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THE NINETY DEGREE REVOLUTION

THE NINETY DEGREE REVOLUTION

By: L. Neil Smith

THE NINETY DEGREE REVOLUTION
By L. Neil Smith

Exclusive to Freedom's Phoenix Magazine


Most people who think about such things recognize that over the
past couple of decades, a communications revolution has occurred. Few
appreciate just how profound and history-shattering that revolution
is, or why the government -- which actually got the revolution started
-- hates, loathes, and despises it, and would do anything to reverse
it.

Depending on who's doing the talking, human beings have organized
themselves in large groups -- bigger than extended families, tribes,
or villages -- for almost 10,000 years (Catalhoyuk, in Turkey, dates
to 7500 B.C.). Aside from the legendary oratory of the Greeks, the
wailing of muezzins in their minarets, yodeling from the mountaintop
to the valley, or "talking" drums in Africa, not much is known about
mass communication until about 1000 years ago, when the predecessors
of church bells -- flat plates or gongs -- began to be used, and the
distinction became plain between lateral communications among ordinary
people, and vertical communications: pronouncements "from on high" by
authority.



These pronouncements were, quite literally, the big noise.

Because it was such a primitive, low-bandwidth medium, people had
to be conditioned, by parents or priests, to respond to the bell
appropriately, for morning prayers, midday prayers, evening prayers,
weddings, funerals, or emergencies. Humanity -- at least in Europe --
became Pavlovian dogs, commanded by the one-note authority of the
Church.

And so it went, for the next millennium. With few exceptions, every
time there was an improvement in communications, it was an improvement
in vertical communications, from the pinnacle of authority downward.
The printing press, initially, was used to print Bibles (although it
was eventually the undoing of the Roman church). The military used
semaphoric telegraph to convey strategic and tactical intelligence.
Newspapers found a niche, passing government lies and threats along to
a populace increasingly encouraged to read so they could receive their
orders.



Letters to the editor were used to make dissenters seem like
fools.

Then came radio, ideally suited for abuse by demagogues like
Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt. And then television --
and, exactly as it had been with the radio, there was no way of
talking back to the florid, power-besotted faces filling the screen.
They were talking to you, and had no intention of letting you talk back.



Sometime around the age of 10 or 11 (this would have been 1956 or
1957), I saw something that struck my imagination like a kitchen
match. My dad was a US Air Force officer running aircraft maintenance
at Torbay, a Canadian Air Force base we used because there wasn't any
runway 20 miles away at Pepperrell, where my dad was officially
stationed.

More or less permanently installed on the edge of the asphalt sat
a big trailer, which held facilities for guiding aircraft to land in
bad weather, of which we had plenty. There was an acronym; I don't
remember what it was. Ground-Controlled Approach? GCA? Something like
that.

An object inside that trailer looked a lot like one of those big
old-fashioned receipt machines you used to see in retail stores,
except that whatever you wrote or drew on its surface was relayed
telephonically to the main control tower, half a mile away. And when
the tower guys wrote back to you, a little arm with a pen darted out
and duplicated -- in the individual's hand -- whatever they had
written.

I coveted one of those damned thingies for the rest of my youth,
never realizing the almost magical capacity it had demonstrated would
be only a minor feature of the technology that was coming. It was only
two-way, and it was, essentially, a closed circuit system -- exactly
like the telephone -- but seeing it work filled my mind with wonderful
possibilities.

Communication follows a predictable course of evolution. It begins
with something big, expensive, and institutional -- like church bells
-- but as time goes on, it gets smaller, cheaper, more widely spread,
like the hand bell the schoolmarm used to get the kids back in from
recess.

Despite their early humble beginnings in nickelodeon machines,
movies were soon being exhibited to hundreds, or even thousands of
people in vast entertainment palaces, and went from grainy grayscale
to high-resolution, "glorious Technicolor, breathtaking Cinemascope,
and stereophonic sound".



And 3D.

People could make their own movies, but it was tedious and
expensive. When television came along, the only way to record it, at
first, was to film it -- the process was called Kinescope -- but video
tape was invented (it started out an inch wide) and the first private
individual I ever heard of who had his own tape player was Hugh
Hefner.

