The many recent exploits of LULZSEC combined with Cory Doctorow's recent piece in MAKE on “Walled Gardens” struck a chord with me. I return to my insistence on fundamental assumptions, and as such I will step back far enough to focus on a larger picture. Many within the modern technology driven movements of today see Pay-walls or “Walled Gardens” as anathema to the idea of the Internet. However as I will demonstrate, those who take this view ignore vitally important distinctions about the underlying structure of the Internet. Physical pay-walls are symptomatic of the Internet's structure and the inherent culture that thrives attached that structure.
First and foremost is the distinction that a computer may do only two things, one, either hold data as a document, or two, run code in a functional capacity. Beyond this, physically speaking a computer is nothing but a boxy object a “wall”, and all software and hardware may provide this building block is a “door”. After all why do we refer to anything online as “shared”? The fact is that the online objects we share must exist on one or more computers. The totality of such sharing is only apparent in-side of a larger network.
Websites are some of these amazing documents that fall into this “shared” category. websites are in and of themselves walled gardens. The walls might not be very high, they might be easy to get over, but they are still there and they still matter. Moderation polices are in place, personal data is kept behind walls, private correspondence is kept behind still more walls. The Internet consists of innumerable numbers of “walls.” And many of them exist as a result of demands from the websites' user base.
The very act of exploiting a website expresses the fact that our avatar's are nothing but a commodity. Most walls are structured to allow access to certain amounts of data based upon the membership status of the user. In my understanding of things all this data is part of your online document(s) that we as a society would call an avatar.
Take AMAZON for an example. You might be a customer, so you are granted access to your PII, however as a singular customer you do not have access to other peoples PII. The only parts of other peoples' avatars that Amazon will allow you to see is their public reviews. The rest of other user's avatars are hidden behind a “Wall” That “Wall” is there for good reason, and most people would agree that it is essential.
In physical life we have the sanctity of our body's to hold back things we should not share with everyone. We don't have this luxury online, and as avatars are non-corporeal documents, the only way we can prevent the running of ink among them is to put up a “Wall.” Thus why I find any arguments against this “wall” or that “wall” to be founded on rather preposterous premise. By arguing against one, you are arguing against all even as you do so from behind your own wall.
To rail against “pay-walls” is to in many ways ignore the greater matrix of the online world. After all, if our online world wasn't filled with such numerous and grand examples of commodity then why should anyone bother trying to hack it? If the internet is the completely free place that the technologist proclaim it is, then why should anyone bother with hacking?
To place concept inside analogy, Doctorow is suffering his neighbor (Apple's) wall and loudly complaining that their wall is preventing one thing or another, when in fact he does his complaining on top of his own wall. His wall may be lower, nicer, and be more "open"; yet, what matters is that Doctorow cannot both hold the idea that the internet is “complete freedom” and that he may also dictate how his neighbor builds their wall. Such complaint is the height of hypocrisy and may be paraphrased as, “I want freedom for all, except as I dictate to those I don't like”.
I am presenting what is an ironically stark choice, the technologists may either admit that “internet freedom” is the anarchic freedom of a “warring states” or “wild west” period (complete with attendant Strongmen), or that the internet is a place in need of governance. Until the choice is made the more convoluted , and confusing matters will become.
As you now see walls are endemic and essential to the modern internet. They are the only real structures of governance (even if it is only one of self-protection). Now as we pivot to the act of hacking we come to see this reality highlighting anomie as the current norm online.
Hacking is an admission that the online world is only of documents and tools, computers can perform no other functions. And as there is no real way to govern (as there no way to even know who exactly the constituency even is) we are stuck in a stark reality where actors may “assault” one another for no other prizes then either reputation or data (just look at SONY).
- - -
Now, I understand that the thrust of Doctorow's article is to encourage sharing, and I must add this to balance what I said previously, most walls online are fairly small and perhaps inconsequential. I would describe them as a traditional barrier around a social group. Often a website may tailor itself to an in-group of one sort or another and the only way we may know that there is a wall is when we type in the web address to go to the shared location.
In my lengthy piece here I do not seek to argue against any idea of sharing, rather, I feel compelled to point out the fact that “sharing” in the universal terms that Doctorow is a champion of is not held by everyone, and that it is their right to hold such views; whatever they (Apple in this case) wish is fair given the “complete freedom” of the internet. That is unless the internet should be more governed.
- - -
Now it is obvious that I am begging the question; and it is here where we once again where we find commodity. You can see it even in the way that LULZSEC has gone about its business. They seek not laws of letters but of morals. They see themselves as the moral underdogs seeking justice. (I will leave aside the matter of what they plan to do once they reign supreme but I doubt they've developed much beyond their online tactics).
These attacks by hackers both in tone and in action highlight the fact that the web is full of walls. And what matters most to these hackers is leaving their own walls intact while they bring down those that they disagree with. It is an utter perversion to then claim that they are also true believers in an ungoverned or even a “free” internet. They really believe in the rogue justice reminiscent of the Wild West. These hackers could do better to join the democratic processes of broader society otherwise the very fundamentals of the Internet's structure will in the end expose them.