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means freedom

November 2001

disponibile anche in italiano
disponible también en español

  Giancarlo Livraghi
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We can learn from etymology. A few years ago, during a conversation with some Spanish friends, I noticed that development in their language is desarrollo – and desarrollar means “to unroll”. The thread of thought led me to understand that the meaning is not very different in English (or in other languages, such as French and Italian). To de-velop is to open something that was rolled up or “enveloped”. To break ties, to overcome limitations, to untangle. In one short word, to free.

It’s appropriate, I think, to consider that now. In general for the state of our culture and civilization. And especially in the case of the internet. More than ever, information and communication “want to be free”. The net needs to be allowed – indeed encouraged – to “develop”, to unfold. To grow according to its nature, nourished by the desires and the feelings of the people who use it, in its infinite, spontaneous diversity and humanity.

There is no end to the attempts to “envelop” it, to channel it into pre-determined formulas and directions, to centralize, to condition, to constrict. Many of the solutions that are offered as “developments” are the opposite. They are traps, limitations, cages.

There is no development without freedom. There is no marketing without an open, competitive market. If the internet isn’t human culture, open debate, free exchange of opinions and information, there is no ground for free enterprise or useful business. This is the reason why many e-business attempts were unsuccessful – and more will fail if they continue to believe that money can be made by dealing in appearances, making false promises or offering things that nobody really needs. Customers can be gained only when people have a good reason to buy – and then are satisfied with what they get. This elementary notion seems forgotten by many so-called marketers (on line or off). That doesn’t just lead them to failure. It spreads distrust and misunderstanding – and so it ruins the marketplace for everyone.

It’s unfortunately true that in the world of new technologies some suppliers and dealers have been able to sell all sorts of useless devices, of unnecessary complications, of artificial “innovations”. And they are continuing to do so. To such an extreme that many pseudo-innovations and fake “improvements” are standing in the way of an efficient, smooth, natural use of the internet. It’s important to understand that such distortions may make a few rich, for a while – and maybe one or two very rich for an extended period – but they are harmful for everyone else. This is the opposite of anything that can be called evolution or “development”.

Restriction, concentration, centralization are the death of the internet. That doesn’t mean that the net can be killed. It’s alive and growing, with more and more people finding their own way and building their own net of relationships. But there are too may attempts to warp it, too many organizations trying so use it without understanding it.

The time has come to step back for a while, to stop and think, to forget pre-conceived ideas and do much more listening. With greater attention, genuine curiosity, human passion. We all need to spend as much time as we can understanding people. To discover how much we can learn from each person, how every experience (even if apparently small) can help us to improve our thinking.

There are more and more attempts to curtail freedom. To channel, deviate, condition and censure. And, in addition to all that, we can’t ignore the consequences of recent events. Is it true that the horrible threats of terrorism justify more controls, that can make life uncomfortable for us in some ways? Yes, unfortunately it is true. We must live with the fact that someone has to be spying, controlling, inquiring more than would be acceptable under normal circumstances.

But there is no reason why we should allow that to become an excuse for all sorts of abuses. There is no need to add to the already exaggerated powers of intrusion and repression (often dictated by private interests or other motives that have nothing to do with the prevention of crime). It’s not justified, and it’s not civilized, that in order to fight a hideous evil we should accept any sacrifice of our freedom or our rights.

In the enormous debate about the tragedies and threats, and about the general state of the world, the voices of freedom and privacy are far too subdued. Are concern and fear going to make us submit to limitations of free speech and free information? That would not solve any problem, but would add to the injuries.

We should never forget that there is no civilized society without freedom. Without society there is no market, without a market there is no economy, but only a deeply warped playing field for a few oppressive, greedy and nearsighted interests. In trading and business, as well as in the exchange of opinions and information, there is a deep need for mutual respect, openness and freedom. Without a free market and a free human environment no company, or private or public organization, deserves to survive. To develop is to unleash, to liberate. Not to enchain or constrict.


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