Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age
(C) 1997 Esther Dyson
All rights reserved
Esther Dyson, the "most powerful woman in the Net-erati" according to The New York Times Magazine, explores the impact and implications of cyberspace -- its effect on our daily lives, the responsibilities that come with our new powers, and the global issues the Internet creates.
How I got the
story and learned
to love markets
Because so much of this book concerns the value of
openness and disclosure--of origins, of biases, of vested
interests--I owe it to you to explain who I am and how
I have come to the perceptions and opinions I hold.
First of all, I never expected to be a "techie." My
parents were both scientists, so I wasn't afraid of technology.
But I always assumed I'd end up being a novelist.
I liked reading; I liked writing. I even founded the
Dyson Gazette at the age of eight. The technology was
ballpoint pen and carbon paper; the coverage was very
I was a child of my generation, with the single exception that we
didn't have television at home. Because I was raised in the academic
hothouse around Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, with
Nobel laureates as dinner guests, I grew up scorning the commercial
world. My first regular job wasn't commercial either; I worked as a
page in the local public library. I was fourteen when I discovered that
most people did not get ten weeks of vacation in the summer. (Of
course, I knew that the mailman kept coming; I assumed there were
substitute mailmen just as there were substitute teachers.)
How I met Juan and Alice
When I reached Harvard, not much closer to reality in the late '60s, I
spent most of my time not in class but at the Harvard Crimson, the
university's daily newspaper. I tried out for it my freshman year and
wrote for it ever after for love; I also proofread for money. Much as
I love the digital world, I also love the old world of movable lead type,
the building that shook every night after midnight as the presses
rolled, the gruff professional linotypists who scorned us elite college
kids. Our archenemies at the Crimson were at the Harvard Lampoon, the
college humor magazine that didn't (at the time) take girls, but didn't
mind them hanging around if they were pleasant and not too uppity.
I liked spending time at the Lampoon; its members were funnier than
the serious-minded would-be journalists at the Crimson. There was one
couple there that it took me a long time to figure out: Juan and Alice.
People were always leaving notes for them: "Juan & Alice--Please
don't leave your Tommy's lunch in the refrigerator." "Juan & Alice--Please
wash your dishes." It was college; a lot of our lives revolved
around food, especially Tommy's Lunch, the local greasy spoon.
Finally I figured out that Juan and Alice were a Spanish-English-German
pun meaning "one and all" (one and Alles). I have used them
ever since when I need some archetypal figures to make a point; you'll
be seeing them throughout the book. Thank you, Lampy!
How I learned about markets
Like my friends on the Crimson (the Lampoon was somewhat more
elitist), I was a good liberal. I thought the government was heartless
because it didn't simply take care of all the poor people; wasn't that
what taxes were for? But somehow, I sensed that if I wanted to change
the world, my best hope was to study economics, not politics. So I
majored in economics at Harvard and learned about supply and demand
and market equilibrium: If you allow a free market, prices will
adjust so that demand will meet supply. If that produces unfairness,
then the government should step in to fix things. But none of that
explained how things really worked, or how markets could produce
growth and progress instead of just equilibrium.
All that I learned later, first as a fact-checker and then as a reporter
for Forbes magazine. Known as a magazine for investors, Forbes is fanatical
about disclosure and investors' rights to know what is going
on at their companies. But its stories also illustrate how numbers and
the laws of economics that make markets work aren't the whole story;
the men and women running companies by and large determine their
fates within the broader market. It was real-life business school: Instead
of sitting in the library I got to go out and interview the principals
who made everything happen.
By 1977 I got tired of watching and reporting. I went to Wall Street
as a securities analyst, following high-tech stocks and trying to tell
investors which companies would grow and prosper. That was where
I switched from the electric typewriter I had used at Forbes to a word-processor
and eventually a PC (a Tandy, for what it's worth). As it
turned out, understanding companies was a lot easier than predicting
stock prices. I discovered that I had less interest in the stock market
than in the inner workings and the products of the high-tech companies
themselves--especially since their products were beginning to
change how businesses operated.
