Breaking Racial Sound Barriers

Blog, Design with Intent, Discriminatory Architecture, DRM, Philosophy of control, Trusted Computing

Via Furdlog, a Washington Post article by Christopher John Farley, “Breaking Racial Sound Barriers”, presents an interesting spin on the likelihood of architectures of control creating/enforcing/reinforcing a marginalised “technology underclass,” as I previously discussed (to some extent, anyway) in Some implications of architectures of control.

Whilst Farley frames the issue in racial terms, he qualifies this as “Lower-income groups – mostly made up of people of color” which I think is probably more accurate, but still, in reality, too specific. There are plenty of people for whom other reasons than merely income will lead to problems with a world of hyper-controlled technology: some disabilities, for example, or even lack of education about how one is ‘supposed’ to use certain technologies. (As an aside, the assertion that it is society (i.e. ‘the system’) that disables people will become increasingly true in a world of, for example, DRM’d content that prevents 3rd party reader software being used.)
Again, while Farley’s focus is DRM in music, he very clearly outlines some of the other ways that architectures of control–particularly ‘trusted’ computing–could develop:

In the next few years, digital rights management will become more Orwellian. The line between digital rights and civil rights will blur. Entertainment companies already spike their products with codes that prevent them from being used in unauthorized ways. In the near future, corporate interests will insert even more restrictive programs into their wares – ones that shut down computers, spy on users, erase files, and even automatically siphon off private bank accounts when corporate music interests are infringed. Lower-income groups – mostly made up of people of color – will be the least able to resist these attacks on their virtual civil rights. Digital revolutionaries will have more fighting to do.

There’s also an echo of Langdon Winner’s ‘Do Artifacts Have Politics?‘ in the statement that “Racism will continue to be a problem in American society for the foreseeable future. It will manifest itself in many ways – including through technology.”
Nevertheless, Farley concludes with an optimistic vision of music fans, “enraged by restrictive digital rights management… clamor[ing] for live concert experiences” and thus allowing “truly talented artists to stand out – and profit from their talent,” which I hope will be true, but it’s difficult to apply more generally to technological architectures of control.