“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
In the mid to late ’80s the first versions of ‘online chat rooms’ were primitive. In the Well discussions moved slowly, but there was a sense of liberation in being able to discuss things with people on the other side of the world. I wasn’t even an adult at the time, but my dad was a technologist, so the induction into the digital world was natural.
The topics that inspired me always seemed to be related to human rights. I spent as much time looking into injustice as I did into philosophical viewpoints that offered alternative ways of viewing human fulfilment. In the ’90s, I started following the work of people like Tim May, Eric Hughes and John Gilmore. I had a feeling that there was a rebellious streak to what was being discussed – it felt revolutionary. In the UK, companies started to enable email over our modem connections and being able to receive updates was also revolutionary for me. Having signed up to numerous mailing lists (trust me, it was all the rage back then), it felt magical that anyone could be connected to anyone and anything else in relatively real-time.
One such email list was the ‘Cypherpunks electronic mailing list‘ which seemed quite edgy at the time. You can read through some of the (incomplete) archives here if you wish – John Gilmore (mentioned earlier) hosted the mailing list originally from his toad.com domain. It’s important to note that the term Cypherpunk means different things – for some, it means anyone advocating cryptography as a tool for social change, social impact and expression. For others, ‘being a Cypherpunk’ meant being one of a few thousand subscribers…getting inspired by new thinking.
A real milestone for this was the 1993 publication of “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto” by Eric Hughes.
The quote that resonated with me the most was: “Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. … We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy“.
This was my personal springboard into the privacy aspects of what we were discussing, but there were different points of interest that various people focused on. Some of the discussions concentrated on the cryptographic financial aspect – and that workstream manifested, in part, as the 1998 “b-money” paper by Wei Dai.
Despite being around and involved in some of these discussions, I felt the financial focus was only a partial snapshot of a fuller challenge. Two years later that snapshot widened into the big picture in the 2000 publication “The Cluetrain Manifesto” by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.
Point 9 of the manifesto reads: “These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.”
This felt more like it. I kinda suspected some kind of movement was happening…but it was only at this point that it was verified.
For me, this was a crystalization of what I was feeling at the time. To such an extent, I wrote a companion to Cluetrain called “The Survival Handbook For The 20th Century Retailer”, containing my view on what businesses could do about the potential of hyper-connectivity where organisations were no longer in charge of everything. My tendency leaned toward the philosophical foundations of freedom.
Based on my first book, a group of us went really deep into this direction and the conversations became more meaningful and practical as time went by. Another milestone happened in 2005 when the book “Communities Dominate Brands” was released by Alan Moore and Tomi Ahonen.
The power shift from organisations to the public was our main focus point. Our collective view of human rights was becoming more detailed and in contrast to how companies and Governments operated. I started speaking at many global events around this time, and by 2008 my second book “Every Single One Of Us – The Communication Ideal” was released. The group of us who were focused on privacy started to cross-reference each other – here’s Tomi on Communities Dominate Brands as an example, or the London Calling shout-out.
We put on events all over the world and invited those who were curious to discuss the shifting paradigms. One such event I hosted at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. I flew Tomi from Finland to attend. The editor of a major tech magazine was very critical at the event – basically saying that we were talking nonsense…that this whole ‘privacy’ thing was irrelevant. A decade later that same editor posted a public apology online to me, explaining that a) the topic and importance was absolutely justified and that b) we were just far earlier to the topic than most had considered.
A real groundswell was happening and during this period, more events took place, I was giving numerous talks each month, the online conversations were intensely busy; and within this turbulence, the Bitcoin Whitepaper was released by Satoshi.
As the cryptocurrency workstreams matured, others started to expand the concepts in different ways. For example, in 2011, a game called Cicada 3301 went live, involving PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) keys and steganography. This became the inspiration for The 12 Rings which I co-created later on. The 12 Rings was an experiment in creating the hardest online puzzle and involved a wide range of brand new cyphers I created, that the 53,000 players had to solve. Several of the winning 12 are now involved with Minima whom I had started advising at the beginning of the Minima journey (and I’m now the Chief Marketing Officer).
Just as The Communication Ideal evolved from Communities Dominate Brands, which evolved from Cluetrain; The 12 Rings evolved from Cicada and Minima’s whitepaper by Paddy Cerri was a natural evolution from the Bitcoin whitepaper.
Everyone involved in the creation of projects and platforms in this paradigm tends to be interested in human freedoms. That could be freedom of thought, speech, action, information, privacy, movement or otherwise. I’ve concentrated more on freedom of thought in recent times. My sixth book The Rise Of Advanced Thought has focused on that angle. (listen free on Spotify or buy on Amazon). Similarly, one of the reasons I established the Academy Of Advanced Thought was as a library of thought-related insight that can be tapped into for inspiration at any time. My work with Minima is something I enjoy immensely as I truly believe that for people to be free, we need to be connected together freely; which is what Minima enables.
It’s been a fascinating 40 years investigation to date, and I’m really enthused about the next 40 based on the foundations that have been created. I’m hopeful that we’ll pass the baton on to a generation of even more curious and free-thinkers. I’m also hopeful that human rights and ethical values will outweigh the greed-based controlling forces who seek to censor, restrict and limit human potential.