Different Clocks

Anybody reading this knows all about Internet time. Internet time is fast, things happen much quicker than in “regular” time.

Perhaps not as many are really aware of “government” or “legal” time (let’s call it “GL” time. GL time is slow, even slower than regular time.

When you have A vs. B, and A is running on Internet time, and B is running on GL time, B has a big problem.

It’s like an elephant trying to stomp on flies. If the elephant ever manages to catch one, that redefines the word “squashed,” but only an unlucky and/or stupid fly would be in danger of that happening.

As time goes on, and modern communications (i.e., the Internet, along with wireless technologies like cell phones) become a bigger part of daily life, there’s going to be more and faster flies, while the elephant remains an elephant.

This can manifest iteself in different ways.

The one you all know about is “file sharing.” You have hordes of flies chewing up anything edible. What happens. Governments say, “Wait until next year. Maybe the flies will go away.” Meanwhile, a generation learns that it’s perfectly fine to steal digital things.

So the people on the ground try to stop the insects using the legal system, but suing/squashing thousands of insects still leaves you with millions more.

Squashing some of the enablers helps a bit more, but it takes years to squash one, and in the meantime, the flies just go to something else.

Another manifestation of this problem which may be less obvious is the recent controversy over electronic surveillance by the U.S. NSA. I’m not here to defend or condemn just how the Bush Administration went about this, nor whether how often such actions were really necessary, but at least in theory, there are going to be at least a few times when you don’t have time to do the paperwork. It would be like visiting a “hot deals” website or forum that delayed posts for a week.

Imagine this or any other President telling the world, “Well, I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that we lost Chicago. The good news is that we identified the guys who did it and we almost had an approval to listen in on them.” How well do you think that would fly?

In either case, we have a big problem, and it’s the same problem: Both the government and the legal system are just too slow to address these problems. . In the first instance, arresting/suing every file-sharer would give you a prison system that would make the Gulag Archipelago look small.

In the second, there are far fewer flies, but maybe a couple of them are capable of blowing the elephant’s head off.

In both cases, the issue is speed. The enemy is just much faster and agile than the elephant. However, rogue elephants can do a hell of a lot of damage, and you don’t necessarily trust the elephant to do the right thing every single time.

So what do you do? The elephant must get faster; otherwise you might as well not have one at all. However, how do you keep your hypered elephant from trampling on everything in sight, and quickly?

Democracy and the rule of law are two of the critical foundations of modern civilization, yet in their current forms, they are almost powerless to handle these problems.

How do you speed the two up without forfeiting the beneficial checks and balances that come with them.

I don’t know, but this problem (and many more like it) will just get bigger and bigger.


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