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Lessig, L (2002) The Future of Ideas

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 7 months ago




Innovation, Collaboration, and the Commons


Much of the Internet runs on Apache server software. Apache is created and maintained by an open source community who share the code and the work, and the software is distributed for free. The Creative Commons, an initiative started by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001, extends the open source concept to the sharing of ideas and collaborative activity of all sorts. Lessig argues that copyright law often thwarts innovation by preventing the connection between ideas and technologies. Check the embedded "Free Culture" video, below, which tells a particular story by means of a stark and bleak refrain.

How would you interact with this narrative? Press pause and tell us how and why. The history of science and technology suggests that innovation emerges out of freely shared, peer reviewed information, where scholars exchange knowledge and engage in collaborative, if competitive, inquiry. Different commons spaces produce different rhythms. Numerous (and potentially exponential) ephemeral communities, such as Slashdot, patterned by a revolving door of participants (contingent cooperators), propogate ideas and produce projects, information, and value in short-order. Likewise, initiatives such as The Public Library of Science and the Internet Archive work from open principles to make scientific, medical, and cultural knowledge freely available. By means of this "commons logic," communities form, and in doing so, these communities liberate ideas and facilitate innovation and novelty through interconnection. In short, by sharing our work, we enable many unexpected connections and form communities of collaboration.




Patti 9/22

Preface and Chapter 1


I enjoy reading Lessig. His style is crisp, clear and rational. He doesn’t make his arguments in a whiny, strident tone, but rather just states his case without pushing too hard. He wants us to take a hard look at the future of the internet and argues for the importance of preserving the neutrality of the internet and looks to the legislative process to create that guarantee. He argues that if the internet were too tightly controlled, the benefits our society has reaped from free creativity and innovation will be hindered. He tries to open our eyes to the pressures that menace the neutrality. We must be aware of the push by some companies to control the power to decide which applications and content can run on the internet. He posits that the potential growth comes from leaving it open to develop based on the choices of consumers, innovators and artists. Policymakers can write the laws (some control) that will ensure the freedom to innovate (less control) without permission of a network “owner. He reiterates frequently that he seeks to inform his audience of the “blind spot in our culture” and warns of the harm this “blind spot creates”. He admits the future we could have is hard to describe as no one can predict how the internet will continue to develop. He asks us to be actively aware of the potential threats and not be blindsided by precedent setting events that will undermine the vast creative potential of a neutral platform – “the art through which free culture is built”.


Craig 9/17



I learned a great deal from Chapter 3 of Lessig’s The Future of Ideas, namely the history of telecommunications in the United States, and the general makeup of the internet as a commons with unlimited possibilities for expanded growth and new applications. Because of end to end technology(e2e), new applications can be introduced to the internet without interfering with its networking capability. Perhaps the most influential application introduced to the internet thus far has been the world wide web. After surfing online for a decade, I now finally know that Tim Berners-Lee invented the web. I guess the Al Gore debate has finally been settled. When I think about the plasticity of the internet, or its ability to evolve with uncertainty at this point, I wonder what the next “big thing” is going to be for a technology with unlimited possibilities. So far, as an unregulated commons, the introduction of good and useful applications far outweighs any bad applications that I can think of. What I concern myself most with, as stated in a previous wiki entry, is the flow of information across the web and how this information is to be controlled. I can’t imagine the Web remaining anarchist forever, and I can only wonder who or what entity is going to step in to formulate a regulatory body to determine what information can and will be allowed. It boggles my mind that there is no governing element to the information across the network, not that I have an opinion of whether or not there should be one, unlike Lessig who believes a controlling element would only be good for this particular commons. I’m looking forward to reading more of his thoughts on why he believes this.


