June 7th, 2001

The return of magic.

Today's random discussion link is a piece in the Village Voice by Julian Dibbell, titled A Rape In Cyberspace. Don't fault him for the title, I'm sure it was his editor's. You'll have to read the whole thing to get to the bit I want to talk about, which is near the end.

The return of magic. Julian makes a case that we are returning to the age when speech made thing happen, directly and magically. (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, etc, etc.) Our courts are now dealing with this (see the active cases at the EFF) in trying to determine in what parts a computer program (for now, just "words typed into a computer") is *expressive speech* (which gets 1st amendment protection) versus *functional speech* (which does not). Julian sees a future in which the First Amendment becomes increasingly untenable, because the Magic Word makes it so dangerous for words to be freely spoken.

It's an interesting idea, with an interesting perspective on our current legal troubles. I suddenly see myself and my entire community of programmers as *magicians* pleading vigourously for the right to speak against a society which is more and more afraid of what effects our words may wreak. And what, when we are *all* magicians? What laws govern then?