But my financial experience taught me a few things. Apart from
high-tech, I covered one other company, Federal Express. There I
met Jim Barksdale, then chief information officer of FedEx, and now
CEO of Netscape. The lessons we both learned about creating a market,
not just a company, have proved relevant ever since.
In the end, I left Wall Street to get closer to the computer industry,
joining venture capitalist Ben Rosen and taking over his Rosen Electronics
Letter, a newsletter targeted to the industry itself rather than to investors
in it. Rosen, also a former analyst, was finding the newsletter a
burden as he became increasingly involved in venture capital. It also
turned into a conflict of interest as two of his investments took off
and it was impossible to write about the industry without mentioning
them--Compaq and Lotus. I first met Lotus founder Mitch Kapor in
Ben's office when Mitch was looking for funding for his new product,
1-2-3, a spreadsheet pitched as "VisiCalc for the PC."
In short order, Ben became chairman of Compaq and a director of
Lotus. I assumed his burden entirely by buying the company and the
newsletter, which I renamed Release 1.0 (R E L---get it?). One of my
first newsletter articles was based on a trip to Bellevue, Washington,
to write about yet another start-up, Microsoft. (I said that it needed
to "lose some of its charm" to succeed in the cutthroat software business.)
As a result of this path I grew up intellectually regarding Federal
Express, Apple, Compaq, Lotus, and Microsoft as typical start-ups--fairly
high standards. Most of what happened in any of these companies
had little to do with economics; it had much more to do with
people, strategy, implementation. Nor did they look to government
for any help. Left to their own, they could produce miracles.
And they did. They created not just hot new products but hot new
markets. It all worked in a wonderful manner: Competing firms got
stronger and stronger in the furnace of the market, while the weaker
ones dropped out. That magical market worked for people, too: While
troubled firms died or were swallowed up, the people within them
found new jobs elsewhere, honing their skills as they went.
The industry flourished away from the spotlight, away from government
interference, away from social responsibility. Personal computers
were still largely novelties for hobbyists; serious mainframe
computer folk considered PCs basically toys. While many people of
this generation were reformed college activists settling down to reality,
the PC industry remained a haven for freewheeling, free-market thinking.
Its people couldn't understand why everyone couldn't be as successful
as they were.
Personally, I was having a lot of fun covering Silicon Valley, the
home of untrammeled commercialism, economic freedom, and technical
innovation. I kept finding new stuff to learn as the industry kept
changing. I took Release 1.0 and changed its focus from PCs to software
as the PC business grew mature and organized; there wasn't
much new to say about PC hardware in the mid-'80s--just market-size
forecasts and new product releases.
But suddenly software, which had been interesting as an emerging
business, became even more interesting because of the nature of what
it sold: Groupware, and networking in general, fostered social as well
as technical change. Companies installing groupware systems (the precursors
to today's intranets) had to deal with problems of personal
interaction, workflow, sharing of credit, and people's tendency to
hoard information as power. The new software involved classification
of knowledge, not just manipulation of dry data. I had enjoyed the
mathematical and logical challenges of figuring out how databases
work, but this was more complex and somehow more real. It affected
people's daily lives.
What is a market?
What is a market? And what does it have to do with the Internet? The
fashion right now, one I follow, is to think of the Internet as a living
environment, a place for societies, communities, and institutions to
grow--rather than as something constructed, a superhighway, for example.
That leads to appropriate metaphors, looking at the Net as
something to be cultivated and nurtured rather than built or engineered.
(Only its rules need to be designed so that it can grow in good
health.) The structure has to emerge from individual actions rather
than from some central authority or government. The guiding metaphor
is evolution. Evolution is natural, the thinking goes. And markets
are just a faster form of evolution.
But I'd like to disagree--or take the metaphor a step further. First,
markets are not just a form of evolution, commonly considered survival
of the fittest. Markets have rules and enforcement mechanisms agreed
on (more or less) by all the players. And second, what does the survival
rule apply to: Is it people? Is it firms? Is it the products or concepts
the firms sell or operate on? And is it really the fittest? Or the best
For starters, evolution is blind. Call it self-unaware. Its processes
operate without visibility. Animals and plants live or die as a whole,
eventually resulting in the evolution--creation or modification or dying
out--of entire species. "Good" genes live on, fostering the survival of
good features--whether wings or eyes or intelligence. An industrial
analogy to such surviving features is the technology that runs motors-V-8
or diesel, for example. The technology lives on and spreads
even as the individual cars and the brands and models that contain
the engines disappear.
