[ Return to the SOAPBOX ]


"Access is Power"


login: benturner
password: *********

Last login: Sun Oct 25 18:34:09 from ppp3.skeptical.com

(~)> cd articles
(~/articles)> ls

(~/articles)> pico Access_is_Power.html

He woke up in a bed of expensive Egyptian cotton sheets, leaned over, admired his sleeping girlfriend, still exhausted after their long night together. The time on his gold watch read 10:13 AM.

After pulling on a pair of sweatpants, he shambled into the kitchen, got himself a drink, looked out the floor-to-ceiling window at the secluded lake outside, then went into the studio to update himself with the day's events online.

The studio was engrossed with hardware: stereo equipment, mixing equipment, an expensive Yamaha keyboard, flat-screen HDTVs, speakers on top of the bookcases which covered all the walls. A table in the middle had computer cases piled up under it, monitors and other peripherals all on top of the table. There were two chairs on each side of the table.

He touched a button on the stereo which sat next to his computer desk, a desk surrounded with various equalizers and sound kits and laptops. A dozen speakers placed around the room emitted the crisp, heavy sounds of some mellow experimental techno.

Julian woke his computer and the four monitors connected to it glowed back to life, flashing hundreds of words of new information at him, temptingly. He connected to a dozen or so IRC channels on several different networks, both public and private, while also checking his various bot shells and crontab logs of the night before. Chat windows lit up all over the monitors, people eager to fill him in on news on the latest games ripped, confidential files decrypted, hackers busted by the Organization.

He also received messages from some good buds of the latest info to hit his ethernet servers last night and he rifled through his directories to find that a few couriers had already uploaded that info to his system, circulating itself throughout the network set up in his and his girlfriend's shared studio. The network had a large firewall set up, and Julian had noticed several attempts to undermine his system. Pointed a few shells at the source IP address and nuked it for a good five minutes. Broke through the host servers and ripped out the system directories, rendering them useless until they were fixed by a shocked and scared sysadmin.

He burned a pirated game to CD, installed it, to pass the time. The game would not be available for retail for another month, as it was being distributed to stores. He filtered out the good MP3s, flooded the IPs of the people who sent him incomplete MP3s with redundant copies of the same MP3.

He left a note on his server, asking for intelligence gathered the last night on hackers sniffing military sites for weaknesses. A passing courier instantly fulfilled his request. He sent it off to some fellow site operators through IRC, keeping an eye on two of his other monitors which had surveillance footage of outside the cabin on one, and a looped demo which was presented to him by his contracted consultant group.

Kismet walked in, pulled Julian's chair away from his desk, straddled him, and kissed him fully before getting up and sitting down at her side of the network. Julian was taken by surprise by her good morning greeting, Kismet was taken by surprise by news of her distribution server dipping below 40 terabytes. She rifled through dozens of shell offers from prospective site op owners. She wanted more access.

Later that day, Kismet and Julian would have dinner at an expensive Italian restaurant, and then attend a drum and bass techno club in the metropolitan area for free, since they knew the bouncers, enjoying the music and atmosphere before being let into the backroom, where they'd be given the new, authentic laptops set up for attacking phone systems from while on the move.

The couple passed effortlessly through a sea of information, plucking whatever was most important while discarding the useless. Information did not reach the rest of the world before going through people like these first, and the speed at which they operated was unreal. They were tapped into a network of highly-dedicated people who were always ready to share the vast pool of resources they all had command over. This couple was part of the system, part of the underground, part of a transparent group which had its hands in every form of media available. This made the group high in demand, even though it had no multi-million dollar operation to work from. What its power came from was its access, not its money or morality. It had what other people needed: information.





Do you have any idea what's going on out there on the Internet? There are people who say that the Internet doesn't actually have much to it. Of course, the 'Net is not the right thing for many people -- they prefer the real deal, or they hate using computers, or they just want something different. But there are those who doubt the significance of the 'Net, who have not been exposed to how many completely different worlds exist online.

"The Mass consensual hallucination in which humans all over the planet meet, converse, and exchange information" aside, what we're dealing with is an online world which is not just an archive of information, as popular media will tell you, but a large network which thrives off of new information and novelty.

The fact that there is information passively sitting on servers goes without saying. But the Internet is as detailed and fresh as you want it to be.

If you just casually use the Internet, you'll hear of a major product release through official newsletters or retail store flyers. You'll hear about trends long after they've faded and gone. It is not enough to just be online -- you have to learn how to use it.

Out there are environments consisting of people coding chat rooms and multi-user worlds for free so others can enjoy them and contribute their own ideas to them. Out there are discussions of news that hasn't even happened yet. Rumors of political deals and commercial negotiations find their ways to bulletin boards and unofficial news sites. Retail software demos are downloaded and previewed, and reviews of them are posted everywhere. Music groups put samples of their music online and people snag them and listen to them and buy the CD if they like them. Some people always have the latest versions of software on their systems before you even know of the updates at all. Instant information, as soon as it happens.

Most of the dynamic nature of the 'Net is admittedly illegal. Leaks in the system are letting people download full-length versions of movies that are still out in the theatres, so you can watch them on your computer. Computer games are leaked from people at distribution centers, where they're hacked and uploaded to the 'Net, being downloaded by hundreds of people just in the first night of release. MP3s of music groups' songs proliferate themselves online, and even the purest of people have huge collections of their favorite one-hit wonder bands' songs.

