Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We the Web Kids

Read an interesting little manifesto that The Atlantic dubs We the Web Kids, in which a Polish author shares the common collected banalities about how the Internet makes his generation think differently and behave differently and justify wanting movies and music for free that most of these kinds of manifestoes have.

Thing is, about these kinds of manifestoes, is that they’re patently useless. But they do make for some amusing reading.

What I find most amusing about these kinds of manifestoes is that those who write them look at how the media reports on the whiz-banger technological whoopiness that the Internet is by looking at those reporters who do things the Ric Romero way, or they indulge themselves in the fantasy that because their Gran clicks her tongue about all this new technology that everyone who has a bit of grey in their hair thinks the same way about it all.

Here’s a clue for you manifesto-writers: We don’t.

It’s true I didn’t “grow up” with the Internet. I didn’t have an email account as a kid. The only things our rotary-dial phones were capable of doing was making phone calls or, if you watched TV back then, murdering people with a blow to the head from the heavy, lead-lined receiver.

It’s true that I learned to type – not keyboard, but to type – on, of all things, an electric typewriter, and that as a kid I had my own typewriter – the analog kind, with the ribbon and all.

But you know what? The majority of those with grey hair to whom you preach know what you’re talking about.

Here’s something that may shock you: I’ve had an email account for nearly twenty years. Twenty years, Mr. Whipper-Snapper. I was blogging in 1996, back before it was even called blogging. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can still read what I was blogging about.

This Internet thing, as whiz-bang and nifty as it is, is old hat. It’s great, yes, absolutely. I love having all sorts of information at my fingertips, as you say:
Brought up on the Web we think differently. The ability to find information is to us something as basic as the ability to find a railway station or a post office in an unknown city is to you. When we want to know something - the first symptoms of chickenpox, the reasons behind the sinking of 'Estonia', or whether the water bill is not suspiciously high - we take measures with the certainty of a driver in a SatNav-equipped car. We know that we are going to find the information we need in a lot of places, we know how to get to those places, we know how to assess their credibility. We have learned to accept that instead of one answer we find many different ones, and out of these we can abstract the most likely version, disregarding the ones which do not seem credible. We select, we filter, we remember, and we are ready to swap the learned information for a new, better one, when it comes along.
Of course, we did the same thing with libraries, encyclopedias, and such before he Internet. Same process, same deliberateness, same ability to assess credibility, same ability to find more than one answer, same ability to swap new information for old. It just took us a wee bit longer.

Speed, yes, speed. I know. That’s what the Interwebs are all about. And that’s about it.

Speed. And instant gratification. As you say:
We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment. We are prepared to pay, but the giant commission that distributors ask for seems to us to be obviously overestimated. Why should we pay for the distribution of information that can be easily and perfectly copied without any loss of the original quality? If we are only getting the information alone, we want the price to be proportional to it. We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download.
Oh, and that free flow of information. Free, free, free. I like free stuff, yes I do. I don’t like it when, for example, I’m unable to rip a copy of a DVD that I’ve purchased so I can play it on a digital device. I don’t like it, for example, when Amazon suddenly decides to block an individual from reading or viewing his or hers legitimately-purchased material. But I do not expect it all to be handed to me for free, which, despite what you say here about your generation being willing to pay, is what your generation seems to expect or at least tolerate. Why pay, when your adeptness at Google can find you want you want for free because someone else in your global community decided that information wants to be free, free, free?

Yes, you concede:
This does not mean that we demand that all products of culture be available to us without charge, although when we create something, we usually just give it back for circulation. We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment.
But do you know what you’re doing? By assuming that the money charged for, say, a digital copy of a movie, is for distribution costs, for some faceless corporation, and not, say, for the individuals who worked hard to write, film, perform, produce, and, yes, distribute the content you want, you’re taking money away from hard-working, creative people like yourselves, and not from some faceless corporation? The Internet makes anonymity a viable option – but in assuming everyone and everything on the Internet is anonymous, it’s easy to justify stealing content – or paying a bargain-basement price – just to stick it to the corporate man and forget that when you stick it to the corporation, the creative people who don’t want to “give it back for circulation” are being cheated of the money you say you’ll freely pay them.

Because, really, you don’t want to pay. You want to use the anonymity, the corporate hatred, to justify your thievery:
It is not our fault that their business has ceased to make sense in its traditional form, and that instead of accepting the challenge and trying to reach us with something more than we can get for free they have decided to defend their obsolete ways.
My local gas station, in trying to sell me candy and soda and newspapers and knives and tobacco and such, has ceased to make sense to me in its traditional form. They don’t want to accept the challenge in trying to reach me, a gasoline consumer, with something more. They’d rather defend their obsolete ways. So I’m going to gas up my truck and dash off next time, without paying. I’m just ripping off some faceless corporation, dontchaknow?
One more thing: we do not want to pay for our memories. The films that remind us of our childhood, the music that accompanied us ten years ago: in the external memory network these are simply memories. Remembering them, exchanging them, and developing them is to us something as natural as the memory of 'Casablanca' is to you. We find online the films that we watched as children and we show them to our children, just as you told us the story about the Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. Can you imagine that someone could accuse you of breaking the law in this way? We cannot, either.
Yeah, you do know. Because something’s in my memory log – internal or external – it ought to be free, copyright be damned. All I did was consume it, all I did was automatically fire some neurons that created electrical and chemical reactions in my brain that, by some mysterious process, gives me the ability to store, say, the Capital I song from Sesame Street, so all of it – and I mean all of it – ought to be free to me.

Hey, there it is. In several forms on YouTube. Sesame Street and PBS seems to be tolerating its presence there. I didn’t have to pay for it. But you know what – not every episode of Sesame Street is available for free on the Internet, and all of them are part of my external memory. So where’s my free stuff? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to do this, right:

We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download.
I  forgot about that part. Being willing to pay more and all. But then again, PBS and the Sesame Workshop are faceles corporations, albeit on the case of PBS, a publicly-funded one. That makes my justification for free stuff even more potent: As a taxpayer, I’ve already paid for PBS programming. Give me all those Sesame Streets and Cosmoses and NOVAs for free. And NOW, dammit.

Ya see, We the Web Kids, these manifestos make you sound not global, not hip, not connected, not real, but stupid. Just like us oldsters.

Welcome to the club.

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