Charlie Nesson's Session

As Donna described, Charlie set himself up as some kind of rapmaster/dj/emcee of a discussion group composed entirely of the journalists/press present at the conference, and then proceeded to baffle them with a complex riff on America, the Internet and participatory radio (building on the Berkman Center's "Parachute Radio" projects done with Christopher Lydon). Eventually, the discussants just starting talking about whatever struck them, rather than trying to meet Charlie.

Charlie then turned his guns on Terry Fisher, asking first about the Microsoft & IBM sponsorship of the ILP and whether a "third spot" could/would/should be auctioned off on eBay. Eventually (after Terry got over being ambushed!), Terry talked about impartiality, research, etc. Charlie then stated, in a tangential and roundabout way, that maybe the very impartiality (read, alienation) on the Internet makes it hard to understand what's really going on. But he didn't really press it, just danced around it, leaving most everyone in the room baffled and frustrated.

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.