The Future of Ideas

Hello and welcome to my first ever blog post as part of an MA in Digital Cultures course I am currently undertaking through University College Cork.

For the first post I’d like to respond to the book The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig.

The book was written in 2001, and yet nearly two decades later many of the issues raised and points made are still relevant.

The book begins with a sobering ultimatum: either we do something now to protect the freedom of ‘creativity and innovation’ that the Internet promised at its’ inception, or we succumb to the forces of control and regulation that are seeking to impose themselves upon it.

Lessig states that the Internet’s original design facilitated, encouraged, and fostered the growth of ‘new’ ways of learning, making and creating, and that this structure of newness and possibility is being taken control of by the ‘old’ ways of making and creating, whereby content will be packaged, controlled, and sold to us the consumers of the future through the same methods of distributing goods that have always been.

He argues that we live in a time when the idea that private entities can control and direct just about everything around us is accepted and taken for granted as a fact. So when controls and restrictions are placed on the ways in which the internet operates and is allowed to be used, we don’t even register what has been lost.

A TIME is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted…In these times, the hardest task for social or political activists is to find a way to get people to wonder again about what we all believe is true. The challenge is to sow doubt.” (p. 19)

This statement is incredibly relevant today, as we have been pushed so far into our respective like-minded turtle shells that often the hardest thing is indeed to convince someone to come out of it.

I am a relative newcomer to this debate, having spent most of my life in my own turtle shell of truth, which more often than not meant deciding to ignore these issues as something that didn’t matter if I was involved; the forces at play were so beyond me that there didn’t seem to be much point in even having an opinion.

But that is just the point that Lessig is making; these issues affect us all, and governments and corporations will continue on as they have before unless we support an alternative vision.

If I weren’t involved in this Digital Cultures course I might be inclined to have a bleaker outlook about the future of things still yet to come, but being exposed to the kind of collaborative, open source network of the academic community, and projects and initiatives such as Creative Commons, Projekt Deal, The Vienna Principles, FAIR data principles, The European Open Science Cloud, Transcribe Bentham, Letters of 1916,, re-claim hosting, Omeka, and so many others, gives me a feeling that the flame of the initial Internet that Lessig so passionately advocates for is alive, and that we all have a choice in what ways we feed it and stoke it.

Lessig, L., ‘The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World’ Penguin Random House, 2002.

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