Tonight, I went to the campus of KU and saw the one and only Cory Doctorow speak. This is the first time I’ve actually attended a speaking engagement of his, despite the fact that we both were at the Texas Library Association meeting a few years ago. I was busy with my speaking engagement, though, kicking off the inaugural hands-on computer lab sessions for TxLA that year and didn’t make it to his session(s) at all. This made me excessively glad to be able to go see him tonight!
He spoke on the issues of general purpose computers (PCs) and the fact that some – if not many – are now shipping as broken devices, already infected with the spyware and root kits necessary to make them less than fully functional computers (think anything that you can “jailbreak” or any console gaming device or any “internet appliance” that is locked down in any way). He talked about how DRM and other software locking schemes have weakened our ability to use computers and made them *less* secure. He gave a really, really excellent description of the SOPA law that nearly passed a couple of years ago – stating that the law itself would have worked. We know that because it does work – in Iran as well as China.
He spoke eloquently about the need to know what is going on in our computers and the need to be able to stop programs that work against our best interests. He talked about the fact that if the hearing aid – a general purpose computer stuck in a tiny device that will be implanted within his body – that he will undoubtedly need as he grows older isn’t open and accessible, anybody could do anything; keep him from hearing anything; make him hear things that aren’t there and more. Having open access to our computing platforms is the only sure way to knowing what is on our computers – something that will become ever more important as we have tiny computers implanted in us and as we get into large computers (airplanes, self-driving cars, etc) that ferry us around at great speeds.
He made an impassioned plea to use the Ubuntu Linux Operating System – he pointed out that it is (finally) both beautiful and easy to use and is fully and completely open. He advocated Android phone OS’s and just generally being aware of what we are using in our computing lives. He also talked about how mean nerds are to their grandparents – grandmothers in particular, I think, and told the story of his grandmother who had no interest in computers, until Cory’s child was born (in England) and his grandmother (in Canada) decided she wanted to see her more often than once a year, so she got on Skype. It wasn’t that she couldn’t before – she just had no real reason to do so. The same can be said for the use of Linux-based operating systems – we can all use them and use them fairly easily; we just need a reason to do so.
Cory’s talk tonight gave many excellent reasons to do so! I’m very glad I went – it was a great reminder that we are at the beginning of the battle for control over our computers and that we need to work on making sure we retain control (see Lawrence Lessig’s RootStrikers – instead of dealing with copyright laws, Lawrence decided to strike at the root of the legal problem – the fact that corporations pay for so many election campaigns and laws are written to benefit those corps so that they will continue to contribute to re-election campaigns, ad nauseum. Fix election contribution issues, fix the root of the issue).