Internet is not a problem
This is the text of a speech given at the 2nd FLOSS Congress in Katowice, Poland, on June 7th 2013; and on the CopyCamp conference in Warsaw, Poland on 1st of October, 2013.
Interesting times we live in, aren’t they. Times of the digital revolution that changes the way we think. A breakthrough requiring a change of approach in almost every area of human thought.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of our ancestors starting to use tools. Today we rightly consider this a turning point in human history. Up until lately, however, all the tools we have ever used and created, extended our physical capabilities: we used them to throw farther, hit harder, cut stronger materials.
The inventions of the computer and the Internet are the first tools in the history of humankind that extend – so directly – our mental abilities! We can count faster and more precisely, have access to an insurmountable wealth of information and knowledge, and communicate with speeds that just 2 generations ago were a pure fantasy. That’s a change of an era, happening before our very eyes!
In the physical world moving is the most basic operation. When I give something to somebody, I lose it. If I want to get it back, somebody has to let go of it. In the digital world, the most basic operation is copying. Even when I “move” a file from hard-drive to a pendrive, in fact it gets copied and then deleted.
Copying something in the physical world is arduous and costly, if even possible at all. In the digital world, it’s the most basic operation one can perform. Sharing suddenly is not inextricably connected with loss. This single fact makes a world of difference.
Such ease of sharing gave us the Free Software movement, Wikipedia, and libre culture. It gave us OpenStreetMap and innumerable other wonderful projects, that at their heart have this core value: sharing. Sharing of knowledge, of data, of any results of our work.
This means, however, that old business models – built around the physical world’s difficulty of copying – start to be inoperable. Just as the business model of horse-and-buggy makers stopped being operable once cars were invented.
The tragedy of our times is that there are people who find this mundane reason enough to treat this amazing chance, this one of a kind revolution in our ability to access knowledge, culture, information… like it was a problem. It’s truly tragic that instead of looking for new business models, time and money is spent on finding technical and legislative means of introducing a rule from the physical world into the digital reality: trying to make copying hard again.
I believe that to be the wrong approach. Previous similarly important invention – writing and the printing press – are universally considered rather positive developments; the Internet and the digital revolution are as important and valuable, and crucial.
And there are business opportunities available! Instead of saving buggy manufacturers, why not ponder selling cars? Instead of creating artificial bounds for the free flow of ideas and information, why not find ways of building a new, digital economy for the new, digital era? Built on new assumptions and new rules, rather than badly emulating rules from the Old World. New economy that treats the user as a partner, not as a thief.
The Internet isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity. Let’s seize it!