One of my favorite movies is Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. It is about a couple of American strangers who find themselves thrown together in Japan for a short time. The cultural confusion, and the stresses it causes, is funny and poignant as both characters try to cope with their own personal demons.
When I attend various meetings around DC on cyber issues, I often see the same confusion and challenge – good people trying to resolve confusing issues, wrestling with individual – as well as the country’s – social and political demons in a strange land. Cyber is a new kind of land.
Cyber has no physical dimension. There are no borders or boundaries, and everyone seems to be a part of something that no one can control. People in DC are bit lost right now, and there are some distinct “cultural” reasons why.
Get Off Of My Cloud
Anyone old enough to recognize the link between the above title and a Rolling Stones song from the mid-60s is too old to understand the full importance of the Internet and the cyber world it connects. The technology that created the cyber world is only a quarter-century old. For guys like me, at age 56, it is still an object of strange wonder. I use it, but I don’t know it.
For those people in there 20s and early 30s, it is home. Younger people live in cyber space. They communicate in it; they gain knowledge from it (most of it obtained for free); they exchange music and games; and they post and tweet about their lives. It is their world.
The people who are trying to “set the rules” are not of this generation. They think hacking is a bad thing. Information should cost money. They think of cyber space as a place where boundaries can be set and borders matter. Current events are proving difficult for them, and history is going to be very unkind.
Cyber Geeks Versus Policy Geeks
Since high school forms the basis of behavior for most American lives, let me frame the cyber debate another way – the guys who truly understand the technical side of cyber space are the guys who used to get beat up by the policy guys. Think student government/sports types versus the chess club. And while life can be unfair regarding the rise of the “jocks” to the top of the heap, please look at this generation’s business powerhouses and ask me where that little rule has gone. I don’t think Bill Gates or Larry Ellison could play a rousing game of touch football, but they could certainly Astroturf and buy the field they’re playing on.
On a less “Breakfast Club” approach, the tech guys and the policy guys can barely understand each other. Sadly, the policy guys do need to better understand the technology over which they intend to pass laws. And the technology guys need to provide better explanations of what is really happening in their world. It is a difficult bridge to cross.
We Don’t Like “The Man”
One of the fundamental parts of the American psyche is that we do not like government or concentrated power. The Declaration of Independence told the British King to piss off with his style of autocratic government. The Constitution made sure no one in government had any power that could not be counterbalanced. And our Bill of Rights drilled specific points home on the limits and use of government and the prime right of the individual.
When you start heading into American government involvement in cyber world, you really hit the jackpot of resentment. The first is cultural. The child is the father of the man, and the cyber world was set up as a tribute to the hippy culture of the 1960s. Share it all with your friends. Security is not an issue. Keep “the man” out of our business. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
However, some of the “children” also got very rich from the cyber world, and they began to adopt of the trappings of “the man” – foundations, island and yacht buying, etc. Oh yes, and paying big taxes. Now they are not only for cyber freedom because of ideology; they are for cyber freedom because like most businessmen, they don’t want to be regulated and overseen by the overpowering hand of government. The Hippy Tycoon has arrived.
Getting A Little Less Lost
One of the best lines in Lost In Translation is Bill Murray saying, “the more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” That is true in cyber space and true about some of the current fluffing and grumbling over rules, regulation and place. It will just take time – likely a full generation – to get to a “normal.”
Most fortunately for all, human beings do not live forever. The current young are going to age into power and understand cyber space far beyond the existing crop of leaders. This also means that while the tech guys and the policy guys are probably never going to truly understand each other, they will learn to speak enough of each other’s language to communicate. Better policies can be made.
As for U.S. culture regarding power, we will always hate government and concentrated power. It is in the American genes. Still, as history has shown, even the staunchest business guys recognize some rules and laws are needed in every new market. Slowly but surely, there will be more regulation of cyber space.
As the bad newspaper reporter says, “only time will tell.” Still, in this case, I am somewhat optimistic for the future. In other words, in spite of ourselves, we will be a little less lost and need a lot less translation.