The first blank VHS cassettes cost $35 apiece. Betamax failed, not
because of some conspiracy, but because its idiot makers never dreamed
that people would want to use it to watch movies. Now, of course, I
own something like a thousand movies on VHS and DVD, and I recently
replaced my dead disk player with a Blu-Ray machine. From movie palace
(with sticky floors and noisy patrons) to living room in just half a
century.

Computers -- although their pioneers didn't realize they would
ultimately serve mostly as communication devices -- followed the same
course, from obscenely expensive boxes that filled several temperature
controlled rooms and had thousands of vacuum tubes needing constant
replacement by grad students going up and down the aisles between the
various sections with shopping carts, to vastly more powerful and
reliable items that will fit on your wrist -- or the back of a
housefly.

Initially, computers were used in World War II to direct artillery
fire. Afterward, scientists used them to solve problems that required
thousands of computations. Businesses, especially banks, found them
useful in the giddy days of punch cards, paper tape, and eight-inch
floppies.

And just as the universities in those days were filled (and may
still be) with boffins who thought they were too good to do their own
typing, the bigwigs -- including the government -- who owned the
computers didn't try to understand them. They simply hired young,
badly-dressed, ill-groomed, and awkward young people to do it for
them.

When a network was proposed, to facilitate communications between
academia, government, and corporate America, the same "geeks" (as they
came to be called) were hired to run that, too. And the minds that had
used spare time on the banks' computers to play the primitive Star
Trek
game we grew to love, used this military-industrial-academic
network to send each other dirty jokes and recipes for marijuana
brownies.

The Internet had been born.

There was nothing Authority could do, even when they knew what was
going on. They needed the 'net and the geeks whose domain it was too
badly.

What nobody, not even the geeks, understood is that a fundamental
social revolution was occurring, far more important than Gutenberg's
printing press (which was ultimately responsible for events from the
Protestant Reformation to the American war of Independence from Great
Britain -- demonstrating that each time there's an improvement in
communication, some sort of revolution has followed), more important,
inexpressibly so, than the telephone, the radio, or the television,
which were themselves a part of the old world now being turned on its
ear.

For the first time in the history of civilization, vertical
communication -- orders from the top down -- was being displaced,
possibly even replaced, by lateral communication between ordinary
people.



Topics could be discussed -- the philandering of politicians, the
lack of qualifying credentials by presidents, the criminal behavior of
banks, the evil of mindless wars waged against helpless populations --
that the old-style top-down media wouldn't have mentioned. Candidates
deliberately ignored or mocked by the Old Media suddenly had a real
chance.

Instead of being told what to think and say and do by largely
self-appointed thugs, the products of a hopelessly corrupt political
system, ordinary individuals were talking it over -- sometimes at the
top of their cybernetic lungs -- among themselves in an environment
in which, mimicking the core of libertarian ethics, it's impossible to
initiate physical force. Thomas Jefferson would have loved it. Our
third President's less-worthy successors detest it. All through her
swinish husband's administration, Hillary Clinton muttered threats at
the Internet, and Waco Willie himself opined that the Founders had
"given" us too much freedom; maybe it was time to take some of it
away.

West Virginia Senator, would-be television censor, and former
Governor Jay Rockefeller has said that he believes we'd be better off
-- meaning he'd be better off -- if the Internet had never been
invented. It's petty obvious that moustache twirling comic book
villains, like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, and John
McCain agree. 

But the genie is out of the bottle and the toothpaste is out of
the tube. More and more, vertical communication means less and less
(Obama's recent State of the Union was the least-watched in history),
while lateral communication continues to grow phenomenally and is
often the only thing still holding our criminally mismanaged economy
together.

Sure, they can shut off the Internet, at the cost of shutting down
the entire phone system. Sure they can pass laws, which nobody is
willing to obey any more. As we "speak" I hear rumors of alternative
Internet infrastructure being devised that nobody can ever interfere
with.

As surely as with the passage of human technology from flaked
stone to bronze to iron to steel, the world has changed and it won't
ever be changing back. The hypocrites who once said how nice it would
be if everybody in the world could speak to one another now have their
wish.



And most of them can't stand it.

But for us, the children of the American Revolution, it is a new
beginning.

-----------------------------------

L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of 33 freedom-oriented
books, including The Probability Broach, Ceres, Sweeter Than
Wine
, and  DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy In A Time Of Crisis.


 

 
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