In the early 90s there was a group called the cypherpunks. The general idea was they were cryptographers and programmers. They came up with a lot of great ideas, but the most important thing was they actually wrote programs to do what they talked about. Rather than abstract ideas that may happen in the future, they made them happen then. Thats who we can thank for personal encryption as we know it today. In the 90s crypto was a controlled export listed as a munition. Once the cat was out of the bag and all the silly laws relaxed, it became fairly widespread.
The focal point for their communication was a mailing list. At first it was just the original members, but soon all kinds of people joined. By the time I started participating it was full of libertarians, anarchists, and privacy activists. Not everyone was a cryptographer or a programmer any more. It was interesting to see anarchists with the resources to pull themselves off the grid because of the tools provided by the community, or libertarians able to ensure their liberty rather than hope other people respect it. Julian Assange was one of the frequent contributers, and the ideas on the list are what spawned wikileaks. This is also where the precursor to many technologies we use today such as VPNs and IPsec that will be included in IPv6.
Towards the end, once a lot of the laws had been relaxed, the philosophers and end users outnumbered the coders by far. More ideas were being produced than coded, and a lot of the more esoteric ideas are still floating around. The more privacy and less paranoia oriented stuff hit mainstream easier.
I’m a huge privacy buff, which is where my interest comes in. I’d imagine the same sense of independence feeds my desire for privacy tools that are way over the top for my needs and my desire to run my own businesses. It would be interesting if I could use them together to market a really helpful tool that makes one of those crazy ideas go mainstream. Either as a business or just a personal hobby.
I’m not much of an early adopter or visionary, but when I know there are plenty of abandoned ideas left over here I get nostalgic and want to find one to run with. Too bad it’s a community that just kind of faded away, or mostly. I may disagree with the politics of wikileaks, but just that it exists show that cypherpunks are still out there taking the ideas and making them a reality.