(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)
Ignorance and apathy versus equal opportunities
Everything in this book demonstrates one thing: ignoring how digital technologies work and are regulated, or how ubiquitous they already are, can seriously complicate (or worse) one’s life. What the Digital Dangers really destroy are equal opportunities: in every field of activity, not just software design or composing music. Everybody can write a Nobel Prize novel or scientific paper with a Bic pen: the result will be just the same, and be just as useful to society, than if a gold-plated fountain pen had been used. Things change completely when those same works can only be written or read with one thousand dollars worth of hardware and software. This is what making OpenDocument mandatory in Schools and Public administrations, for example, is all about: not to eliminate profit and initiative, but to eliminate all artificial barriers to access to profit and initiative.
The only reasons why this has not happened yet are the speed with which digital technologies have invaded everyday life in the last ten or fifteen years, and the level of real knowledge on these subjects, which on average is still terribly insufficient.
If issues that everybody understands instinctively without being a specialist, like keeping bacteria out of drinkable water or food, were managed with the same fairness and rationality as software and distribution of creative works, there would have been revolutions and street fights worldwide several years ago.
This is not an insult to ordinary people, just an objective assessment of the current status of things. It doesn’t matter that many more people than ten years ago now have a computer at home or in the office, have been on the Internet a few times or even every day without (apparently) hurting or embarrassing themselves. The truth is that anything remotely digital or related to software is still seen as black magic by most of us, and most computer users still push buttons without really understanding what is happening.
This is OK, we don’t need to became all programmers. Even among software professionals or those who have graduated in any field in the best Universities, the lack of perspective about this discipline is still much bigger than in many other fields of human activity. One of the best proofs of this fact are the many software professionals who still see no problem in the file formats field but spend all their time and energy worrying only about how the source code of a program is developed or shared: that is indeed a huge problem, but not the main one in many cases, and in many others becomes relevant only because no open formats and computer protocols are enforced.
Trouble is, we can’t afford this confusion anymore, because software and digital services or creative works are already so persuasive that they greatly influence the quality of our lives and of that of our children.
Luckily, another thing that should be obvious, or will be obvious by the end of this book, is that one does not need to become a technical expert, or spend a lot of time, to have these problems solved for good. Many of the solutions are based on requiring the right laws and voting with one’s wallet. The only effort lies in understanding what to ask for and why. In other words, if this situation continues till it’s too late to go back, today’s children will only have their parents and teachers to blame for it.