My Greatest Sadness

by Colin Berkshire

I love life. I am one of the happiest people I know of. My wife says I am nearly always upbeat and have boundless energy. Indeed, when I tell stories of my life (such as here) the most common challenge is that I cannot possibly have had all of these experiences. My defense is then to talk about how I have zip lined in countless countries…and how I once actually zip-lined down Mt Arenal in Costa Rica…at midnight and in total darkness. I then show them the photos. Really, I have lived the life of any five people I know.

I have seen the best, and indeed the worst that humanity has to offer. I have seen the love of a mother cat, and I have seen children living in garbage dumps. I have seen people being sold, and I have flown in private airplanes.

When I was young and radical and before the internet existed and when computers were new I honestly believed that we were on the verge of an entirely new era of civilization. Really, I passionately believed this.

I saw computers as a way for people to share truth, for people to bypass governments, and for votes to be accurately counted.

The first warning sign was in 1979 when a computer friend of mine was asked to rig the vote-counting software in New Jersey. It wasn’t a fluke. It was how systems would handle this new technology.

I will share the greatest sadness of my life, because it affects you. It is related to telecommunications.

Computers and networking has not brought freedom to the people. These have not prevented corrupt governments. These things have not allowed man to raise to a higher level.

Computers and networking have allowed the political systems (“governments”) to observe our every thought, read our every word, and to classify our desirability and threat to those very systems that monitor us. Communications like broadcast allow governments to propagandize more efficiently than ever. The internet opens up our private mail containing love letters to intimate friends. Once, those letters were sealed and delivered to the recipient, sealed.

This is the greatest sadness: I believed I was on the forefront of liberating people, of giving people freedom, and of leveling out the hierarchy. I deeply and passionately believed this was the result of computers and networks. I was completely wrong.