The deceitful promise of freedom

There’s a very powerful essay by Hossein Derakhshan on Medium about the Internet wasteland. It’s particularly poignant coming from someone who spent several years in jail as a result of his activities online:

“I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening: A loss of intellectual power and diversity, and on the great potentials it could have for our troubled time. In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment.

Anyone deeply engaged in the days of blogging will relate to these views.

That was an exciting time that seemed capable of capturing the utopia the Internet appeared to offer. If only it hit mainstream before the social networks got their claws in.

Of course, sometimes I wonder if our memories deceive us and that the people’s struggle to break free of control was never any more attainable during the blogging days than it is today.

Perhaps the fight is eternal, an innate anthropological prison humans find themselves trapped within, sometimes both emotionally and physically.

I’m not that fatalistic, really. There have been many battles won on our behalf before our time that have made our lives much better than our predecessors’. And there will be other great victories won by the people in the future.

Unfortunately, in the case of blogging, I agree with Hossein that freedom got outflanked before that revolution had legs to stand on. Annoyingly, we’re all complicit and every time we ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ we’re pumping more collective fuel into the centralized machines that defeated it.

Being a parent is a fantastic education. Watching my kids take toys apart to see how they work only to discover they can’t put them back together is a sharp reminder of how our brains work.

Computers, networks, phones, and social networks weren’t invented by people who wanted to control the world. They were invented by intensely curious and ambitious people who wanted to take apart ‘the system’.

They took great pride in their David vs Goliath stories, never more brazenly than the historic Apple Big Brother ad.

But after dismantling the status quo many of these folks have spent the rest of their careers putting the pieces of their foe back together again in their own image.

Instead of defending the freedom they espoused in obtaining their position of power they focused all their power on securing their future for themselves, constructing impenetrable walls against the threat of a younger and hungrier version of themselves attacking.

The promise of freedom from tyranny is a great marketing strategy for a startup. That message resonates deeply within our psyche because it is a universal sentiment.

But sometimes it’s a lie.

We need startups to invent better ways of doing things. We need people to lead the never-ending fight for our freedoms. We all need to be more honest about when those two things are in conflict.