Markets are different. They are self-aware. We can see what is successful
and what is not. What is the same is the decentralized approach,
and tolerance for the destruction of bad ideas. Businesses and
communities can adopt good ideas (or "memes") that they weren't
born with. "Memes" act more like viruses than like genes. Whole firms
do not need to live or die for the best memes to spread and the worst
to die off. The market is more Lamarckian than Darwinian. In business,
my favorite examples are how the concept of having a single fast-moving
line feed several teller stations replaced the concept of several
lines moving at different, unpredictable speeds spread through the
bank lobbies of America in a matter of months. Likewise, the hub-and-spokes
idea has "infected" the airline industry. Analogies for the Net
will be rules in a community. business models, and the like. Some Net
businesses and communities will come and go, but others will be able
to learn and acquire memes from those around them.
"Memes" is the concept of ideas as objects that can evolve and
adapt just as other "living" things do, courtesy of biologist Richard
Dawkins. The best ones adapt and flourish; the foolish ones die off. Or
so the theory goes. Darwin is the acknowledged founder of evolution
theory, which needs no explanation; Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was the
nineteenth-century French scientist who kept trying to prove, with little
success, that the effects of behavior could be inherited-specifically,
that giraffes that stretched their necks more had babies with longer
necks. But given what we now know about genes (and markets!), some
of Lamarck's ideas are beginning to make sense again.
All along there was another facet of the business--the one that actually
supported the business and allowed me to educate myself through
the newsletter. That was my annual computer conference, PC Forum,
When it started in the late '70s, it had been a little afternoon session
at Ben Rosen's Semiconductor Forum. I took it over in 1983, when it
had achieved its own identity but was still mainly a showcase for PC
companies preening in front of investors. Its heart and soul was as a
meeting ground for the industry itself. We had trade shows, where
everyone kowtowed to customers and promoted products, but PC
Forum was where we talked about our problems as an industry. This
was where Mitch Kapor clashed with Bill Gates and with French-born
Philippe Kahn, founder of Borland International (a pioneering
software company), where people met by the pool to do deals, where
Software Arts served a subpoena on its erstwhile partner VisiCorp.
People came to argue and to catch up, to find new jobs, new partners,
PC Forum was and still is conceived as a commercial enterprise,
but it also has the flavor of an annual high school reunion. Many of
us know one another from before we became who we became. But
by 1989, even that had become a little dull. I needed to find something
new for commercial reasons, too; I now had ample competition writing
about these topics. As I had learned by now, a market is not just
the interaction of buyers and sellers; it involves competition between
sellers. Rather than compete only on price, sellers compete on
differentiation--the equivalent of the forces that produce new species in
nature. Differentiation is a lot easier when you know what your competition
is doing, which is why disclosure is good for markets as a
whole as well as for investors and customers.
The trick is to find a niche that's unoccupied. As the only writer
for my newsletter (and uninterested in finding and managing others),
I couldn't hope to compete with other publications on depth of coverage
or research. What I could do best was stake out and map new
Next step: Moscow
So, naturally enough, I went to Russia--something I had wanted to
do since learning the language in high school. There was a lot of new
territory there in 1989--both for me and for the Russians themselves.
I had brought along five books, including James Gleick's Chaos (Viking
Penguin, 1987), which is a layperson's explanation of the science
of complexity, including evolution, markets, and learning. Two were
books by my father (Freeman Dyson) that I had never had the time
to read: Infinite in All Directions (Harper & Row, 1988), about evolution,
life, and implicitly about markets; and Disturbing the Universe (Basic
Books, 1981), his own intellectual autobiography, in which he explained
his distrust of big organizations as opposed to his trust and
tolerance of the individuals he encounters. (His distrust came from
his experience as a mathematician working for the Bomber Command
of the British Royal Air Force during World War II. The
pitifully small survival rate of shot-down crewmen indicated their
bombers' escape hatches were too small; crewmen couldn't climb
out fast enough to open their parachutes in time. The Air Force
and the aircraft manufacturers ignored the problem and let the boys
Here I was with new intellectual eyes, and a new world to look at.
