At “JOHO the Blog,” David Weinberger has a simple and very cool summary of the meaning of yesterday’s SOPA-induced blackout. “This is our Internet. We built it. We built it for us, not for you. We get to turn off the lights, not you.” Yes, indeed. It took a long time for the the Internet to smell like money to those folks who like that smell more than they like the smell of creativity, innovation, fellowship, commons, etc. Now it’s a platform for all media in digital formats that are easily replicated, therefore distribution is hard to control. Much of what flows across the Internet is freely shared by its creators, and there’s also channels for media that people pay for (like Netflix). A system that facilitates all that sharing, along with a high degree of interactivity, also makes it easy to do the natural sort of sharing that peopel will inherently do. Content providers could spend less time figuring out how to stop sharing, and more time figuring out how to build a business model that works in a social/sharing environment. People who invest time and money in media creation and production have a right to charge for it, but we need to rethink how that works in the 21st century networked world.
The black that covered so many sites yesterday spoke well. I think there were four messages.
First, This is our Internet. We built it. We built it for us, not for you. We get to turn off the lights, not you.
Second, we are better custodians of culture than are culture’s merchants because we understand that culture is what we have in common. We feel pain every time something is held back from this Commons.
Third, just as we can make someone famous rather than having to passively accept the celebrities you foist upon us, we can make an idea politically potent. Going dark was the self-assertion with which political engagement begins.
Fourth, there’s a growing “we” on the Internet. It is not as inclusive as we think, it’s far more diverse than we imagine, and it’s far less egalitarian than we should demand. But so was the “we” in “We the People.” The individual acts of darkness are the start of the We we need to nurture.