I am assuming that most of you are aware of the current flap over the posting, printing, displaying, and reproduction of the 16-byte hexadecimal number that is one of the cryptographic keys that—with some more knowledge; the number is not in itself magical—can unlock the encryption of HD and Blu-Ray DVDs and, thus, allow for the copying of them. [See Wikipedia article.]
Some of my friends have even participated by posting the number on their blogs, perhaps even ordering a t-shirt.
I would like to ask you to read this [i d e a n t: “Rebellion by Numbers“] before finishing this post. It is not required but it is what shifted my thoughts in this direction. It is also more elegant that I can be, and links to several other writers.
Prime caveat: I do not mean to criticize those who have publicly reproduced this number. In fact, in some way, I applaud you. I, too, do not believe that numbers should be generally ownable property. But it is far more complex than that.
Having worked on a nuclear missile site in my earlier days I do not even want to think about this kind of “activism” getting hold of the PAL keys and spreading them around because someone thinks the military should not “own” these numbers. Now, while I don’t think they would actually claim to own these numbers, that delicacy would not prevent your swift removal to a detention camp or, perhaps even, your execution as a traitor to your country.
“Ownership” is only a small part of the issue here. Nonetheless, that is not my concern.
My concern centers around the last several and, in particular, on the last paragraph of Mejias’ post.
When activism is defined solely in terms of the exchange of information, we are reducing the options available for acting. That is how an encryption key (information in its purest form) was easily converted into a “subversive message” whose replication and dissemination was seen as a revolutionary act. As long as we’ve had media —and I’m afraid emerging “social” media don’t pose a significant alternative— we’ve seen this dynamic: the replication of information has itself come to define what it means to act, has become the source of meaning. The individual goes from being a social actor to an intersection of information flows. She possesses more information than ever before (about global warming, about genocidal poverty, about the false pretenses under which wars are started), but all she can do is replicate and pass on this information. The purer the information (09 F9 …), the more efficient the activism.
I feel that this may be one of the biggest [sets of] questions for our age and, particularly, for librarianship.
When is the replication of information activism?
Can it even be activisim?
If so, is it efficient?
It seems that the replication of information may [or should be] be a necessary condition for activism, but it does not seem to be sufficient to me. Perhaps there are some (small?) sets of circumstances where the simple act of replication of information constitutes activism; perhaps this current case is even one of them. But it seems to me that further action [of certain sorts] would clearly magnify the efficacy of the activism. Perhaps actual letters to your elected representatives, letters to your local newspapers to attempt to bring the issue to the attention of more of the citizenry, …?
Is this form of cyber-movement primarily a way to make people feel good about themselves? “I did something. I participated.”
Please. I do not mean to point fingers. I include myself in this—or even a lesser “active” group—as I have done nothing.
But truly—as Mejias and others ask—what other causes are there? What other issues of importance? Perhaps even of far more importance? In some ways this is a “free speech” issue, among others. But what about active police suppression of peaceful protesters for the last several years? Poverty, hunger, lack of medical care, wars of aggression in the name of democracy? All of these seem far more important to me than some DVD encryption key.
I’m not sure I’m even up to the task of engaging in this question; certainly not as well as I’d like. Someone like Rory Litwin or Jessamyn West are far better qualified than me. Nonetheless, I believe that these are some of the fundamental questions of our age, and that as librarians we have a responsibility to honestly and seriously—in a nuanced and critical way—ask, “Is the replication of information a form of activism?”, along with its associated questions.