Drawing upon his relationship with internet activist Aaron Swartz, Doctorow discusses the connection between personal liberty and access to information. Individual freedom, he says, relies upon a healthy access to the information we need to make informed decisions about the future of our lives and our polity.
Whilst historically, the ready flow of information has constrained in a number of ways, such access becomes even more constrained as we move into a networked world. A phenomenon that is exactly the opposite of what we have come to expect.
Today, says Doctorow, we are all constrained by the digital locks upon the devices we own and yet further by laws that make the investigation and removal of such locks a criminal offence.
For Doctorow, the best defence against regimes that seek to lock us out of control over the devices we own and the networks upon which we rely is an informed public working together though grassroots organisations to ensure government officials are aware of the danger of ignoring constituents in favour of corporate interests.
Here, Doctorow is one of the most important thinkers of our generation. His ability to look not only at the past and the present but also towards possible futures gives him an extraordinary ability stitch together a compelling narrative of how an existence the majority of us take for granted (individual freedom) is routinely curtailed by the very devices that promise to further unlock it. His in-depth views on the subject are well worth a listen.
Almost more importantly, however, is the rider to Doctorow’s presentation and the promise he made the the parents of Aaron Swartz; to speak of the danger of depression that many of us face every day.
In an age of connectivity it is easy to believe the perusal of a Facebook, Twitter or other social network stream means as much as a message, an email or phonecall when the truth is it isn’t.
The message here is clear, if you take enough time to watch from afar, take also the time to touch base for real. It may just make all the difference.