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April 30, 2008
Gin, Television, and 100 Wikipedia per Year, for Sharing
Clay Shirky is one of the better Big Thinkers on the Web today, particularly in the arenas of social media and cooperative interactions. He's published an essay called "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus". In part this is related to his new book Here Comes Everybody but focused around a single idea.
The idea is that, contrary to the naysayers, we are doing something, potentially the start of something huge. That something is participating, whether it's in something as erudite as Wikipedia or as trivial as lolcats and World of Warcraft. We're taking some of the hours we currently waste on passive television viewing (Shirky estimates roughly one trillion hours of television are watched by the Internet-connected population) and putting them into "an architecture of participation."
Now, as a Copyfighter, the thing that interests me is that almost all of that participation involves creation and sharing, to some degree. If you're in a constrained environment like Warcraft or Second Life, then the acts of creation and sharing you can engage in are limited by the virtual world's structure, coding and rules, few of which are accessible to the mass of players. But if you're out on the wider 'net then your creation and sharing are inevitably going to bump up against the intellectual property structures of the physical world.
So maybe the Copyright Wars were inevitable. And maybe, if Shirky is right, they're not only inevitable, but it's inevitable that we - the online, wired, connected, sharing population - will win. Or our children will. Looked at this way the Copyright Wars aren't just the death throes of a few mass media empires with badly outdated business models - they're the collateral damage of a tectonic culture change. That's a cool thought, even if it's probably wrong in some of the details.
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