I could finally see what a market was--by seeing what the lack of
one had done to Russia. No feedback loops. No competition. No
differentiation. No growth. No progress. The Soviets had constructed
a complex industrial machine after World War II, but for all its moving
parts, it was static. It had no way to adjust to the unexpected, to allow
for progress or for human nature. This giant edifice had gradually
rusted beyond repair. As its parts broke down, they could not heal
themselves, and the Soviet system could not fix them either. It could
only vainly exhort its troops to do more of the same.
But all this was changing. The Congress of People's Deputies had
just been elected, and all over the nation people were going to work
and instead of working, watching the Congress's deliberations on television.
"Our government is going to set free-market prices just like
yours," one exuberant Russian told me. It was clear that within a year
or two Russia would be on its way to prosperity as a free state. Already
the market was starting to work. Following the lead of small entrepreneurs
opening restaurants and taxi services, the programmers I knew
were beginning to leave their state jobs to form programmers' cooperatives
and, they hoped, get rich.
My self-appointed mission was to help them understand the market.
"How are you different from the competition?" I would ask.
"We have no competition," would come the answer.
"But what about Ivan and Volodya?"
"Oh, them. They're no good! We're much better!" But they could
never tell me how they were better. In fact, no one knew much about
anyone. Customers would simply buy from people they knew. Afraid
of being bothered by the government or the growing mafia for being
too successful, the entrepreneurs did not advertise.
Information is more useful than money
Why not just be better in something specific, I would ask, rather than
defame the competition? Why not meet them and find out what they
were doing? Then I would glibly talk about differentiation and speciation.
Since it sounded scientific, they liked the idea. And indeed, in
Russia's computer market, several years later things are working quite
well. Vendors are advertising and explaining themselves clearly. There
are industry associations and trade shows where people gather to talk
about common problems, pick up competitive information, check out
new trends. Their customers are installing computers and accounting
systems to manage real businesses; they can't afford to pick suppliers
on the basis of bribes or connections.
I knew all about markets, I thought, but I had never realized how
important information was until I saw a market without it--not just
pricing, but everything else. Who's doing what? Who's winning? Who
is failing, and why? I could see what it took to make a market precisely
because it was not there.
Although a market might follow the laws of nature, it is not a totally
natural thing. It works far better with information. Instead of firms
living and dying aimlessly, ideas and concepts can take shape.
But another thing is lacking in Russia--another thing I never
missed until I saw what happens without it: a solid legal infrastructure,
one that enforces contracts and requires honest advertising and disclosure.
A market doesn't need a lot of complex regulations if those two
are in place: Tell the truth, and deliver on your promises.
In other words, there are global rules that make the market work,
and then local players who push the market to improve, depending on
their own particular desires. Without those global rules, the specific
preferences of the players never get expressed.
Not by markets alone
Outside the computer business, the market in Russia is like evolution.
It is blind. Customers often don't know whom they're dealing with,
so they can't believe promises. Everything is short-term. There's not
much point in trying to develop a reputation in a market that doesn't
trust you to be who you say you are.
Consequences multiply. Employees don't trust their employers or
one another, so they don't work as a team. They don't regard stealing
from an employer (particularly if it is state-owned) as wrong. There's
an old Soviet saying: "If you don't steal from the State, you are stealing
from your family." People don't understand the role of investment in
building companies for the long term, so they regard profit as evidence
Return from Russia
I returned from Russia with the scales gone from my eyes. Over the
next couple of years I adopted the region as my territory. The U.S.
market was doing fine on its own, but Central and Eastern Europe
needed me. My knowledge of markets and specific contacts in the PC
market made me uniquely able to be helpful. And it was fun to watch
how each country's market developed differently.
