01.22.22

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Peak Code — Part II: Lost Source

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 12:01 am by Guest Editorial Team

Article/series by Dr. Andy Farnell

This work is licensed under version 4.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license

Series parts:

  1. Peak Code — Part I: Before the Wars
  2. YOU ARE HERE ☞ Lost Source

A light sword

Summary: “Debian and Mozilla played along. They were made “Yeoman Freeholders” in return for rewriting their charters to “work closely with the new Ministry in the interests of all stakeholders” – or some-such vacuous spout… because no one remembers… after that it started.”

I was a Free Software “hacker”. The nights were late, the pay was… nothing. We were all-volunteers. There was no recognition, just a sense of being part of something. But oh boy, were we part of something! We felt like we were building history. I made companies. I wrote applications. I taught new hackers.

“With “disinformation” outlawed, we were swaddled, blind, clothed by the machine. Then, so suddenly, here, naked and together.”All things pass. Much changed between the great pandemics and the mid-century storms when skyscrapers fell like dominoes. But I remember the software crisis starting. No great conspiracy. No revolution. No foreign hackers. No mythical “software wars”. How suddenly it all blew up before that week when the food deliveries stopped and the lights went out. How many had already been on the edge, not knowing about each another or what was happening? With “disinformation” outlawed, we were swaddled, blind, clothed by the machine. Then, so suddenly, here, naked and together.

That old Malthusian worrier, your uncle Archie said it, “One day the code will run out. Everything runs on code, but it’s not sustainable”. We all laughed at him. Everyone knew software had zero cost and was inexhaustible. There would always be kids who wanted to write it, to prove something, to scratch an itch. Besides, machines would soon write all the code we’d ever need.

That must have been “peak code”. You don’t notice peak anything while you’re living through it. By definition, it’s the golden moment. Those days there were hundreds of languages, millions of coders and billions of devices. Software pulsed and flowed, in hourly updates, through the Internet into the gadgets that ran our lives. Secure Software, nourishing the always-on, always pumping machine. Then like all hearts, it just grew old, tired and sick, and one day it gave up. Some spirit within it died and the software went away.

“Those days there were hundreds of languages, millions of coders and billions of devices.”Hired coders never cared. In their short, exhausting careers they plastered libraries on top of libraries, dependencies all the way down. To where? Nobody remembered. Maybe those few strange people who hacked not for money, but because it made them feel good?

Old words from before The Face Chain and The Age of Legibility, “vocations”, “callings”, “civic duty”, seem senseless now. By the
thirties, only performative activity validated by public perception telemetry and backed by a smart contract could earn credit.

“Hired coders never cared. In their short, exhausting careers they plastered libraries on top of libraries, dependencies all the way down.”Graeber described “moral resentment”. Hate of care. Within a decade
it wasn’t just overt, it was policy. Helping a neighbour or family member might be overlooked. The Humans First Bill sealed it. Nurses and teachers, medics, firefighters, police, child-carers, all gone. “If a bot could a bot should“. Interpersonal Disorder, from a mid century copy of the DSM describes a “pathological desire to interact with or serve other humans rather than accept convenient rational transaction with the machine”.

Momentum, aspiration and the inability of the masses to comprehend the decline kept things buoyant throughout the late twenties and thirties. Who knew the giant corporations could no longer sustain their own code? Things advanced too fast. Complexity and dependency went too deep. Education faltered. The “third industrial revolution” quietly ran out of steam.

“Who knew the giant corporations could no longer sustain their own code?”“Free” coders did still exist. They still believed that “Software Freedom” as prescribed by the great Stallman could open a doorway out of enslavement. In practice authorities turned a blind eye. These farm animals were obliviously in service of the BigTeks, who harvested their code to fuel the machine.

Negative wages? That had an effect. Suddenly we were all supposed to pay for the privilege of keeping BigTek afloat?! Students, the only group who pay to work, rushed to fill the jobs without complaint. It was cheaper being a code worker than staying in education. Average age of the tech workers fell from 41 to 22 in a decade, expunging the entire body of active wisdom – those who knew how stuff worked.

“Average age of the tech workers fell from 41 to 22 in a decade, expunging the entire body of active wisdom – those who knew how stuff worked.”Some techies whispered of the great “Techxit” when all the creators and developers were supposed to stop coding in protest at the Face Chain. It never happened. Fear kept them in line. Not fear of losing income, such crude social control policies were so 20th century. To take away a person’s purpose, was the new cruelty of power. Losing your access to code or gaming often led to suicide.

Something was slowly shifting. Years before, in China it had been “Tang Ping”, that ended in the “code for food” camps. In the USA a “Great Resignation” was successfully dismissed by social control media as disinformation. Some withdrew or poisoned their own libraries in protest, but their works were seized, reverted and stripped of their names by the Ministry of Code.

“Some withdrew or poisoned their own libraries in protest, but their works were seized, reverted and stripped of their names by the Ministry of Code.”When SMMC’s “security mandated maintenance changes” were first issued, paying coders dutifully went along, virtuously signalling that it was the “responsible” thing to do. I would say it happened right there. Those first seeds were sown into the depleted soil of free software captured by its new master of “public necessity”. From there the weeds would slowly spread.

BigTek wanted to be the new banks, too big to fail. To show the vestiges of government who was boss the “three day weeks” came. Staged “security crises” lasted months, as the infamous Goldberg, alleged leader of Eponymous, “attacked our precious infrastructure”. Some people learned how to store electricity, offline data and food, but those who died could not hack the DRM of their solar batteries, home appliances or get past the “Life Rights Management” for online access.

“BigTek wanted to be the new banks, too big to fail.”BigTek’s right to extract from the Free coder’s “hobby projects”, now declared “critical infrastructure,” was official at last. GitHub underwent some re-branding. Accounts flipped to read-only, then locked, and then one day it became “The Ministry of Code”. In the blink of an eye Microsoft appropriated nearly ninety percent of all ‘Free Open Source’ software, to “ensure stability”. They kept the “messaging” light and positive – thanking all past contributors for their hard work over the years. It was, in all but name, the largest land-grab since William’s rule in 1066.

The Free Software Foundation remained dutifully quiet, helping deliver the peasants to their feudal lords. Debian and Mozilla played along. They were made “Yeoman Freeholders” in return for rewriting their charters to “work closely with the new Ministry in the interests of all stakeholders” – or some-such vacuous spout… because no one remembers… after that it started.

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