I heard Jaron Lanier interviewed on the NPR show OnPoint this week.
He was promoting his new book You Are Not A Gadget, which I haven't read, but I recognized the main theme as something I was getting ready to write about myself. So first, let me say it this way -- I agree with Lanier's concerns. And I think we should do something about it.
The Internet is the most powerful communication medium ever, but we've chosen to give up some of that power to get it for free. It's still the most powerful medium, even with the power reduced, but (this is very important) eventually we'll use it up, and be stuck without the ability to communicate at all, if we don't change. And further, we won't know how we got there, because the record won't survive.
I recognize the marketing in Lanier's message is designed to appeal to mainstream media, much the way Andrew Keen's is, but before the MSM people congratulate themselves too much, they're helping lead us down the blind alley, by constantly promoting the new kind of corporate media that's no better than the corporate media that employ them. When they tell us to find them on Twitter or Facebook, they're selling themselves and us out.
We need diversity of opinion, not a mass of slurry that's formed into corporate frankfurter meat. As good as Wikipedia is, and it's usually pretty good, it's taking us to the wrong place -- a place where dissenting views are given no voice. A place where facts are created and sustained that aren't factual. I've seen it happen myself, with events I know about personally. The Wikipedia record is incorrect, and can't be corrected. If you try making the correction (if you're allowed to by the ethical guidelines, that seem to prohibit people with first-hand knowledge from contributing) it quickly gets reverted. That's been my experience. Very quickly you give up, understanding that the power to control the record belongs to people who play by rules you don't understand. Sounds an awful like the centralized corporate media of the past, doesn't it? ">
August 2006: "In all that content, which today's companies view as frankfurter meat, undifferentiated slurry, a medium for unwanted hitch-hikers, is the idea for the next iPod, or the formula for peace in the Middle East, the campaign platform for the President we'll elect in 2012, perhaps even a solution for global warming."
In order for your point of view to have lasting value you should have a customer relationship with the service that hosts it. If you don't like the service you're getting it should be easy to move your Internet presence to another location. You should be able to pay for this hosting in advance so your work survives you.
And if you think you can easily have your independence, trust me, you can't. Your Internet presence is owned by corporate media as much as the newscaster on NBC Nightly News, or a reporter on All Things Considered, or the Public Editor of the NY Times. We are all slaves to corporate media. Except these days the bosses are the people who own the social networks, their names are Zuckerberg, Jobs, Williams, Stone, Brin, Page and Schmidt. If you want to know how much they respect your First Amendment rights, the answer is not very much. They're business people, they don't care about you, they care about making money and being more competitive. If you're thinking the Internet is about free expression and you're depending on one of their companies to host your content, you're buying into a lie. It's not their fault, it's yours, for not going to the trouble to find out.
The most ridiculous thing is that corporate news organizations are trusting the new media companies to host their content. So the reporters there are subject to the whims of two layers of corporate media! Talk about dilution.
If you want to break out, your content is going to live in a little boat and will float in a harbor filled with battleships, aircraft carriers, nuclear powered submarines and pirate ships. They either won't care if you stay afloat, or worse, they will try to sink you. I'm not kidding. Keeping a website afloat these days, unlike the early days of the Internet, is not for the faint of heart or the technologically naive.
If the Internet is going to achieve its potential, and these days the prospects for that look dim, we're going to have to create a service that doesn't exist. I described it in a piece I wrote last week:
We could have a good discussion about this, but I don't know where. The industry conferences won't discuss your independence because they get their funding from companies that get the value from your dependence.
Lanier is right, we probably have gone too far out on a limb to get back on track. Or perhaps some of us can figure this out, but our writing will be the only stuff that survives. It's time to have this discussion, maybe past time.