Hungary, which had liberalized first, was the leader, but its new
private companies were still run like state organizations, more for the
immediate personal benefit of the top guys than for long-term profitability
to shareholders. That eventually caught up with them, and a
number of Hungarian computer companies went bankrupt. A major
exception, Graphisoft, is still flourishing as a worldwide leader in design
software for architects. In the Czech Republic, the market ruled
supreme, but the government gave way too much power and too little
oversight to the banks. The results are starting to show as the banks
get into trouble and the companies they own turn out never to have
gone through the management restructuring they needed. Poland is
probably the greatest success story of all. It got a wholly new government
and already had a tradition of small businesses.
But Russia! Russia is the country where I speak the language, which
I love as one loves a self-destructive child. In power for more than
seventy years, the Soviets had left no bourgeois culture to revive. Here
the computer market is a little oasis in a huge, dysfunctional economy
where people strike for back wages, not for pay hikes.
But all these insights weren't of great interest to the regular readers
of Release 1.0, at least not when presented in terms of Eastern Europe.
I started another newsletter, Rel-EAST, and another conference, East-West
High-Tech Forum, to focus on Eastern Europe.
Once I returned from Russia in 1989 (and kept going back), I started
to keep in touch with my new friends in Russia by e-mail. I got myself
an MCI Mail account--horrible to look at, difficult to use, but the
best way of reaching people in Russia. I rarely used it for people in
the United States, because other methods were easier. Ironically, the
people in Russia were quicker to use e-mail than those in Central
Europe, where the alternatives of fax and phone already worked
One of the strongest promoters of e-mail was Borland International,
the software company, not out of "vision" but because it
wanted to keep in touch with its distributors cheaply and effectively.
It made each of them get an MCI Mail account--and of course they
ended up being among the East Europeans with whom it was easiest
to keep in touch.
At this point, the Internet was a specific technical network, the
preserve of scientists and researchers using technical workstations
based on UNIX. Those of us with PCs had our choice of a number
of proprietary e-mail/online services, including MCI Mail, CompuServe,
and Prodigy, but it was complicated and expensive to send mail
from one to another. One by one, they established better connections
to the Internet. And meanwhile, Tim Berners-Lee developed the technology
for the World Wide Web at the European Center for Nuclear
Research (CERN) in Geneva. Over time the Internet, a formal research
network, coalesced with a new crowd of less technically inclined
users and commercial services. Together, they would blossom
into the Net we know today.
But as the '90s began all this was still new to me. What I knew was
that more and more people started sending me e-mail, even from the
United States. Somehow I got the sense that something was happening.
All over the United States and even worldwide, all those single-user
PCs that (allegedly) improved individuals' productivity were becoming
much more powerful--a medium for communication. The people who
used e-mail had this secret smile, as if they knew some new kind of
pleasure denied the rest of us. Maybe life was about to get interesting
back in the United States, too.
Mitch Kapor, who had now left Lotus and sold all his stock, was
one of the Net's biggest fans. But all I knew about Mitch was that he
had gotten involved--using some of his now considerable fortune--in
defending Steve Jackson, owner of a computer-game company
who suffered business losses caused by overaggressive FBI
agents who seized his computers and data when they suspected one
of his employees of "cracking"--breaking into other people's computers
over the Net. (Jackson was eventually vindicated in court in
1993.) In 1991 Mitch called--or e-mailed, I can't recall--to invite me
to join the board of his new venture, the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
an online civil liberties organization.
Initially, I was dubious about joing the EFF board. "I'm not sure
I'd agree with everything you're doing," I told Mitch.
He passed the test perfectly. "That's exactly why we want you on
the board," he said.
Somehow, just as I had magically gravitated to the PC at the end of
the '70s, I was magically gravitating to the Internet at the beginning of
the '90s. I knew that joining the board would force me to learn more
about it and since I liked Mitch, I signed up.
As time passed, I found more and more use for e-mail. The Electronic
Frontier Foundation was run by e-mail, of course, and other
friends began asking me for my e-mail address--and using it.
