over the last twenty years or so, for those of us in the United States, in the heart of the empire, we go about our lives, and things are the same as they were before.

Here in the U.S., we get in our cars and drive to work. We talk to people on the phone. It's a smaller, portable, more convenient phone, that we carry in our pocket, but it's still a phone, and at it's most basic level, it's not really obviously different. We use computers, every day, and that's different for some, but twenty years ago many of us used computers at work, even if they were more cumbersome, and didn't do as much. Email has been around for a while, and hasn't changed too much over that time.


A new crime, Identity Theft, has appeared, that never was heard of or discussed before. A music sharing site for geeks, Napster, and now LimeWire, nearly disemboweled the recording industry. Pirate Bay has challenged the very concept of intellectual property. Video has evolved from home movies and TV to an almost unrecognizable state of phone & pocket cameras, YouTube, iTunes downloads, and TiVo and DVR. An apparent fad, Twitter, empowered a near revolution in Iran, saved lives in Haiti, and despite government suppression, is used routinely by activists during large protests. People use their phones to do things they never could before, way beyond text messages and instant shared photographs. Social media like Facebook are becoming more and more popular, and are reconnecting old friends and lost family members at an astonishing rate. Also, social media allows professionals, activists, and others to communicate in a new complex way that's hard to explain to those that don't use it. The sum of human knowledge is available at our fingertips. Virtual Worlds and games such as Second Life and World Of WarCraft are immensely popular, where people can play games or interact socially (or professionally) with other people from all over the world, in an immersive 3D environment. Virtual Worlds aren't just for play, activists are already using them to connect with each other.

Now there's this WikiLeaks thing.

Xeni Jordan of was on the Rachel Maddow show the other night, and was interviewed by Chris Hayes.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

What I got out of what she said was that the Afghanistan leak itself, even though it's an earth-shattering unprecedented story, isn't the most important thing. "WikiLeaks represents a sort of tipping point in control, in secrecy, in the dominance of institutions that we`ve known for generations over the control of the flow of information about what`s happening with war" (at about the 4:00 minute mark in the above video).

I think it's bigger than this war. I think it's the beginning of waking up, and realizing what kind of power we each have in this new reality. The world changing event is the fact that nobody could stop it. The news really, is that WikiLeaks can't be touched. Even if the servers are seized, all the personnel are arrested, and the information deleted, it's too late. To use another cliché, the genie is out of the bottle. Outrage over attempts to shut WikiLeaks down will cause a dozen more sites like it to spring up.

Jay Rosen, of NYU, sums it up: "In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new."

All of these developments together, setting aside the individual organizations: P2P sharing; torrent downloads; tweeting (as opposed to Twitter itself); portable media devices and instant text, photo and video publishing; social media; public supported whistle-blowing; and online virtual worlds, are leading us into the future.

Nobody knew what would happen, in the late eighteen-hundreds, when the rise in factories started to change the way society worked. The history of the Industrial Revolution was complex, and had as much suffering and darkness integral to the changes it wrought in the way we live as any progress it brought. That said, who wants to go back? Even if we do, it's not possible.

In the same way, nobody knows what will happen now. Here in the early twenty-hundreds, the increase in the flow of information has started to change the way society works.

As an activist, speaking to other activists... Pick up a sign and stand on a street-corner. Pick up a bullhorn and a drum. Resist in all the usual ways. Then, pick up a smartphone. Pick up a digicam. Hurl your thoughts into the void of cyberspace, and listen for the echo. Old dogs, learn new tricks.

We can change the world, we already have. Seize this opportunity to democratize information forever, and fight any attempt to restrict its control to a few. Information wants to be free. Singularity anyone?


P.S. I have included links to sourcing for this article throughout, just click on the hyperlink text. Usually I use verified sources for my information, and so for information that it's important to source, I try and stay away from Wikipedia, not because it's not useful, but because it's live and changeable real-time, and so sometimes isn't accurate. For this post, I rely on it heavily, because the nature of Wikipedia lends to the spirit of my meaning here. I encourage all to use Wikipedia as a starting place, and use other information or resources to back any real research.
Peace, C

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