Eeky Geeky: weekly peeky at the freaky

Carl Brooks

To be a geek is challenging at times. The stares, the hoots of laughter, the blank incomprehension when you bring up new developments in virtual firewalls on cross-boundary networks at the bar, fuel a kind of nameless and morbid fear. That fear has a name, o loyal readers, and that name is parallel unorthodoxy in communications protocols. Or something.

We have a collective fear of being misunderstood, of not possessing the tools of language to make ourselves capable of bridging the gap between Self and Other. It’s the need for intellectual contact that has driven most of human history. Way back when Ogg hit Grog with a rock, was it because he was pissed that Grog took the last piece of rotting mastodon? No! It was Ogg’s inability to make clear his need to ingest that furry slab of carcass that led to his frustration, that led to the fateful discovery, made lo these eons past, that nothing says “Help me to help you understand my inner being” like a well-worn river stone.

Grog himself, laid up in a hospital bed of tree moss, made the next great leap in communications when he had Ogg served with a writ of damages for “unspecified emotional and physical injury, resulting in loss of work”

Leap forward to the modern day and the process is much the same. The struggle, mentioned in brief last week, with new technologies and new ways of doing business like “Digital Rights Management”(i.e., you have no property rights, biatch) and filesharing, is about two things. One is the need for corporations, by their very nature, to control their product and maximize the amount of control they exercise over it to the detriment of the consumer, and the natural human impulse to share our thoughts, emotions and communities, regardless of what the cost to the producer is.

Whether he or she knows it or not, the modern geek is the product of a cultural legacy of inventions, openness and an almost painfully naïve assumption that sharing information freely is a welcome and enlightened state of mind, and that all rational beings must feel this way. They are the children of a free world, an accident of history. They are the creators of, and they have built that spirit of free information and easy, accessible communication, between people, platforms and gadgets right in to the interconnected world we enjoy. A small community of geeks, hippies, technoids and hackers made sure that the success of the information revolution was built on open access and cross-platform standards. Bill Gates was one of them.

Now the corporation, Microsoft in particular, supplier of about 85% of the world’s desktops, is dead against this. The are opposed to free exchange of ideas, freedom to enjoy your property (hack), and open standards. That’s not a moral judgment; it doesn’t make any sense to be mad at the hyena for tearing the entrails out of Bambi, either.

DRM is their solution. DRM in essence means that you no longer own the information on your computer. It’s debatable, in this IP age, how much of that data was yours, what with copyright and fair use and all, but suffice to say that the legal standard for establishing property rights is often ownership. DRM is a blanket that covers a vast panoply of concerted efforts to lock your box down; even worse, to lock it down to you and open it up to the gentle, inquisitive fingers of the companies that supplied you with the data in the first place. DRM comes standard on some new Microsoft products, like XP and Media Player 9. In other news, Microsoft released a patch this week that installs DRM on older machines, under the blackly humorous misnomer, “Critical Security Update”

What is does is this- it hooks up to the internet and sends a little tickle to Microsoft every time you want to play a song, play a game, download a piece of software. Do you really want everybody at Microsoft to know what you listen to and look at and when you do it? Or lock you out of your box when you install new hardware? Or connecting to the internet whenever it feels like?

DRM is a big deal- Microsoft is working hand in hand with the media companies to make sure that they have a way to mess with you if they don’t like what you are doing. No more mixing songs, copying CDs, looking at “untrustworthy” websites or using “unofficial” software. Is that a Bad Thing? You bet.

Tune in next week for Fish Tanks Do Not Love Your Computer and some other fun junk.