Derek Slater, who works on policy at Google in California, has been emailing with me about SOPA. He's been encouraging me to do more, and we've been trying to figure out what that might be.
I know Derek from the time I spent at Harvard, at Berkman Center. Derek was one of our bright-eyed and young student fellows. That was one of the best things about being there in the early part of the last decade. Their idealism was a reminder that the future might not be so cynical. A lot of them went on to careers in tech or academia. Now that we've gone our separate ways, we all have a certain collegiality and understanding and shared goals that the Internet be kept free. Berkman was then a fairly radical place, in a good way, thanks to the inspiration of its founders, Jon Zittrain, Charlie Nesson and John Palfrey.
Derek and I went back and forth, and agreed that the thing that's needed is a tighter connection between the tech and political blogospheres. As I have written here, there shouldn't even be two blogospheres. It should all be one. And we should leverage each others' knowledge and power. But we don't do that. There's a Chinese wall between the two. If a tech blogger writes something political, it's considered off-topic. And the political bloggers never talk about technological issues, even though technology plays a huge role in what they do. It actually enables what they do. Without continued innovation they won't exist. And the problem is that innovation is being channeled entirely through companies, like Derek's employer, and that helps limit the independence of bloggers, imho. And the government, with innovations like SOPA and the recent NDAA, are getting into technology. In other words, it's no longer possible for poliitcal bloggers to be innocent about tech, and it's also true that tech bloggers are inherently political.
I've been saying this since I started blogging in 1994. When people would say I shouldn't write about politics, I knew they were wrong. Everything is political when it comes to exercising ones First Amendment rights. I've believed that tech is about speech, for my entire almost forty year career. If I didn't believe that I never would have gotten involved in tech in the first place. (An aside, NYU is celebrating the East Village Other in an exhibit at the J-school and a conference. What a loop back to the beginning. The EVO was my inspiration for becoming a writer for and publisher of underground news when I was a high school student in the early 70s. That was my first blogging experience, though the equivalent of a website in 1972 was a mimeograph machine.)
The tech bloggers are doing much better here, imho. At least some of them. They're studying SOPA, trying to figure out what it implies. Now if the system were working, people like Arianna Huffington, Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Markos Moulitsas -- people who probably feel that tech is not their bailiwick -- would take the data that the tech blogosphere is generating, and used it in the political context. Stop accepting the stories as fed to you by the parties. Publish news that actually is news. (Someone said if it's news there's someone who doesn't want it published. If you find yourself only writing stuff people want you to say you're not in news anymore.)
I think of all the people I listed, Arianna is probably in the best position because she has feet in both the tech and political worlds. And she's widely respected as an intelligent and creative if not unconventional observer. What if TechCrunch became a leader in the effort to prevent SOPA from ruining the net? What if that directly influenced the editorial in Huffpost?