We have recently defended metaphysical ground. An attack was made on the internet; our internet! This was received by an international outcry that didn’t just come from political activists, but was voiced by the visceral fingertips of meta-citizens. The encroachment of margins on our only free range, and freely accessible space by the SOPA and PIPA bills, became akin to molestation. We claimed the World Wide Web as autonomous and I think this expressed more than what Bill Maher snarked as our desire for “free shit.” While this might be true, what does such a wide spread reaction say about our feelings towards an inherent right to information? What will this mean for artists, musicians, writers, et al.? Why are we compelled to defend this space, a frontier unique to our generation, and grant it esteem greater than that of the physical world?
It’s no secret that many other countries live under the giant black rectangle of censorship. This seems both distant and foreign, but never the less abhorrent and a shame. The notion that there are legislated punishments for expressing oneself is worthy of rebellion, at least from the perspective of most westerners. Aside from the mysticism we attribute to the word freedom in the states, it’s the fruit that is borne from the truly free market exchange of ideas that serve as one of our most valuable resources. Most importantly, we value this exchange so much we sought to facilitate it in the most efficient way possible. This is why the internet is our crowning achievement.
Typically, the exchanging of resources result in a mean zero-sum game; you give me something, I give you something and we stand to gain from our trade, but we’re still giving something up, which balances our the trade. The free trade of information however, is a positive-sum game. Ideas can be replicated and spread without the loss of resources (an evolutionary context that I’ll get to in a minute). Historically speaking, ideas were only brought from one culture to another by warring civilizations. Things like mathematics, astronomy, navigation, and the portent of gun powder are just some of the examples of technologies that spread through the vein of violence. This meant that in order to gain more knowledge about this world, it was common for an individual in a society to undergo a significant amount, if not a lifetime, of hardship. The price of intercultural knowledge was sometimes death. It wasn’t until more civilized (term loosely used) means of trade began to develop that we became more aware of the ideas of other cultures. The printing press, a 15th century invention, allowed for the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries to widely spread emotional knowledge. With the popularity of the novel, came the understanding of hardships by people other than oneself. From Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels, fear and love and the stresses of life became a universality amongst all people that was hitherto unknown.
The word meme often pops up in internet lingo to refer to trends that spread quickly throughout the online community. In its original scientific usage, meme was meant to describe an idea that is subject to evolutionary processes in terms of self replication, competition, adaptation, and natural selection. Some are large ideas, like Democracy, Religion, and Humanism. Other smaller memes might be like fishing is better with a net than a single line, or that based on evidence it is more prudent to believe the Earth is not the center of the universe. Our attitudes toward human rights have undergone major changes over time. We now have this idea that access to information is an inherent liberty. Whether or not we’re conscious of this feeling is insignificant, but the fact that there was such uproar against the infringement on our intellectual freedom to information made it apparent that we maintain this right as inherent.
The proponents of bills like SOPA and PIPA were made to defend the intellectual property rights of the people who create new ideas. For example: If I put up a billboard to market a new product, but I use a symbol or a phrase copyrighted by someone else, it is a sue-worthy offense. However, if I were to use a movie clip to sell a product on a private website, it seems to fall somewhere in the gray area of free usage of available resources. Once intellectual property, let’s say song lyrics, hit the internet, they’re apart of global consciousness that many people feel is available for personal use. How much of your ideas are your own? How much of your ideas are your own if you have access to the internet? Should we defend online property the same way we would if it were physical? Does a picture of a famous painting amount to the same as a physical copy of one? Who should be allowed to manage these transactions of intellectual property? Can we enforce it?
I’d like to think that the outrage against SOPA and PIPA derive from how close we are to a truly infinite space like the internet. While the rest of the world seems to be caving in on us, access to information could mean life or death in some countries, and in ours in particular it means constant free information. Artists, in the broad sense, now have to combat this metaphysical free market. Legislation has done little, from Napster to the more recent takedown of Megaupload, to protect the intellectual property of artists. Will artists have to adapt to a new paradigm for their work?
My prediction is based on things I already see happening. Artists have taken to an aspect of sociability to their body of work. Not only must artists create art, but they must be constantly in touch with their fan base to give updates on their intentionality. In other words, gone are the days where a stranger is introduced to art (be it visual, or written, or whatever) and an interpretation is made. The interaction cannot end there, because it can be made anywhere and completely anonymously. Now people follow their favorite artists and writers and movie makers and actors on sites like Twitter. It’s common to look behind the curtain of creation and inspiration and instead the artist has become the thing to marvel at. The artwork itself is just a unique byproduct for which we appreciate, but is not the source of our intrigue. We are more concerned by how and why the art is expressed, not just the expression itself. It’s now expected to receive some kind of exposure by the artist. Look up interview transcripts, videos on Youtube, or blogs and Tweets from your favorite personality and that is where the obsession lies. We are worshiping the insight of a different mind and its usage, instead of just the products.
The Internet has nearly reached the point of omnipresence. Damn near omniscience too. Wherever and however we might need to call upon its power, it is often there to do our bidding – providing that we could just get a good enough connection. Our slouched posture of servitude has very nearly mimicked the clasped hands of some other folksy traditions, especially when we clutch our handheld devices with bowed heads and frenetic thumbs. It is only natural that we should want to defend this space that has offered so much by the way of information as well as inspiration and empathy. I do not know what corner the internet will be legislated into, but it’s important that we defend this space with the vehemence I’ve seen so far. The internet is the great equalizer, turning everyone into an expert and eliminating much of the ignorant prejudices humanity has faced for thousands of years.