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The Barlow Knife (edge.org)
84 points by entwife on Apr 7, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 6 comments



In a mere twenty years, we have gone from fears of the Government controlling the Internet to fears of the Internet controlling the Government.

We have? Last I checked, countries were turning off the internet when there are protests, the Chinese are taking the internet and turning it into a Panopticon of enormous scope and scale. Countries everywhere are swooping in and picking up whatever data they'd like from ISPs and social media providers. And the ISPs and social media companies are helping them do this. Cell carriers are turning your location data into another profit center.

Government intrusion hasn't gone anywhere. Anybody worried about the current landlords controlling the net are just worried about the caretakers. You could eliminate all of them tomorrow and the problem wouldn't go anywhere. (The root of the problem is that data, once collected, can go anywhere and do anything. There's no way of putting the genie back in the bottle.)

It bothers me to see people focus so much on Facebook or other companies like that. They're just the tip of the iceberg, and if you don't define the problem right, you have no chance of getting the solution right either.


I met Barlow in 1995 in Cannes at the digital conference (the name of which I forget) that was held there, where I was trying to get international distribution for a product I'd created. We had dinner together at a funky restaurant up the hill which might have been called the Flying Saucer.

We'd met at a cocktail party earlier that day while I was arguing with Nicolas Negroponte after a talk he'd given where he had claimed that the internet would automatically route around any barrier. I was telling him that the Chinese were bound to put in border routers or firewalls blocking their citizens from accessing content they didn't want them to see.

Barlow chimed in and said that I was right and that we had to stop that from happening everywhere. Negroponte didn't want to hear it.

Now it turns out we were both right: the Chinese and others try to block data with varying success and the Internet still to some extent routes around it. I wish there was less of the former and more of the latter.


Thank you. Always wondered about what it was and never checked.

"Mary gave him a bran-new "Barlow" knife worth twelve and a half cents; and the convulsion of delight that swept his system shook him to his foundations. True, the knife would not cut anything, but it was a "sure-enough" Barlow, and there was inconceivable grandeur in that - though where the Western boys ever got the idea that such a weapon could possibly be counterfeited to its injury, is an imposing mystery and will always remain so, perhaps. - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


Amusingly, I came here to post the same quote. My first pocket knife was a "Barlow," and it wouldn't cut anything either.


> He reminded us that “there has always been a relationship between the performer and the audience that hasn't been well mapped,” and that “you would never claim to own your friendships.” Then two of the currently wealthiest plantation owners on the Internet stepped in and became so by doing just that.

I think "wealthiest plantation owners" misses the point.

Suppose someone were to magically "free" everyone's Facebook data onto some kind of IPFS-like datastore. Now we have symmetric access to our data freed from the bonds of the property model.

Now what do we do?

Our current understanding of the dangers posed by the mere existence of such a datastore is so limited that symmetric access still wouldn't give us any reliable defense against short or medium-term exploitation.

Perhaps "things of an informational nature" should be treated with care until we figure out to make it cost more than $0 for an adversary to turn them into weapons.


In a mere twenty years, we have gone from fears of the Government controlling the Internet to fears of the Internet controlling the Government.

Speak for yourself. I have no fear at all of the internet controlling the government, whereas the government controlling the internet already happened all over the place.




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