Information Wants to Be Free

Well, if that’s true, information got its wish.

Abandoned LosAngeles Times VendingMachine2011

Boy, did it ever.

And, as a result, news and entertainment empires have crumbled, other industries still scramble to adjust, cultural authority has dissolved, and most of the fun jobs – musician, writer, photographer, actor, editor, filmmaker, etc. – have mostly been turned into hobbies.

Where we – buskers, all – play for hat money.

buskers 2

A brief history lesson. It was Stewart Brand (editor of the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s and the founder of The WELL and other “virtual communities” in the 1980s) who first uttered the words: “Information wants to be free.” Aptly enough, they were uttered at the first Hackers Conference in 1984 – I find both event and year ironic – and they were said to Steve Wozniak of Apple. Which I also find ironic. Here’s the full quote:

“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

Brand’s words – in and out of context – have been debated and distorted ever since; their meaning tends to change depending on who is doing the quoting. When computer scientists say them, for instance, they generally mean the cost of producing information has gotten progressively lower. And that, once information leaves the control of its source, it becomes virtually impossible to prevent its replication and wide distribution.

In other words, once the digital horse has left the barn, good luck ever getting it back.

When technology activists quote (or misquote) Brand, they are usually arguing against the tyranny of intellectual property rights and the oppression of the big bad corporations that preceded the bigger, badder corporations who profit from all that free intellectual property now.

When college students say it, they just mean they don’t want to pay for music, movies, TV, or anything else they can share or steal off the Net. And, when a whole generation has grown up acquiring the stuff they want for free, how does that particular horse get back in the barn?

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, “Welcome to My Blog.”

It already has some information, uploaded and retooled in a holiday frenzy. And it will acquire fresh information on a more or less daily basis. Which will mostly consist of my views and re-views of culture, politics, and history in more than 140 characters (i.e., the length of a tweet).

And, although my blog doesn’t actually “want” to be free, it is. So read what you find here at your pleasure. And your periodic displeasure … if I’m doing my unpaid job well. Feel free to pass it along.

And Happy 2016!

3 thoughts on “Information Wants to Be Free

  1. I think some of these rich silicon valley characters should create blogs that are rich enough to support investigative journalism and editorial independence, as displayed in the watergate investigation and the spotlight investigation (the movie about the catholic sex abuse scandal in Boston and the Globe).

    Like

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