From workfare to warfare

In an episode of Star Trek long ago the Enterprise orbited a planet which was in an internal state of perpetual conflict. The twist was that in order to protect their infrastructure from war damage, its governments had agreed to a virtual war. In...


In an episode of Star Trek long ago the Enterprise orbited a planet which was in an internal state of perpetual conflict. The twist was that in order to protect their infrastructure from war damage, its governments had agreed to a virtual war. In this war, ‘casualties’ (after a virtual-strike) reported to mass extermination centres...and so it went on... forever.

This story was ahead of its earth-time but in line with its star date 1521.4 40; years later we have our own digital war age. We don’t exterminate people physically in the manner described above, preferring (in our less brutal countries), a more Kafka-esque ‘de-societing’ model to eliminate its victims but the analogy just about holds.

The front-line is of course cyber-space and increasingly we see society’s shields fail and the conflict materialises (or de-virtualises) in interesting ways, three of which we shall meet later. The war is of course between the old and the young just as it is, more conventionally and bloodily, in the so-called Arab-Spring uprisings.

The cyber-revolutionaries, as one would expect, range from moderate to hardcore. Among the activists, and hacktivists (some of whom I may meet in my college edu-life) are partakers variously of Anonymous,  the Pirate Bay, MegaUpload, the Pirate Party, Wikileaks, Uk-Uncut and RightToWork. Their tools of war include Facebook, Twitter, P2P, Bittorrent, Bitcoin and DDoS.

Their opponents - MI6, CIA, Mossad, and 國家安全部 - are foremost amongst the big state players and the likes of SOPA, ACTA and G-Cloud add the quasi-business organisations. Their main weapon is generically of the ‘we know where you live’ and ‘we can extradite you sonny’ Meagaupload sort.

Technically it is basically penniless open source guerrilla P2P technologies versus well-funded mighty centrally-controlled servers. 

The temptation is to dismiss the young’s attempts at freedom as little more than an obsession with nicking music and videos, a pre-occupation they grow out off as when they enter debt-serfdom... but I think this is changing up a gear and here are three examples from the past week that made just such an impression on me.

The first was an article about Raspberry Pi ( that again, sorry) and while I was writing about it as a worthy teaching-aid to improve young minds, an impossibly young Mr Kobeissi saw it instead as a credit-card sized server platform for his own Cryptocat encrypted P2P communication-service; tyrants eat your heart out he’s not joking.

The second was the mass withdrawal of mighty companies including Tesco from the Government’s work experience schemes. Why? Because people were nasty to them on the Internet. Ok, lots of organised social networkers were nasty to them, dubbing the opportunity to work for nothing as ‘workfare’, but at the end of the day the companies simply took fright and ran away with HM Gov calling the campaigners Trotsky-ites. Extrapolation of the effects that this kind of pressure could have on selling must really put the frights on the tyrants of consumer-world. 

By the way, the old men of the traditional, but now largely ineffectual ex-tyrannical scourge of unethical employment, aka the Trades Unions, are still trying to work out just what happened.

The third and final example was the release that sometime in 2011, NASA’s servers were controlled by most everyone except NASA employees.   

Only the final example was unsurprising to me.  Am I in touch with the vibe? Doesn’t look like it does it..were you?

And all the rest of it... (my mum’s favourite expression)

In the late 1990’s I was in charge of ICT in a large school populated by able pupils and I had first-hand experience of cyber-warfare. One thing we learnt from a bloody war was that we adults, no matter how smart, had to adapt to new challenges created by the young. The killer-word here is ‘adapt’.  

Being ‘adaptable’ is good as we are often told. The implicit threat is of course ‘unless you adapt to whatever you are going to be dead wood’ but the important point to realise is the young do not adapt; all is new.  

For example, the new world of austerity does not require young people to adapt as we must... they will simply act. How they will act is yet to be seen, but everyone else will either have to adapt to the changes they drive or crush them and enforce the status-quo - both are only too familiar.

The key problem is that there is a latency inherent in adaptation and that puts the status quo on the back foot forever... so in that everlasting cyber war I made up earlier, no matter how heavy it gets I’ll put money on the young winning. 

They won’t need the USS Enterprise to save them.

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