The lure of the Net
This was the time that Vice President Al Gore was discovering the
Information Superhighway. Ironically, for all its free-market libertarianism,
the Internet was a creation of the U.S. government. The government
still owned most of it in the early '90s, although an increasing
proportion of the equipment over which it ran sat in computer centers
in universities, research organizations, and private companies. The Internet,
after all, runs over existing phone lines as well as over its own
high-speed, high-bandwidth telecommunications "backbones." Although
it appears to be free to its users, most of its operating costs
were borne first by the government and then increasingly by private
computer centers, whose computers are being used to hold the content
of the Internet--newsgroups, Websites, e-mail archives, and the
like--and to forward messages from one node to another.
Among the high-tech community, lively arguments raged over
whether commercial imperatives should be allowed to intrude on this
pristine environment. Mitch Kapor cast his vote by becoming chairman
of the Commercial Internet Exchange, a group of commercial
Internet service providers considered social outcasts by the anticommercial
Net community of the time.
As one of the most visible entrepreneurs of the '80s, Mitch had
good contacts in Washington, and the government (as opposed to
the law-enforcement community) was interested in our views. If Big
Government wanted our advice, we were happy to give it. The first
question was how to foster the development of the Internet.
Mitch's advice was: "Let the market do it." We had both seen the
wonders the PC market had accomplished on its own, without government
interference or "support." Also, Mitch knew, it was unlikely
that the government could refrain from regulating an infrastructure
that it owned. But if it was in private hands, there was some chance it
would be free to govern itself. Of course, at that time, we all perceived
the Net as a fine, elite place populated by literate, mature people--a
place that needed no regulation. It was, after all, the Electronic Frontier.
In 1994, Al Gore decided that the government should convene the
National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council, composed of
private citizens and non-federal government people, to guide the government
in its delicate attempts to grow this magical foundation without
constructing it itself.
The NIIAC was my introduction to Washington. At the time, I was
going to California and to Europe once a month, and to Washington
just a couple of times a year. Net or no, my life was actually defined
by geography. But I soon got the hang of taking the New York-Washington
The NIIAC was a well-meaning attempt to collect a diversity of
opinion to make sure the emerging "NII" was useful to all Americans,
and it probably did more good than I suspected at the time. (Mitch
got pretty frustrated with the ponderousness of its deliberations and
stopped going to meetings after the first few months.) The members
included the usual suspects: a librarian; a grade school teacher;
a communications workers' union official; the head of BMI, a copyright
agency; several telecom executives; several "content" people, including
a legal publisher and a music-company executive; an old lawyer friend
of the Clintons from Arkansas; a state senator and several other local
government officials; my old friend John Sculley, former CEO of
Apple (and another friend of the Clintons). The co-chairs were Ed
McCracken, CEO of Silicon Graphics, and Del Lewis, CEO of National
Public Radio. There was a good representation of women and
a sprinkling of African Americans and ethnic Americans--but no kids,
who might have had a lot to teach us. It's amazing that we came to
agreement on anything, but we did.
Just as Russia taught me about markets as well as about the country,
the NIIAC taught me about politics even as it taught me about the
National Information Infrastructure. Ironically, one of the first heated
discussions at the Council occurred when Mitch and I and Robert
Kahn (one of the Internet's many "founders") suggested that we
should use e-mail to communicate. By the end of the Council's appointed
two years of life, most of us were in fact using e-mail, but
there were a couple of holdouts.
Our biggest disagreements concerned intellectual property rights. I
was in the thick of them as cochair of the subcommittee on intellectual
property, privacy, and security. My cochair was John Cooke, a
senior executive at Disney--someone with fairly strong views about
the need for protecting copyright holders' interests! By contrast, I was
more concerned with users' needs--and with the notion that intellectual
property will lose much of its value anyway as content proliferates
on the Net. That wasn't "should," but "will." However, the IP crowd
on the Council didn't think I knew the difference (=> Chapter 6).
There was also an attitude of "let's just leave it alone" when I suggested
that we needed to drink about the issues that would be raised
by pornography on the Net.
Overall, we agreed that privacy is important and that intellectual
property should be protected, without going into the pesky details
that we couldn't agree on. Our most useful and lasting achievement
was project Kickstart, an initiative that eventually morphed into
the government's current efforts to get the Net into schools
nationwide. Perhaps the most important aspect of Kickstart was that
it encouraged local communities to do it for themselves (=> Chapter 4).
