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A vision of a new digital world

It is almost a common knowledge that Bill Gates had a certain vision when he co-founded Microsoft: a computer in every home that can be easily operated. Pity that this vision seemed to have had a hidden implication that every of these computers would have to run Microsoft's operating system. Nevertheless, the vision of widespread and pretty much ubiquitous digital empowerment is largely coming true.

However, as digital technology becomes ever more pervasive and powerful the controversy involved causes certain obstacles to further preservation of fair digital empowerment of all people. The controversy comes from challenges that technology now sometimes poses to entrenched powers. By so easily allowing people to share digital data with each other in a rather attractive way, for example, empires that have been built on exploiting the absence of this possibility are perceiving a challenge to their power rather than an opportunity for the future.

Hence, instead of embracing the change that technology allowed and people proved to be a good one, they are mercilessly fighting it or attempting to convert this new media technology to the old media technology that they can maintain control off. Believe it or not, this battle is not only a battle between an entertainment industry and peer to peer file sharers, but a battle between proprietary software monopolies and Free Software community. In both cases there is an old empire built on old concepts of artificial tangibility of digital matter created through incredible expansions of the copyright law. The ideal world the old media side of this controversy anticipates is the one in which they and solely they remain in control over propagation of digital matter which includes digital culture and digital programs. If they remain in control, they remain the top dogs who collect the tax, while the users remain mere consumers who take what is given to them choosing only between few not so differentiating options.

I didn't mention any names in above paragraph, but they should be clear enough if you have at least a basic understanding of what is going on.

But we are here to present you with a new vision, a vision that the old media side currently fails to see and understand, but is the only true way into the future filled with diversity and equal empowerment of everyone. In such a future everything and everyone is connected. Everyone has equal unconstrained access to the whole network and all public content available on it, no matter where on the globe they currently are. Even rural areas, forests, mountains and boats sailing the ocean are covered with this global network connectivity. Wireless access is as widespread as FM radio. It is quite literally everywhere.

Devices which people use to connect, download, use, process and upload with are under their complete individual control. A person who owns a laptop owns it fully. If she buys it with an operating system that particular copy of the operating system which is installed on her laptop is hers to use for whatever purpose, change for whatever reason, copy to whichever number of copies and share to whichever number of people for free or for a price. All upgrades and additional installations are done over the network and everything that she gets is equally under control by her as the owner of that computer. Upgrades and other installations are downloaded at a click of a button. Sharing of anything that is on her computer with anyone else connected to this network is equally easy. Protecting private data she doesn't want shared is, of course, easy as well. The average user's operating system is easy to use and if pre-installed on a computer when it is bought, the whole computer is usually acting as a sort of an appliance, but indeed a powerful one that can be applied in a lot of various ways combining ease with incredible flexibility available beneath the surface.

The rules of individual control over the device and software it runs are same for all both special purpose and general purpose digital devices. Being able to be in full control over their devices and its software is exactly what empowers them as participants of this new digital society. If anyone else but them would be able to mandate in which ways they can use it, how many copies they can make and what they can share they would be dependent on and hence essentially overpowered by the one in control over these rights. Since this overpowering is at an apparent expense of users own power over their own property, it disrupts the equal digital empowerment of all people on which this vision builds.

In a world of equal digital empowerment people readily collaborate on creating various innovative projects in various areas of culture, science and technology combining their power to create and advance themselves and the world. Businesses are created which offer valuable services which do not thrive on restricting access and digital rights, but rather on making it more valuable. Some of these businesses, for example, write custom software for substantial price, which is then not only useful for the customer who ordered a custom job, but for the connected world at large, unless the customer decides to keep the program private (unreleased and undistributed and hence with no one to empower nor disempower). Other businesses would build computers and devices with existing or new software installed and customized in a way that makes it readily "just work" on their device. They would market these "appliance-like Free Software powered computers" under their own names representing their own character, excellence and quality of making everything fit together.

Some of these businesses would indeed deal with distribution of this naturally free digital data, but their business operation would not depend on restricting flow of distribution, but rather again by making it more valuable. Labels of music would not derive its profits from restricting its flow. They would derive it from empowering music artists with recognition of their quality while taking part in resulting advertising revenues, merchandise and concert ticket sales. Instead of cashing in on restricting the flow of music, they cash in on the actual work they have done in empowering the music maker.

This is the vision of a world where everyone is in control yet no one is controlled. Everyone uploads and downloads. Free digital file sharing is not known for lawsuits, but is a slogan of some of the most successful corporations. In this world Free is not the word representing zero cost, zero profit or low quality. It is a word that represents freedom as the most fundamental value of the digital society. It is the freedom for it to exist because never can a fully digitally empowered society exist without liberating full potential of digital technology.

And certainly, fighting this potential with artificial constraints, law suits, legislations and its use against itself (through DRM) wont do it.

If you feel that the world envisioned above is not there yet, then it would be suitable to say that the digital revolution is just beginning. It wasn't about making digital technology widespread and well known. It is about liberating its full potential.

-- Danijel Orsolic