One *Quick* ILaw 2004 Thought

For the moment, I just want to post this one set of ideas, as I try to think through what I want to say about this year’s program overall. But, this struck me as I sat there at the close of the course, and I wanted to get it out.

There’s something really interesting about being able to take a longitudinal view of this class. This was my third ILaw, and I just want to note a progression and to propose an important agent in that process.

First, something from the dedication page of Larry’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace:

For Charlie Nesson: Whose Every Idea Seems Crazy — For About A Year

(thanks for the pointer, Don!)

This year at ILaw, we got a demonstration of just what Larry meant. To see it, you have to take a look at my notes from the July 2002 ILaw session held at Harvard. The last session of July 3rd was handed over to Charlie Nesson, and he used it to bring many of the journalists to the front of the room for a discussion of their work in the internet age — at least, that was what they expected. What happened instead was something very different:

It was a long, weird afternoon at the ILP today – Charlie Nesson pulled one of those Zen-like, nonlinear interrogatory discussions today that do challenge people to think outside of the box, provided they are willing to play along. While maybe the audience got it, I know that the collection of journalists that he pulled from the crowd didn’t really get it, and [Terry] Fisher really didn’t like at least one of Charlie’s tacks. I’ll try to put up what I thought happened today (think “Internet couch potato”) and I’ll try to post it tomorrow!

To be frank, it went over like a lead balloon — people weren’t ready to play along at all (Charlie actually ended up apologizing to the class and his colleagues). There were a lot of confused and angry people at the end of that session.

Charlie asked all of us to write something about (a) what we got out of the session and (b) how we were doing overall. I went back to my office that evening and decided to work a little harder to structure and amplify upon what I had turned in, leading to this posting that I put up that evening, and eventually put here:

So, what was it all about? I think Charlie was trying to say a couple of things

  • The Internet is what we make of it. There is no technological determinism; the Internet is shaped by the way in which we use it.

  • If the Internet is not being shaped into the form we observe as being good, maybe we’re failing to use it in a way that promotes “healthy” development in this space.

  • To Charlie, the form of the Internet is being shaped by the fact that we are using it as a tool for consumption, rather than as a tool for creativity. Thus, the Internet is changing to facilitate consumption.

  • And, if we want to shape the Internet to promote the creativity that was the hope of the original visionaries of the Internet, then maybe we need to stop studying the Internet, and start using it in the kind of creative ways that will promote the development we want.

  • And, finally, that means that we need to teach people to be creative – to be content providers. And, when there are enough of these people, then they will recognize when the architecture of the Internet is being changed to limit them, even if they aren’t as “sophisticated” as those of us who study this. And that is his answer to Lessig’s pessimism.

Whew! Do I believe this? It makes a kind of sense, but it depends upon a kind of incentive for creation that lies outside the marketplace – and in this post-Francis Fukyama (sp?) world, the market ethos is everything – so how do we get people to understand that creation is independent of audience/sales. If you buy the notion of moral rights in art/creation, then maybe you can get there, but it’s not an American construct.

Charlie e-mailed me the next day to react to what I said, which I noted in my my intermediate wrap up of that year’s events:

I’ve gotten some feedback from him – essentially saying that I got at least some of the key points he was trying to make (or, at least, he agreed with the conclusions that I drew <G>). I’ve had some time to think on those ideas a bit more, and the one that is really gaining on me is the one that suggests that the way out of the ["]Lessig Quandry” lies in developing communities of creators employing the Internet, rather than consumers surfing the Internet. In a notable bit of self examination, I have to admit that what really has driven me to get involved in these problems stems not merely from my academic and pedagogical interests, but also from the threat that some of the (proposed) developments in cyberspace mean to me, personally, as a user of the Internet to deploy my work. The real sense of that threat is far more visceral (and thus, far more motivating) than anything else that brought me to this area, and it’s what keeps me going. Maybe Charlie’s right – maybe this is the hook that can get us over the hurdle that the "invisibility of architecture" creates for us.

Now, flash forward two years, and we got this in the last session from Jonathan:

Z: I have a followup — if there’s been a common theme this time through, it seems it’s been the emphasis on creating and sharing. This is a new angle; in the past it’s been problems and how we solve them. This is a focus on sharing and opportunities in the area. The (*cough*Larry*cough*) negativity emerges, therefore, as opportunity threatened.

Sharing as a creative approach is now challenged by the way that lawyers are increasingly injected into the process of innovation, using the agencies that we have seen develop.

So, again:

For Charlie Nesson: Whose Every Idea Seems Crazy — For About A Year

OK, so maybe a little more than a year, but … Salut, Charlie!!!

Update: See Jim Flower’s comment