In "Commons on the Wires" Lessig weaves a narrative of innovation and regulation rife with intrigue and populated by memorable characters. Lessig concedes that the Hush-a-Phone posed no real threat to AT&T's service, but this border-case emphatically defines the connection between innovation and control that forms this story's arc. "For much of the twentieth century, it was essentially illegal to experiment with a telephone system," and FCC "regulations forbade any foreign attachments without AT&T's permission. AT&T had not given Hush-a-Phone was history...the real purpose of the foreign attachments rule was...to protect the system from dirty technology. A bad telephone or misbehaving computer attached to the telephone system could, AT&T warned, bring down the system for the whole region" (Future of Ideas 30). Lessig, a professor of law, wants to emphasize the different "layers" of code that enable a cyberspace that would be common to all. Narratives can be nested, and embedded within other narratives, depending on the perspective and purpose of the writer or community (re)spinning the yarn; indeed, the AT&T saga, Paul Baran, e2e, Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, the open source movement, DARPA, the Internet protocol and the all the characters, and elements introduced here would nestle differently in a history of computer science, or hacking.


Lessig Chapter Five Craig


This chapter in Lessig once again discusses the regulation of commons by relating wireless networking to the regulation of radio in the 1930’s after the Titanic sank. He talks about the debate between private regulation and government regulation. Personally, although Lessig points to the advantage of private regulation, I don’t believe the government will allow private regulation of a commons such as the internet. I make this prediction simply by looking to history, where telecommunications and television are regulated to this day by the government.


The relationship between radio and the internet was a bit confusing to me, though. If you have a radio, you can pick up stations, but owning a computer doesn’t necessarily mean you are tapped into the internet. To me, wireless technology is a commons with a price tag.


You still have to pay for service through some company. Still, this only relates to having a computer in the privacy of your home. It’s quite easy to pick up wireless internet service by going to a location like the library or by stealing it from your next door neighbor. I might be missing the point of what Lessig is talking about here, but then again, these texts can be confusing.


How does this story inform our understanding of digital culture? Of developing efficacious means for learning and teaching each other and young people how to communicate with each other in writing, or, better, how to form communities by/with/through writing? Find an interesting twist in the plot. What is the "rhetorical" layer of code at this juncture?




Lessig is sure to note that AT&T put billions of dollars into R&D and business strategies over a period of decades to grow physical layer of code, and this code includes the material substrate of and the technological blueprint for US telecommunications . But the "AT&T network was burdened by the intelligence built into it. A simpler design could beat the sophisticated design, at leas along the dimension of innovation and change" (38). Of course, the TCP/IP protocol is a code of a different sort, the metaphor here is the stupid network, the "information superhighway" metaphor of our road systems. However, now, "smart grids" and "smart roads" are possible, "control is feasible" (39). Lessig poses the real question: is it always better? Uncertainty breeds logistics and rationales for security ad infinitum. However, "When the future uses of a technology cannot be predicted...leaving the technology uncontrolled is a better way of...finding...innovation. Plasticity--the ability of a system to evolve in a number of ways--is optimal" (39). Networked writing depends on a real potential for "multiple and coordinated unplanned uses" and digital ecologies offer potential for learning and innovation only when the architecture/regulatory mechanism allows the freedom to respond to and dwell in uncertainty. However, in spectrum politics, when networked writing (distributed communication and commons-formation) becomes perceived de facto as chaotic spectrum, and as an intrinsically messy, costly ("transaction costs") problem demanding more control, then "stupid receiver" models are allowed to stand without challenge from-the-ground-up alternatives. Where will teachers of tomorrow tinker?





Chapter One Brian


In Chapter one Lessig describes a system that both threatens creative control for artists, while enhancing enjoyment and participation for consumers. It seems like he is presenting a case for a moderate system of network control over artistic forms of media. One which protects artists, but not to the point that it restricts others from using art to create their own. The internet has provided liberation for many who wish to re-mix the artistic achivements of others into their own masterpiece and expression of their own individuality. To me this provides an obvious link to Nietzsche's quote. The chaos and energy of many creative minds and works can create ones own personal dancing star. Of course pride, money, and copywrite laws have a significant effect on this. Who decides how ridiculous copywrite laws can be? Is it creative collaboration in a world of free and tradeable ideas when we sample others work. It seems like Lessig believes sometimes it is and sometimes it is not. Where is the line drawn, and how will the law and the media proceed from here?


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