I read a kind of farewell post over at Lawrence Lessig's blog yesterday with a heavy heart. Lessig announced that he will be changing the focus of his research and activism, moving away from intellectual property and net neutrality and toward what he terms political corruption: the influence of money and greed on political process. No doubt one reason he's come to this decision is the massive amounts of corruption plaguing ip debates. And while I am happy to have someone as brilliant as Lessig on the case, I'm also feeling as if the digital collective has lost its most powerful ally: a figurehead that other figureheads will listen to. While he claims that others can fight the fight better than he, I don't know of anybody that can command attention like he can. Perhaps that's the whole rhetoric part of my brain kicking in (ethos is, um, important).
Lessig himself admits that the prospects for this second venture are extremely grim. Hopeless. And I think that's what bothers me-- the digital battle doesn't seem quite as hopeless. And this year will be one of its most important: as we move toward our next presidential election, issues such as net neutrality should be near the forefront. Probably won't be, but should be. If internet service providers gain the power to regulate content types, then you can kiss the internet as we know it goodbye. If the government continues to claim regulatory power, then kiss the internet as we know it goodbye (think of China-- where it seems they're always thinking about the children). These are not the dystopic ravings of a mad man (o.k., maybe a little bit), they are political questions facing all three branches of government in the upcoming years. They will largely determine the economic and cultural directions of our country for decades to come.
Lessig writes that he will remain committed to this cause, if not as active. Let's hope his presence is enough. And let the rest of us see this as a call to increase our own activity.