For the love of monkeys, there were a lot of brilliant and almost-brilliant posts this weekend. Wow. Lots to parse, tons to process.
First: If you're an economist commenting on the internet (and, in particular, file sharing programs) remember this: the internet is anarchy-driven. It sounds like a stupidly "haxor" expression, but it is true.
A law against file sharing programs will do very little except irritate the geeks - because we can work around ANY legal attempt to constrain us... and every minute we spend working around it makes us more and more contemptive of the legal system. That's bad news if, at some point, you actually want us to follow laws.
I can make a file sharing program - me, personally, whose forte is far from networks - in less than twenty hours. I can even make it very pretty, and less than a meg in size. In fact, we could share the program easily on file sharing programs, download a RASH of new permutations which access the same 'share space', and totally annhilate your pathetic law.
People are commenting about China's censoring of the internet. Yeah, it's censored to the common man, but I've seen dozens of workarounds - in both Chinese and English - that let me know the power of information anarchy is live and well over there. Good.
But that's really besides the point. What I want to talk about is THIS POST, which actually has a lot to do with what I just said.
Mr. Monkey brings a thoughtful reapplication of the 'generations of warfare' approach to media distribution. Information distribution in general. He makes some very good points. I'm here to twist the whole paradigm, because I like doing that. It makes me feel important.
The basic concept is that warfare has changed, from attack to defense to maneuver and now, at last, to a new generation, tentatively named "insurgency" by Hammes.
The real 'evolution' here is in the techno-social underpinnings of the societies - even Hammes notes that. The fact that warfare - and media distribution - have changed is due to their foundation changing, not their nature changing.
The techno-social underpinnings I'm talking about are, of course, COMMUNICATION METHODS. It's ALL about how we communicate, and war always moves to the 'sweet spot' of maximum information combined with acceptable lack of information.
Back in the first generation of war, armies attacked the optimal targets, as far as they were aware. Of course, they weren't really very aware, so they would attack anything which they perceived as of value. Usually cities.
In the second generation (although there aren't really 'hard' generations - this was a slow slide from one end to the other), organization improved to such an extent that you could tell what targets were of value, hence you could defend those targets. Information was rough, but you ride the ragged edge, choosing the most likely methods. This led to ambushes, maneuvering to take high ground, building entrenchments to get in the way, etc.
This progressed naturally, as communication continued to improve with instant messanging systems like radio. The third generation led to a level of communication that wasn't even dreamed of back in the middle ages, in which armies could be tracked and detailed, up-to-date information gathered every day. In turn, this meant that you could attack locations which were of immediate value, rather than attacking the fortified areas of long-term value. Cutting supply lines, bombing hidden airbases, destroying factories, and that sort of thing all became far more commonplace, because these momentary 'weak spots' could be identified and taken advantage of. You could even create these weak spots by drawing armies out of position and striking at where you've forced their supply lines to be. And so on, and so on, all because you knew exactly what factors were where, when.
The newest age is simply another upgrade. With the widespread ability of the population to access high-fidelity instant communication, it has become possible to identify weak spots we never even knew existed. We don't have to strike clumsily at the supply train, or outmaneuver someone to threaten them into submission. Now we can strike at weaknesses which are only noticeable to people with a huge amount of current data. Weaknesses we can, in fact, MANUFACTURE.
The "insurgency" term that is being used reflects the fact that this high-fidelity data supports high-grain "armies": armies which cannot even be accurately detected or predicted by the communication standards of the earlier generation any more than its armies could be predicted by midieval communication.
Small is always more adaptable, more innovative, and communicates more efficiently with itself. In this case, the "ghost armies" we're seeing now are small, because they are the first to really take advantage of the communication capabilities. Terrorists and bloggers are two examples.
We (I'm a blogger, not a terrorist, of course) don't have to attack classical targets. We, by using our communication, can mostly work around the communications of older generations - such as governments, corporations, and armies - to communicate almost indetectably. Even the 'bleed' which is detected is largely incoherent to their methodology. Moreover, we can move extremely fast to any target we see. This is the same phenominon - communication is always accompanied by the ability to get your force to the target faster. That, however, is a whole other approach. We're talking about terrorists and bloggers.
We can attack weaknesses so small as to be invisible (or, at least, too difficult to predict) for older models. We can manufacture weaknesses where there were none. Terrorists can blow up a bus - transportation systems have always been a weakness, but they always required concentrated forces to take down. One man with a few bombs can cripple a whole city with paranoia nowadays. Similarly, a few bloggers can unravel the secrets of an economic feint or uncover the hidden agenda behind a memo.
"That's always been true!"
No, not really. The new level of communication not only allows us to see things and affect things we could never before see or affect, it also makes it MORE LIKELY WE WILL. Because now ten people can "gather" and discuss plans, egg each other on into new heights. Ten? A thousand. Acting in concert, the ghost army cannot be detected, cannot be predicted, and cannot be stopped. The only thing needed to tear a target apart is attention, which bleeds from every pore of every blog, from every prayer of every terrorist.
How can you protect yourself?
It looks like protection by anonymity is becoming more and more the right method... except that your unimportance can be torn away and the spotlight brought to bear on you in moments. What kind of defenses can you bring to save yourself? As before, the armies are still humans. Do you have a standing army to defend you in this on-line world? Sounds expensive.
Most successful methods revolve around restricting communication or seeding disinformation - the classic move, even back in the dark ages. If the enemy can't see much about you, or has the wrong impression, they will (A) be less likely to attack and (B) be less deadly if they do.
Either way, this is something which cannot be stopped. At least, I don't see any way to stop it. It will become more and more prevalent as the years pass.