Internet Punk Rock
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
People think of punk in a lot of different ways. I was very young indeed when it was in its gobby, drunken heyday. Far too young to have ‘been there’, but old enough to have caught the tail end. I missed Joe Strummer and Jonny Rotten, but caught Adam and the Ants and Billy Joel. There weren’t so many mohawk hairstyles, but there was definitely hair. The leather had mixed with the denim. Blondie were still superb but, by and large, The establishment had struck back.
Not being there didn’t stop me romanticising it all as a rebellious teen. I could trace a lot of what I was listening to, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Culture Club, straight back to the 70s. Had punk not come along and disrupted the established order, the flamboyantly queer Boy George wouldn’t have stood a chance. Had Alan Vega and Martin Rev not wrestled the synthesizer away from the likes of Floyd and Eno, we wouldn’t have had Depeche Mode and Front 242. All that said, highlights in the 80s UK were few and far between with music and attitudes very much reflecting the Thatcher era ‘Section 28’ politics of the time.
It was alright, though. I still had my computer and a modem….
Then something magical happened. Just as I had got old enough to enjoy it, it was the second summer of love! House music and techno swept through the clubs and parties. Hip hop was getting radio play. The Daily Mail started writing breathless articles about people raving in abandoned warehouses and fields. If you were lucky enough to hear about one in a pub, or get a phone number on pirate radio, you’d find yourself in a previously unknown part of London, buzzing and confused with a vague sense of danger, to be swept up in the euphoria of it all. Even indie found its groove! This is what I’d missed! This is what I’d been waiting for! This would change everything forever!
It didn’t, of course. My party ended as did several others with addiction, burnout and a crashing return to Earth. The clubs got too fashionable and expensive, the Criminal Justice Act stopped the parties, the raves became fewer and farther away, jungle became drum and bass which became strangely muso and far too clever to be fun anymore. Music that finds it’s way onto Jools Holland’s New Year show is, by definition, the antithesis of fun. The establishment had struck back again.
But something else had been happening too.
I became aware of the Internet in about 1994 when I was living in a squat with a bunch of computer science students (Yes, I know that’s not exactly a common thing. Believe me, it looks just as strange written down to me as it does to you). By this time, I felt I’d left my computing days behind me. So I guess it didn’t mean quite as much to me as it should have. I did like it when a friend ‘loaned’ me their account on the local University Unix system, though. Rather than going from bar-to-bar, a simple trip to the library and a few key strokes on a clunky Wyse terminal would tell me exactly where to go to meet my friends and
abuse the cheap beer have stimulating conversations. I had discovered email. Another friend showed me Newsgroups and my old 14.4k modem lost a lot of nostalgia. Still, the partying was my number one priority and I really didn’t pay it a lot of attention.
After the party ended, a few years of recovery and working soul crushing jobs was the kick I needed to persuade me that computing wasn’t something I was done with just yet. I became a student at a University, rather than just a bar fly at one, and got myself a degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. Not an amazing grade, still had some demons and undiagnosed ADHD to contend with, but enough to open some doors.
This is the time I realised just how important the Internet was. Even with a modest dial-up connection, it seemed like the entire world was reachable from my fingertips. On the JANET connection at University, even more so. The leaps in what was possible were so extreme and so fast paced, that a revolution was surely inevitable. There was this thing called Java that’d let you ‘write once and run anywhere’ and you made it do things using Objects. You could use a computer hundreds of miles away as though it were right there in front of you. You could transmit your thoughts to the whole world using a really simple markup language called HTML. 3D graphics and online gaming went mainstream. There was so much porn.
We all know what happened next…..
“I want your soul. I will eat your soul”
Richard D. James
I’m writing this the day after a billionaire changed one of the most well known and liked logos in the world into a Unicode X. Another billionaire has, mostly, succeeded in subsuming nearly all local news sites and interest groups into his walled garden, whilst enabling mass surveillance the likes of which we have never seen before. Other tech monopolies are busily purchasing all the things they don’t already own and closing off the Internet to anyone but them, all the while providing artificially cheap computing and networking resources to make sure everyone is truly locked in. You need to learn their particular abstractions of the underlying technologies to use these resources, of course. But it’s so simple when you know how. No need to learn all that hard stuff. Leave it to us.
Oh, you want to run your own email server again? Now why would you want to do a thing like that? That’s dangerous and we might not want to talk to it! Anyone would think it was your data!
Ed Zitron has already written very eloquently about how we came to be here. Wanderbots has written very eloquently too about what being here means for people who’ve lost their livlihoods. It all feels very much like we’re back in another ‘80s phase’. The music is very much better but, criminally, musicians have never had it worse. If you’re a developer you really need to keep a very close eye on what Google and Microsoft are doing with their pretend AI plagiarism engines. Ask a Systems Administrator how “focusing on the cool stuff” is going for them. If you can still find one.
But…… History has a habit of repeating.
Punk terrified the establishment because it showed people that they didn’t have to follow the rules. That they didn’t have to do it the way it’d always been done. Didn’t have to wear the same clothes, speak the same way or be bound by the same traditions. It showed people that they didn’t have to have the same hateful prejudices that they did. It taught people that they could do it themselves.
It’s already started. The Fediverse, via Mastodon, has real momentum and seems to be getting bigger by the day. If you think the billionaire aristocracy aren’t scared of that, just watch. The more popular it gets, and the more unwelcome their Sturmabteilung are made there, the more attacks like this we’ll see being made against it. That’s not to say the Fediverse doesn’t have some very serious issues with CSAM which should not be downplayed, but read the original Stanford Report and make up your own mind about the tone of the reportage.
Though I’ve not tried the technology, the ethos of The Small Tech Foundation is absolutely to be applauded. I hope they gain some traction because getting the power back into the hands of people and away from the corporations is absolutely essential. More of this!
We have our part to play too. Big Tech wants our money and our data. Don’t give it to them. Don’t buy their shit and don’t add content to their services. If you can, run your own Internet services at home. If you have the bandwidth and the time, let family and friends use them too. But do be careful of GDPR!
Most home Internet connections have bandwidth to spare these days. Certainly enough to cope with text and small images. If your ISP is blocking ports, ask for them to be unblocked. If they won’t, find one who will. If you don’t want to maintain your own kit there are still small, independant and very friendly companies who’ll run services for you. This website is hosted by Mythic Beasts
Who knows? Your ISP might still offer free web space. Remember that?
Use Firefox, move away from Gmail, find a better search engine and definitely stop telling people to “Google” something! Use Ad Blockers, VPNs, Tor…. You get the point. I intend to make reducing your data surface area the subject of another blog. In all honesty, I’m not yet there myself. It takes time and it isn’t easy.
It should go without saying that you should support small business. Make it worthwhile for people to move away from corporate social media. Creators are already coming to terms with needing to run from Twitter, give them somewhere to run to.
The tech oligarchs have a vested interest in making this hard. They need us to fail because they know that they can’t beat us on our own battlefield. Nothing is more punk than marginalised communities taking control of their spaces, setting their terms, playing by their rules. Nothing terrifies the establishment more.
Will it be perfect or polished? No. It won’t have ‘five nines’ uptime either. In fact, it’ll be a glorious mess of randomly moving parts. But it’ll be safe and private and ours.
“Punk rock should mean freedom, liking and excepting anything that you like. Playing whatever you want. As sloppy as you want. As long as it’s good and it has passion.”