There goes Obi-Wan

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.


Casey said...

Interesting post. I have a genuine question -- I'm not setting you up here... if we were talking in person you'd hear my tone and believe me:

Why is it that "leftists" tend to be in favor of regulatory power in industrial and service economics but against regulatory power in the tech. sector? Consider: what if saying that we may have to kiss the internet as we know it goodbye is like saying, in 1933, that if we let the government regulate business we can kiss the free-market as we know it goodbye? I mean, wasn't that the whole point of market intervention in the 1930s? The internet is "good" right now, but if it can be better with help of the government, why not let them help?

Insignificant Wrangler said...

That's a really good question. While the right tends to support the free market, they also make decisions that favor "big" business (traditioinal capitalism): and there's many, many books coming out demonstrating that traditional capitalism doesn't work on the web (here's the one I use at the beginning of the diss). The web is the province of the little guy (so sayeth Chris Anderson). I am not convinced that government regulation is going to "help" the internet simply because the internet is WAAAAAAAAAAY too big to be "regulated" in any sense the government understands (think of a recent judge who ordered ISP's to keep logs of every user action--a ridiculous and nearly impossible waste of memory and effort).

As with anything, there's also a matter of perspective. Is regulation a matter of business or freedom of speech? Is the internet akin to roads [which no one owns and the government maintains], radio [which corporations control and the government regulates], or writing [a medium which anyone who can afford a paper and pen is free to participate in]. I am of the latter: although i recognize that the internet costs more than paper and pen.

I don't want the internet to become a mainly one way medium. Nor do I even want corporations to structure it for me (to create contexts).