Tuesday 3 November 2015

The destruction of our libraries and the fundamental threat to our civilisation

The heart of our civilisation is under threat. It amazes me just how we are sleepwalking into a situation where our society breaks down completely and we enter a brave new world of such horror that it is impossible to imagine. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but if you stand back and look at the facts, it makes some pretty scary reading. On Saturday, I detailed how the national papers are lying and misleading us, by non reporting of inconvenient facts. There are many other warning signs. Lets examine a few. What is the difference between a book and an online book? Last night, I went to see Spectre, the new James Bond film. At the very end there is a scene where Bond has to make a difficult moral decision. It is widely reported that the producers had this changed, so that it had a happy rather than a rather ambiguous ending. That is there perogative. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet would have been a better story if they'd both lived happily ever after. The sad thing about Romeo and Juliet is that the ending is set in stone. Millions of versions of the book have been printed and so we can't change the ending. Hitler was rather keen on burning books, as he realised the old adage that "knowledge is power". 

Knowledge is Power. Quite an obvious statement really. But take a second to consider the implications. On a superficial level, to take power you need knowledge. But look at Hitlers actions. His book burning wasn't based on the need to acquire knowledge. It was based on the requirement to control knowledge. Hitler recognised that if you can control the information people have, you can control how they think and how they behave. In the printed age, this was extraordinarily hard. Every individual book was a statement of record. You'd have to destroy every last one to truly kill the message. We are in a different age today. My friend Dan Bleich is worried about an accidental catastrophic event which would destroy the interent such as what happens when the internet goes down for a significant period of time say because of a coronal mass ejection -  http://science.howstuffworks.com/solar-flare-electronics.htm - or the Russians torpedo the undersea cables that connect the internet - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34639148 -  thus reducing Google to a useless pile of circuits and Siri into rather expensive paperweight? Dan doubts"we will even know how to work out how to use the Dewey Decimal Classification system in the libraries if you don’t have a qualified librarian to tell you how it works!"

Dan is of course correct. The internet is growning at an exponential rate. In 1943, there was one computer in the UK. It was called Collusus. It was at Bletchley Park and it was used to decode German Ultra encrypted messages. Now your washing machine has millions of times more processing power than that. To service the huge demand for IT, we have ever larger computers and networks. If a small part of this was taken down, then there simply wouldn't be enough bandwidth for the rest of the network and the whole thing would grind to a halt. No Barnet Eye, no BBC News, no Amazon, no Youtube, no Facebook.  The government has contingency plans for just such events. The foirst thing they do is to get the Internet Providers to exclude the general public, so that their traffic works. Most people don't realise how many things are digital. It would mean no Radio/TV. It may affect power supplies, water supplies, transport, even sewage. Train information and signalling is all run via digital transmissions. Food deliveries to supermarkets would be one of the first casualties, as organisations such as Tescos & M&S use the internet to manage stock levels and collect payments at cash tills via credit and debit cards. How much food do you have in your larder? And how will you cook it when there is no electricty. I hope you like tinned sardines and cold baked beans. 

So how will you cope? Well I suppose you could go to the Library and get a book on survival skills, or how which mushrooms are edible. Maybe a book on the seige of Leningrad, when the populace survived on 600 calories a day in sub zero temperatures may be useful. Whilst Dan is right, I fear a far more pervasive threat. Who controls the Internet? Whoever does control it, effectively controls us, don't they? Anything that is a digital file can simply be erased or updated. In a fully digital world, our books will be held on central servers. Just suppose Orwells 1984 is deemed a bit to close to the bone for a future government. Simply delete the file? Not if they were clever. Maybe a version, where Winston Smith was a dangerous subversive who got his just rewards and Big Brother was a kindly and benign leader who simply cared for the masses? Think it can't happen? Have a look at how the Internet is managed in China. Libraries empower us. 

There is another thing which worries me. Anyone can enter a library and read any book they choose. It costs money. Your laptop, the software on it and the internet all cost hundreds of pounds. In effect the poorer you are the more excluded you are. Libraries redress this balance. You can access the internet from a library as well as borrowing books. It is a great leveller, but one which our council wishes to withdraw. 

Finally lets have a look at the "unmanned libraries" proposal. This relies on a smart card to gain access. Again this is a digital tool, so it may well be that in a digital meltdown, this accedentally or by design keeps out the people who have had their flow of information on the web cut off. 

Does this bother you? It scares the hell out of me.

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