Lawrence Lessig’s words continue to haunt me. An avid fan of The Matrix, Lessig’s thoughts on the manipulation of code caused me to flash back to a particular moment near the end of the movie. For the majority of the film, Neo, the protagonist, has progressed in his training but is constrained by the fact that the Matrix is based on rules that can be bent, but seldom broken. However, after a resurrection—conferred by true love’s kiss!—Neo performs a physically impossible feat demonstrating a newfound mastery over his world. Fittingly, our first look at the world through Neo’s eyes after this event displays the virtual environment as code; to Neo, the world is nothing more than a string of symbols. One might argue that Neo’s rebirth has enabled him to see things as they really are (a sort of ultimate payoff of the red pill) and it is his understanding of the Matrix’s governing processes that affords him his powers. For a particular generation, The Matrix provides a highly visible example of Lessig’s position that code dictates law. Neo’s epiphany, visually laid out for audiences, allows observers to grasp Lessig’s theories—even if they might not be able to articulate what they have witnessed.
The implications of code have not change since the movie’s release. No longer the stuff of science fiction, code is affecting our real lives through seemingly mundane conduits like traffic signal regulation and the (perhaps) more surprising selling of online real estate; I still remember being fascinated by news of code from Ultima Online being auctioned in a live marketplace—here were parties that were willing to trade resources for (arguably useless) bits!
Currently, we continue to grapple with the navigation of these virtual spaces, made difficult by the notion that many do not understand the rules that govern our spaces. Augmented reality will further complicate this process as additional layers of code are overlaid upon our physical reality; wearable computing might change the ways that we deal with access, permission, and restrictions as we attempt to balance code and natural laws.