My original intention with this blog was to focus just on the technical. However, the recent revelations about the scope of the intrusion of various nation’s intelligence agencies into the fabric of the internet itself makes it impossible to be an internet technologist and not be political. Continuing on as if everything is normal is just as much of a political decision as speaking out.
I was blessed with my first home computer in 1981 when I was 10 years old. My father worked for Sperry Univac, so I was privileged to have access to quite a bit of technology at a young age. I was involved in the BBS scene very early on… a recording of a modem dialing still brings me back to that magical feeling that computer communications had then, before this was all just simply a fact of life.
In 1994, my wife and I got our first home internet connection to our apartment. The first time I dialed in to my local ISP (on a 486 running OS/2, for those who like technical details) was pure magic. On irc, I was speaking with people by text, in real-time, who lived in other countries! People who are younger than I am probably can’t really step in to just what a big deal this was – back when the web was very young, and we still received almost all of our information about the world from television and newspapers.
Directly speaking with whole groups of people, all over the world, was a completely transformative experience. Maybe “people are the same all over the world” is a big “duh” to some people now. I came of age in the 80s in the United States, being bombarded by propaganda about “evil empires” and “enemies”: Nothing was a better antidote to the state and corporate manufactured view of the world than direct communication with people in other places.
This is under attack. Really, it has been from the start – but now we are starting to understand the full scope of the control systems that have been put in place. Some of us may be fortunate enough to live in countries where “nothing bad” happens to us (mostly) as a result of this surveillance. However, no matter how passive it may seem there is one very real effect: When we worry that our words may be used against us, and we worry that who we speak with may be used against us, we internally monitor and censor our own communications. As a concrete example, I was speaking online with a software engineer from Pakistan yesterday. Can there be any doubt that this communication was monitored? It certainly was an intrusive fact in my mind as we spoke.. and having to think about such things is stifling, and wrong.
Freedom of association and the free exchange of ideas are mandatory ingredients for humanity to learn, grow, and mature.
So… about The Edge Net. Pieter Hintjens, the CEO of iMatix, the company behind the open source messaging library ZeroMQ, and author of the upcoming book “Culture & Empire“, has started a new project: The Edge Net:
We built the Internet to be a space for freedom and opportunity. Instead it has become the greatest surveillance system ever. My name is Pieter Hintjens, CEO of iMatix, and I want you to help me fix that.
Without privacy and anonymity, we lose our freedom of speech. And without that, we become slaves to a narrative where the powerful run amok, without oversight or regulation. I truly believe we’re facing the extinction of our digital freedoms, and then our real world freedoms.
By joining in this project and contributing, you help turn back the tide. – Pieter Hintjens
I wanted to write about this project here, because the idea behind the project is very important to me. It’s important to the 10 year old kid I used to be, listening to a modem sing magical tones that put me in contact with communities of people. It’s important to the 23 year old I was the first time I spoke with people from other countries on irc, and was overwhelmed with the experience. It’s important to my children, who I want to leave a free and open internet to, so they can have the same experiences.
No particular project is going to be “the one” – it’ll take many people, working on many projects, many of us trying and failing. However the idea is right, and it needs to be promoted. I’m a huge fan of ZeroMQ as a technology (I contribute to the CZMQ API for it), and Pieter has a wonderful knack for building communities. So, I wanted to use some space on my little pulpit here to promote it. I want to leave the internet a better place than it was when I first found it – not a worse place.
If you actually read this far, thanks.