Friday, July 8, 2016

Information Infrastructure and How it is Created and Maintained

The linked piece from The Village Voice here is quite telling on two counts in the context of "Information as Gold."

The main emphasis, in relating New York's new "LinkNYC" WiFi and VOIP kiosks, funded entirely by a linked series of now Google owned companies, is that the big apple is giving big business yet one more, immense, way to collect citizen data; data related not only to link tracking and areas of personal interest, but to very specific physical correlations; something the authors are quite right in being concerned about; especially given how loose the supposed privacy guarantees are shown to be in the piece.

For myself, however, important as the idea of "them knowing more about us than we will ever know about them" is, there is also another issue at stake here: The continual chipping away of the notion that channels of information transfer should be publicly created, and publicly owned, sets of critical infrastructure. The subtext then being that only the commercial sector has the resources, or even the rightful domain of operating such channels.

This started, of course, when the leasing of the "Public's Airwaves" to corporate interests became so automatic, and so broadly encompassing, that it is now no more than vestigial legacy. It then gained momentum when hardline channels moved away from mere analogue phone conversations to the digitization of all things carried on copper or optical cable. The investments in these physical links became ever more the property of the investors as much as the "Common Carrier" links that used to be seen as absolutely in need of public regulation. So now the regulation part is become ever more problematic as the economic power of the holders of these investments grows.

Paul Atreides from the Dune novels made the famous quote: "he who controls the spice controls the universe." He made that comment because the spice, with its effects on perception, had become so essential to how that fictional universe operated; especially for the Spacing Guild and their ability to fold space and make inter solar travel possible.

The analogy is pertinent here precisely because information itself is so vital to not only how we make day to day decisions, but on how we conceive of what is both possible and proper. So much so that altering the quote to "he who controls information flow controls our perceptual universe."

Unfortunately, though, we are still bound by the dictates of an obsolete economic operating system, and it is that system, in making everything a commodity, and thus virtually every interaction, in one form or another, a part of the game of "net gain." So, if there is a cost, and what doesn't these days, then there must be someone willing to pay that cost. If hyper competition, and unbridled thirsts for profit, combined with the ever diminishing worth of human skill as a commodity, are then thrown into the equation, you end up with "Big Money" being the only ones still able to pay for ever more aspects of critical infrastructure. You then need only to keep that process going for a while to get people conditioned to the idea that this is really the way it was always meant to be. This is, in fact, what is now right and proper.

Is there any wonder then why increasing numbers of us have such increasingly divers disconnections from reality (the diversity, of course, coming from what remaining competition there is in both ideas and market shares)?

New York City is erecting new internet monoliths that provide free phone, Wi-Fi, and charging — but all that glitters isn't gold, except for Google.