Declan McCullagh’s Politechbot has an article from Richard Forno called High-Tech Heroin (also at The Register). While the image of a herion addict is compelling, it’s not precisely accurate, IMHO. In fact, what he’s talking about is this concept of technological alienation that I am still struggling with getting across. It’s not that we go cold turkey without our CD players — it’s that these technologies acquaint us with a world in which I can enjoy music in my car without having to carry a string quartet in my backseat. We’re more productive, entertained, etc. because of these technologies, and we come to expect them to function transparently. We don’t (generally) become unable to operate in their absense — we just can’t operate as easily and productively.
And now what we’re facing is the encroachment of controls by interests upon the ways that these technological intermediaries do the things that we expect them to do — a challenge to the transparency that we have always assumed was there.
So, I disagree with the metaphor - but the language does describe the problem effectively.
Yet as we rush to embrace the latest and greatest gadgetry or high-tech service and satisfy our techno-craving, we become further dependent on these products and their manufacturers so dependent that when something breaks, crashes, or is attacked, our ability to function is reduced or eliminated. Given the frequent problems associated with the Information Age - loosing internet connections, breaking personal digital assistants, malicious software incidents, or suffering any number of recurring problems with software or hardware products, we should take a minute to consider whether we’re really more or less independent - or empowered - today than we think, knowing that how we act during such stressful periods is similar to a heroin junkie’s actions during withdrawal.
[...] Whether it is our ability to share available creative products according to existing laws, bring to market new creative works, establish an identity in cyberspace, or otherwise exchange digital information, these groups - with well-funded (read: purchased) government approval - have declared themselves the overlords of their industry-specific fiefdoms that comprise the Information Age. Each industry and vendor wants to assert their proprietary technical and legal authority over who does what, when, how, and under what conditions with their products and services, even if their profiteering desires are incompatible with our law-abiding ones. And if their efforts to maintain law and order according to their proprietary technical standards or legal trickery fail, they can always turn things over to the federal government for action as a backup plan.