Back at home ...
All the while, by the mid-'90s, I was leading a different life in my day
job. Daphne Kis, my partner since 1988, was running the business,
leaving me free to spend time on other things. We had hired another
writer, Jerry Michalski, to write the newsletter. I had started investing
in information and Net-oriented start-ups, first in Central and Eastern
Europe, and then back in the United States.
On the technical side, we now had a direct Internet connection in
New York at my company, EDventure, and my e-mail package, Eudora,
was easy to use and powerful. I could filter messages automatically
and assign them to different categories. I joined a number of
mailing lists, and started, just occasionally, surfing the Net. I became
one of those people with a secret smile, and I urged my friends to get
online so that we could communicate more easily.
There's a funny feeling you get when you see that someone you
know is finally on e-mail. They have "come in," as in a spy novel.
They're part of the club.
Ironically, as we started using e-mail within the company and with
outsiders, it didn't mean I could travel less. In fact, it meant I could
travel more and still keep up with daily goings-on at the office. Sometimes
when I'm in Russia--where it's still complicated and difficult to
phone--I can go all week without talking to the office, but keep in
close touch by e-mail. There's nothing that replaces my physical presence,
though, either in Poland or in the office in New York. It's just that now
they know me well enough in New York that I don't have to be there all
the time! (For all the exotic things you can do with e-mail, one of my
favorite services is the Daily Soup menu from a little soup shop around
the corner from my office in New York. Because it comes every evening
by e-mail, I receive it wherever I am. It's a lot of fun to sit in a
snowstorm in, say, Gdansk, Poland, and know that back home the specials are
Chicken Coconut--Medium $5.95, Large $7.50, X-Large $12.95;
Chicken Garlic Bread--Medium $5.95, Large $7.50, X-Large $12.95;
Crawfish Etouffee--Medium $7.95, Large $9.50, X-Large $14.95.)
... and at the Electronic Frontier
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, we had moved to
Washington from our initial home in Mitch's offices in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. We had, almost despite ourselves, became a full-fledged
Beltway player, trying to influence government legislation although
officially we were "educating," not lobbying. But our hearts
weren't in it. Mitch didn't like Washington much and was withdrawing
from the organization. Our former executive director, Jerry Berman,
left to start his own organization, the Center for Democracy and
Technology, which now works together with EFF in Washington on
common issues such as privacy. EFF itself picked up and moved to
Silicon Valley. I became chairman by default, on the condition that we
could find a good executive director to do the real work. We found
Lori Fena, a software entrepreneur who had sold her company (to
another CEO she met at PC Forum) and was now eager to apply her
entrepreneurial talents to something socially beneficial.
Whether it was two women running the place or the California
influence, EFF has fundamentally changed its focus from keeping the
government out of the Net, to trying to figure out how to build appropriate
governance from within. We do want rules; we just don't want
rules imposed by centralized powers that frequently tend to flout their
own rules, often in secret. Instead of just telling the government to
keep out, we're fostering initiatives that will let individuals perform
some of the tasks of Net governance--most notably TRUSTe as a
means for people to protect their own privacy (=> Chapter 8).
We're leading the fight for freedom of speech on the Net not just
by arguing against censorship, but by promoting the notion that people
should be able to control the content they (and their children)
receive for themselves (=> Chapter 7).
Overall, the EFF is a good model of the sort of group you'll find
on the Net. It's not a democracy, ruled by votes and opinion polls:
It's a self-appointed voice in the discussion. We're more interested in
gathering adherents by persuasion and illumination, than in merely
representing existing opinion.
The EFF also reflects some of the weaknesses of fledgling Net
communities. At times, it seems to leave the public behind. Both we
and the people we disagree with are often too shrill. It's so easy for
self-appointed guardians of the digital world to tell their opponents:
"We're right and you're immoral!"
We may be right, but we have to persuade people, not overwhelm
them. We might even learn something in a rational discussion. My
purpose in writing this book is to explain how I came to think the
way I do, and to let you judge those conclusions for yourself.
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