My latest Publishers Weekly column, “I Can’t Let You Do That, Dave,” is a look at the dangers of redesigning our computers to boss us around instead of doing what they’re told and trying to help us:
Contrary to what’s been written in some quarters, Aaron Swartz didn’t attempt to download those journal articles because “information wants to be free.” No one cares what information wants. He was almost certainly attempting to download those articles because they were publicly funded scholarship that was not available to the public. They were scientific and scholarly truths about the world, information that the public paid for and needs in order to make informed choices about their lives and their governance. Fighting for information’s freedom isn’t the point. It’s people’s freedom that matters.
All of which makes the publishing community’s embrace of DRM and its advocacy for badly written, overly broad legislation to support DRM, fraught with peril. Since Frankenstein, writers and thinkers have recoiled in visceral horror at the idea of technology overpowering its creators. But when we actively build businesses that require censorship, surveillance, and control to thrive, we make a Frankenstein’s monster out of the devices that fill our pockets and homes, and the network that binds them all together.