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Speech Is Free

June 16, 2010

I’ve oscillated on the topic, but I think I really shouldn’t be reticent to have a “linking” post every now and again. After all, can I possibly expect any reader to have the maximum returns on their time spent reading when they peruse whatever unedited drivel I’ve churned out at 6:30 on a given morning? Of course not. The Internet is far too densely filled with honed and highly specialized levels of commentary, creativity, and humor that journos and wonks churn out every day. The Internet is frankly intimidating for an amateur/freelance/hobbyist satirist (even a fairly self-important one) such as myself. That’s because the line between the people doing something for fun and the “pros” is entirely too blurred. In that sense, even though almost everyone is a net consumer of media, one almost feels guilty for fancying oneself a producer at all in the face of such pervasive excellence. For example:

In witty political coverage, you get great stuff like How a Bill Becomes Ironic, according to Ezra Klein:

A friend, commenting on the Democrats’ decision to exempt the NRA from the DISCLOSE Act: “I’d have imagined that if the Republicans developed a bill to try and respond to Citizens United, they’d have exempted their friends, like the NRA. I wouldn’t have imagined that if the Democrats developed a bill to try and respond to Citizens United, they, too, would exempt the Republicans’ friends, like the NRA.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats are now saying that the rules would also exempt the AARP and Humane Society, though it doesn’t seem like anyone knew that this morning (and it doesn’t appear that either group asked for the exemption). To make the obvious point, there’s really no reason that any of these interest groups should be exempt from the new disclosure requirements. The only reason that they’re getting this consideration is, well, that they’re powerful interest groups and powerful interest groups receive undue consideration from lawmakers. Which is exactly what the DISCLOSE Act is supposed to prevent.

Keep in mind how much of this is possible simply because there are no monetary costs to producing art on the Internet; the only cost is in the human effort. The same may soon be true for news provision in general, if YouTube’s CitizenTube project works as I predict it will. Fact provision is simply a functional good that can be better produced by freely participating, fact-checking masses that create a highly competitive and therefore efficient market for such fact-provision. The best example of that is Wikipedia’s now indisputably high levels of accuracy, even though the architecture does allow individuals to interject some temporary hilarity (which may be more genius than the facts themselves):

Or in the artistic realm of creation, there’s so much that one can do in just 8 bits, whether it’s simply recreating a sentimental movie scene:

or reinforcing a political message:

Such art can then be shared by those who love it, rather than those who want to use it as a means. Of course, when it comes to establishing change with your Internet presence, you can even carve out significant, if subversive, freedoms for yourself at zero cost to you other than a little bit of cleverness. Like Cory Doctorow’s Anti-EULA:

READ CAREFULLY. By reading this email, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (”BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

In the end, with all the great content out there produced at zero cost other than the creative effort itself, I worry for how much potential is not being fully utilized. Especially my own. Luckily, other peoples’ cleverness is viral on the Internet, and can usually be reproduced for all to enjoy at a similarly zero-dollar cost. And because they can share with me, and I can share with you, I’ll just have to console myself with my self-professed abilities to curate that content for anyone whose tastes resemble my own. It’s not so tendentious to say that additional levels of refinement and analysis, drawing links and interconnections all require some creativity, is it? Curation adds value, right? I guess it’s a good thing I’m a good audience for myself, or else I’d be feeling mighty useless right now.

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