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Host Francesca Rheannon talks with David Bollier about his latest book, VIRAL SPIRAL. It’s about how the Internet is building a new digital republic. And Cory Doctorow tells us about his science fiction novel, MAKERS. It imagines the birth pangs of a new remix culture.
The idea of the commons is an ancient one. Peasants of medieval Europe seldom owned their own land. Legally, it was held by the nobles, the king or the Church. But they did have the right to use certain lands in common to grow crops, cut wood, or graze livestock. As capitalism took over from feudalism, the commons began to be privatized. First, land and forests were enclosed. As commodity relations spread, more natural resources, like water, followed suit. In our own era privatization has gobbled up a huge new arena of the commons as intellectual property, from the patenting of traditional plant varieties and the copywrighting of traditional folk tales to the human genome and biodiversity itself.
David Bollier says the enclosure of the commons by the market is one of the paramount injustices of contemporary life. But, he says, the emerging digital commons of the internet is exerting a powerful counterforce. It’s all about a values shift from limiting access to throwing it wide open, creating benefits for both individuals and social communities.
Bollier’s work focuses on the politics, economics and culture of the commons. He edits the web portal and blog OnTheCommons.org and co-founded the digital rights advocacy organization, Public Knowledge. We first spoke with him in 2005 about his book on the excesses of copyright law, BRAND NAME BULLIES (listen to an excerpt of that interview). His latest book is VIRAL SPIRAL: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own.
He is featured in the new film from the Media Education Foundation, This Land is Our Land: The Fight To Reclaim The Commons.
Creative destruction: it’s the term economist Joseph Schumpeter used to describe capitalism’s power to transform the economy through radical innovation. The digital revolution is the latest example — revving up the pace of creative destruction to ever higher speeds. At the same time, it’s leading to a blossoming of creativity through copying, using mashups and remixes to create new content out of old.
Cory Doctorow writes about the digital universe both as a blogger and journalist as well as a science fiction writer. He’s co-editor of the blog Boing-Boing, a major voice in the cyberpunk subculture. Its themes are technology, futurism, science fiction, intellectual property — and Disney.
All these themes are central to his newest book, MAKERS. Set in the near future of an America in decline, it’s about two geeks who create a new economy based on backyard invention for the masses through digital 3D printing. The New Work, as they call it, takes off, with a mini-startup in every abandoned strip mall in America. Then it crashes, a victim of its own success. The protagonists turn to building interactive amusement park rides, mashups and remixes of Disneyland. That gets the corporate giant on their tail — and therein lies the tale of the book.
In addition to MAKERS, Cory Doctorow is the author of the novel LITTLE BROTHER, among others, and several story collections. His blog is craphound.com.
4 thoughts on “The Digital Commons”
Listening to Cory Doctorow, he’s talking about how paying someone to create can change/dilute their motivation for creating. Reminds me of a story. An older woman lived on a street that was near a middle school. Every afternoon kids walked by her house, banging on her fence and trash cans with sticks. One day she went out and said to them, “Hey, I remember when I was your age loving to make noise. I love hearing yours and I’m going to pay you each $2 a week to make as much noise as you can when you go by my house.” The kids thought this was a great deal and made even more noise going by her house. A few weeks later, she told the kids that she couldn’t afford the $2 that week, she could only afford to give them $1. They grumbled, but they continued to bang on the fence. The next week she said she was really sorry, her income had dropped and she could only afford to give them $.50. Several said, “Aw! It’s not worth that!” and they stopped banging on her fence.
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