The Null Device
DRM, SSSCA and beyond: a piece on the content industry's war on general-purpose computers.
Perhaps the most likely scenario is this: at some near-future date -- perhaps as early as 2010 -- individuals may no longer be able to do the kinds of things they routinely do with their digital tools in 2001. They may no longer be able, for example, to move music or video files around easily from one of their computers to another (even if the other is just a few feet away in the same house), or to personal digital assistants. Their music collections, reduced to MP3s, may be moveable to a limited extent unless their digital hardware doesn't allow it. The digital videos they shot in 1999 may be unplayable on their desktop and laptop computers -- or even on other devices -- in 2009.
I recently picked up a copy of Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal; so far, it's excellent, no less so than The Sky Road. MacLeod is becoming one of my favourite speculative fiction authors, alongside Greg Egan (partly because of his lucid speculations on society and politics, and partly because he writes actual characters you can empathise it, and not the cyberpunk mercenary-ninja-hacker/butt-kicking-chick clichés; not to mention his use of humour). Full review when I've read it.
A fascinating article about the history of political jokes in democracy and authoritarianism, from British caricatures to Eastern European gallows humour to the fine line of officially sanctioned humour and humour as propaganda.
Put simply, it is governments whose very reason for existence is to impose a grand ideological vision on humanity which provide fertile manure for subversive jokes.
The lineage of some authoritarian jokes stretches back far farther than the benighted twentieth century. One of the most popular jabs at the stupidity and dangerous arbitrariness of officialdom may have first been told by Arabs in the tenth century. The basic Arab version describes camels who run away because an idiotic new law is pressing mules into service. By the 1920s and 1930s, expanding on a Jewish joke of the tsarist years, the Soviet version described a group of rabbits who make a run for the Russian-Polish border. Applying for admission, the rabbits cry, "The Party has given orders to arrest every camel in the Soviet Union!" "But you are not camels," replies the Polish border guard. "Well, you try telling that to the Party," say the rabbits. Later versions were popular throughout Eastern Europe.
From a distance, it is easy to say that Russians recognized communism's ultimate absurdity and so laughed at it to "liberate" themselves before its "inevitable" collapse. But it may be more realistic to argue that, despite their recognition that communism was murderously absurd, Russians quietly cracked jokes just to endure it. Authoritarian jokes are not tiny revolutions; they are temporary pain relievers serving as a substitute for being allowed to participate in real politics.