This is, no doubt, amazing. You may consider it cheesy that even people like me still think about these seemingly straightforward principles of the 'Net. But there are big things happening out there. I do not see where the Internet is going now that it is blending with the commercial world. Everything on the Internet leads back to some sort of corruption or piracy. The Internet isn't about money -- even the most hardcore people online probably don't pay any more than just for Internet access; they get their news, TV, music, games, and so on for free. Newspapers are offering most all of their content free online because people won't pay for it otherwise (although the Wall Street Journal does, and it offers pretty good content). Very, very few companies charge people to look at their sites. No matter what its form, information is being spread for free online.

Commercialism is clashing
with freedom of information.

So it's crucial to understand that what's important online is how much access you have. Money means nothing online, and if you only hit the commercial spots on the 'Net, you're not going to find anything overly useful. The good stuff is on personal sites, with individuals' thoughts on things, private FTP sites with hard-to-find files, and little-known web sites which have the FAQs on topics you want to learn more about.

It's about who you know online. The more shells, accounts, and addresses you are given access to, the better. The more information you have at your fingertips. If you can't use that information, someone else can, and you can certainly trade that information to get something you need. Information is currency. While it's not 100% illegal and a lot of people still do buy things, the Internet is based on a system where you can get anything digital for free.

Is this good? I don't think so. But it's hard to say at this point. I don't see how things can continue to function how they do. It seems like you can get more and more of what you would normally buy for free on the 'Net. Since it's becoming easier and more accepted, more average 'Net users will be taking advantage of it. Right now, illegal software and music is confined primarily to those who are familiar with the 'Net enough to exploit it. But things are changing. And who seems to care? The software piracy agencies, no doubt, but most people have come to accept this practice and to even encourage it. Small companies will lose more and more money than they did before, and this is definitely bad.

But are we changing the way we operate? What if there was a way to still make a profit while free distribution existed? There are attempts to produce formats which only allow programs to be executed a certain number of times before they're disabled. While this stops the regular users, it is only a speedbump to those who can remove the restrictions. There has to be some other way. Maybe a world which allowed for free information would work somehow. About the only thing that earns money online is projects which offer a service to users, not a product. Hardware will always cost money, but digital goods might all be free at some point. Services will always be needed, and there's no way around paying for services. That's where we're heading, then.

While a lot of people like to stick it to record companies and big overpricing gaming companies by pirating their products, I personally think that does not suffice as a justification for piracy. I've said it before, but I think the industries DO need a shakedown so the distributor and the consumer and the author get their ample benefit. Right now, the distributor is the one ripping off the other two. This has caused a backlash by both the other two parties.

Distributors are fighting a losing battle. The Diamond Rio, a device which works like a Walkman and allows you to play MP3s, a file format of music which compresses your favorite song into a 3MB-7MB file, was attacked by record companies which feared it would allow for copyright violation of commercial songs (obviously). The courts ruled the Rio would be shipped anyway. So right now, you can create your own collection of your favorite tunes and listen to them on the Rio. Conceivably, all you have to pay for is the Rio itself, and get the MP3s off the Internet.

And software piracy? The distributors like Sierra On-Line and Activision and Electronic Arts are fighting piracy by putting protection in their software. Well, that's not working, is it? It takes some cracking groups about half an hour to remove all the protection for computer games. I personally don't see why companies don't use Sierra's old protection system which asked for answers out of the user manual in order to continue playing. I guess crackers can remove that too. As of when this article was written (November 1), Fallout 2 and Grim Fandango have been released on the Internet. SiN and Half-Life, set to go gold (a term meaning 'commercial release') any day now, will be available the night afterwards. The retail versions of those games are typically released a few weeks later. But people have already finished the games by then. The distributors and piracy agencies are trying to shake down the groups responsible for this stuff, but is it really helping the cause? The people who are really getting screwed are the companies who actually make the games, because they don't have the money the distributors have, so they license the game to the distributor for selling -- guess who gets a big chunk of the money?

I don't condone piracy (I register what I use every day), but I do recognize that it speaks of a trend that will affect the futures of the Internet and a whole lot of industries. How long will companies decide to put up with the illegal distribution of commercial products on the 'Net? When will they draw the line? And can they actually do anything about it? When modems are replaced by faster connections, the number of people downloading illegal programs will skyrocket. Things need to change. The economy will need to change.

It's not what you have, it's
how fast you can get it.

You can't stop this. You can only adapt to it, or accept your losses from continuing the old way of doing things. I'm not saying it's good or bad -- I'm just saying things can't continue like this. The consumer now has access to power, and all the consumer needs is awareness of what's out there before he starts screwing distributors over too.

People are out there who have access to literally hundreds of different FTP sites, passing effortlessly and transparently through the online network, grabbing whatever they want in exchange for something the site ops want. You can do whatever you want, get whatever you want, getting it all for free, anonymously, even vaingloriously. It's scary what's going on. This is all based on a trust and barter system, not a monetary system.

Information truly does flow free online. So educate yourself about what's going on, right now -- you won't hear anything about it in the mags until the battle is long over.

(~/articles)> cd ..
(~)> cd 90's_Business_Model
Directory does not exist.

(~)> cd Panacea
Access denied.

(~)> exit
Connection lost.

[ respond to this in the General Discussion forum ]


[ Return to the SOAPBOX ]


benturner.com:  click here to start at the beginning
RECENT NEWS (MORE):  Subscribe to my del.icio.us RSS feed! about moods | mood music
12/03/08 MOOD:  (mood:  yellow)