Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Information War

I was born and raised a Mormon, though I experience religion these days as more of a social tradition led by (mostly) well-meaning people. That's not to say I don't enjoy a rich spiritual life or feel gratitude for the benefits of organized religion in all its many forms, but just as one learns in their youth to accept the true nature of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, I've come to appreciate that any honest attempt at spiritual progression will eventually require one to move beyond that which any one religious program can possibly deliver. That said, I do believe there is value to be found in the voluntary pursuit of the religious experience.

I'm also an American. And as a citizen, the process of separating political truth from fiction is no less emotionally charged than its religious equivalent (although our system itself is built to accept feedback from its members, which is rarely true of organized religion and by no means a universal attribute among the states of this world). Like any mature citizen, I must regularly consider what adds to the greater good and what does not, and I have yet to find a political party in sole possession of what might be termed "civic truth" - that which adds most effectively to the greater good of its citizens. But I've found myself temporarily aligned with the goals of one party or another at certain points in my life, particularly during the election cycle.

I also work for a commercial entity, which has yet another mechanism for reaching market truth, and again I have not found one entity who has fully mastered market truth but with each successive employer I find myself moving closer to the origin of that truth and perhaps someday I will be a proper entrepreneur in the most direct contact possible. Commercial entities have the most effective feedback loops of the three, but that's due to the nature of money, where the metrics and objectives are more easily measured. Commercial players also have the most clearly vested interests of the information age.

The trouble comes in when the persistent realities of the information age make it harder to separate individual, commercial, and civic morals from those advocated by religion. We can see the religious problems surface in Prohibition (and it's modern equivalent: the War on Drugs), in sexual politics, and in every country that with an official state-sanctioned religion (or where religious expression itself is banned). Despite our American tradition of separation of church and state, it's no secret that many of our laws are a product of widespread religious influence, even if the modern trend is to substitute state authority for that of the church. What typically gets lost in that process is individual freedom, but it's much harder for free individuals to organize politically than it is for those attached to a shared religious, commercial, or civic cause.

The commercial problems are even more persistent, and the battles around intellectual property are their most visible in this information age. Are patents and copyrights protecting innovation and the creative sources of our culture or just another means of information control being wielded in the service of protecting yesterday's almighty business model?

When neither religious nor government nor commercial institutions control the flow of information, individual freedom can flourish. In centuries past, information control was easy. Today, those that would restrict the flow of information find themselves in a protracted battle they are likely to lose over time, because this war is asymmetrical (one person with the right information at the right time can take on an entire company, or church, or country--and win). But the war is far from over, and it's clear that none of these vested interests has given in. Yet it has never been more true than today that one person can make a difference. Are you prepared to be that person?

Reload, Refresh, and Relaunch

It's been 3 years since my last post and the urge to blog has been building for nearly a year now. I've moved to the West Coast, changed jobs twice, and been exposed to a lot of new ideas in that time. The Jaded Apprentice will reflect that change, and I've updated the blog's look and feel to reflect that. The blog's tone will become more personal in places, and move beyond the financial, political, and technology themes to add occasional riffs on broader life contexts.

I'm traveling a lot these days, so I don't yet know what kind of cadence my new posts will have, but I'm aiming for new posts at least weekly. As Robert Heinlein put it, "When I don't understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why." Consider that my theme henceforth. So let's begin...