It wasn’t until I heard the slogan “Information Wants to be Free” repeated for the umpteenth time by some Neo wannabe who imagines that the real world is something out of a William Gibson novel, or worse yet a Cory Doctorow blog, that I realized just how thoroughly stupid it is. Yes I’ll plead guilty to using the slogan “Information Wants to be Free” on occasion. My only defense is that as a member of a species that often confuses catchy slogans with reality, it took a while for me to build up an immunity to repeating stupid but catchy things that other people had thought of as a way to avoid using theirs brains.
Information obviously does not want to be free. Information is agnostic, or a series of symbols only accessible to qualified human beings, who are the ones who want or don’t want things. It is their motivations that determine whether the information gets to be free or not. If you doubt that, let me know when you find out who D.B. Cooper really was, or how much of ancient myth was actual history, like Troy, or just mouth gargle. Slogans such as these are often repeated by teenagers who are happy enough to accept the entire infrastructure of conspiracy theories from UFO’s to JFK’s assassination to 9/11 truthism, all of which are premised on a simmering stewpot of competing ideas, none of which come with any definitive corroborating fact.
The idea that information wants to be free is a very seductive idea in a time when I can send the entire contents of an encyclopedia around the world with a click of a button or stick it on a thumb drive and carry it with me feeling just like a very boring James Bond. But so what? Subtract the humans from the equation and that USB drive is nothing more than a small piece of plastic with some flash memory inside, readable only by other devices wrapped in plastic. Sure aliens might do something with it, but they were too busy killing JFK on the grassy knoll. If information really wanted to be free, there would be no dictatorships, no doubts and no mysteries. But information doesn’t really want to be free. It only wants to be free as much as we want it to be.