(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)
A Potential Future
Note for the reader
Strictly speaking, the short story which follows is not one of the Fifty Things To Know: it is just an anticipation of what could be the worst effects of the Digital Dangers described in this book. The story was written without external influences, around 1999 or 2000. About one year later I discovered Richard Stallman’s Right To Read which deals with the same theme and which you are all invited to read.
A Dinner with The Infoserfs
Preface: In 2040 society is patronized by benevolent governments closely helped by several monopolistic, insatiable companies. The [Internet is not neutral anymore](/2007/07/what-do-i-really-lose-without-net-neutrality). One evening POP Jones, a generic employee, comes back home to have dinner with MOM, housewife, and their teenager son Jimmy. The first thing they hear him saying is...
POP: Hey, we had to lay off computers, today at the office. I hope they’ll hire some cheaper humans to replace them. I sure don’t want to work without a computer!
MOM: But how would those new people work without computers?
POP: Well, they will probably have to .. oh God, this is so humiliating… have to write orders by hand on sheets of paper and ship them inside envelopes as if they were parcels.
MOM: Good heavens, why?
POP: What do you mean, why? Because it’s much less expensive, silly! It’s much slower, I’ll give you that, but in that way we don’t have to pay word processing and email licenses. Furthermore, it’s much safer and reliable: try to attach a virus or sneak from the network inside a sheet of paper! Oh, and since we are speaking of computers, we can’t buy the new washer this month: we have to order the new upgrade of the digital television software.
MOM: What?? But we have just renewed the yearly subscription last month!
POP: Yes, but that was only for basic software license and connection costs. If we don’t upgrade we won’t see the Superbowl in Tri-di-o-rama next week.
MOM: But we don’t need to see it in Tri-di-o-rama. We can see it in the usual VideoBlast format.
POP: No, because they will broadcast it only as Tri-di-o-rama, and we can’t watch it with the software we have now, we have to order the new one. You know that the new TVs explode if one tries to put unauthorized software in them.
MOM: Well, then we won’t look at the Superbowl at all. Life is not just football after all.
POP: No comment. Just remember that, in three months from now, they will broadcast everything, including your sitcom, only in this new format. Either we pay now or we don’t see anything any more, unless we pay a late fee.
MOM: Wait a moment, did you say Tri-di-o-rama? It’s going to be the only format accepted for school projects next year, we have to have it or Jimmy won’t be able to graduate! Great. There goes our vacation again!
JIMMY: Hey, mom I need money!
MOM/POP, YELLING TOGETHER: AGAIN!?!? What for?
JIMMY: Can’t listen to music I need to hear to write my school essay: you know you gotta pay every time you listen to 64 bit quality, don’t you? The only way music can be recorded that clear is in MPAA3 format, which is protected with a per-play fee.
POP: You pervert! When I was your age, we didn’t need half our parents’ income just to listen to some music. And what do you need 64 bits music for anyway? Last time I checked you didn’t have 64 bit capable ears, did you? Listen to good old CDs, they’re good enough, and free.
JIMMY: Aw, pop, you know they don’t make CD players and software anymore…
POP: Never mind then. We can’t afford your music. Go to the computer and play some, then, it should keep you out of mischief even better.
MOM: Are you crazy, or what? Do you want me arrested like that other guy for unauthorized music composition?
JIMMY: Yeah, pop, that freak was composing with software he had written himself, and without ever being registered with the mandatory Musicians Association.
POP: Quit with music, then: try smoking, it’s less expensive and less dangerous. Speaking of serious matters, have you finally mailed the application form for the InfoAcademy?
JIMMY: Not yet pop, it looks awful difficult, and even damn expensive for that matter.
MOM: But Jimmy: it’s certainly expensive, but you know it’s the only legal way to be admitted in the journalists guild, and to apply for your very own web site, one on which you can report or write everything you feel even without explicit government approval.
NOTE: this excerpt is available to the public only under the terms of what will be the standard reading license in 2040:
BY LOOKING AT THIS PAGE AND WAKING UP THIS MORNING YOU HAVE ALREADY AGREED THAT:
Thou shalt not read this to more than ten people at any given time
Thou shalt not read this more than ten times a month
Thou shalt not read this faster than thirty words per minute
Thou shalt print this only on paper approved by Nocomsoft
Thou shalt ask our permission to tell your friends that you have read this page
IF YOU ARE SO MEASLY AND ETHICALLY EMPTY TO NOT RELIGIOUSLY FOLLOW THIS AGREEMENT, THOU SHALL DESTROY YOUR COMPUTER IMMEDIATELY, AND PROMISE TO NOT READ ANYTHING AT ALL FOR THREE WEEKS.
Are you laughing? Well, we’ll concede that “Infoserfs” is a little bit on the dramatic side, and tends to be pessimistic, but everything you read is what could happen by tolerating laws and practices which already exist. The way it could happen, the concrete risks that you and your children would face and the steps to take to make sure that you don’t become an Infoserf are described in the rest of the Family Guide To Digital Freedom.