[iDC] JZ introduction

Christopher Kelty ckelty at gmail.com
Wed Oct 7 17:43:03 UTC 2009

On Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 7:11 AM, Frank Pasquale <frank.pasquale at gmail.com> wrote:
> 2) I think that one of JZ's best ideas in Future of the Internet is getting
> lawyers and activists involved in free culture, net neutrality, device
> neutrality, and consumer protection movements to talk to each other more.
>  The next step is likely broader engagement with the academy. He discusses
> several values (like generativity) that are hard to quantify, and they will
> be difficult for economists to adequately convey and measure for policy
> makers.  I think other social scientists and cultural theorists should be
> playing a larger role in exploring and elaborating these values.

@Frank.  I generally agree with this sentiment, and certainly find
JZ's characterization of the problem to be on target, and you're
absolutely right about the dessicated relevance sought by most social
scientists eager to have any influence whatsosever.  What frustrates
me is that many legal scholars tend to have a very narrow definition
of what counts as "activism", or for that matter, research relevant to
policy.  Of course it's simple realpolitik to recognize that our
lawmakers and judges are swayed by economistic rhetoric, hard numbers
and quantifiable claims, but that hardly means that there isn't a
vibrant political activism in the world which is simply ignored by
both those in power and those who osetensibly seek to change it.   So
I guess I want to hear what it would mean for people (like myself, or
like free software activists) to "play a larger role."  What exactly
should people be doing that they are not already doing?

I say this because I have heard many legal folks (JZ included, but
also Lessig, Boyle, Tim Wu and others) on several occasions say
something like: techies and geeks are apolitical and disengaged and
think technology will solve the problem.  I think they are not talking
to the right geeks--just because some iPhone loving, MIT-trained,
loudmouthed techno-boosters are apolitical does not mean that the
people most deeply committed to a free relation to technology (like
those in debian, ubuntu, autonomo.us, and indeed, the FSF) are too.
These groups are more often ignored, both by politicians and by
researchers, or denigrated as dogmatic ideologues when what they are
is politically committed.  Continuing to insist that they need to do
more strikes me as a kind of torture.  Maybe legal scholars need to do
more? Maybe it's up to them to move beyond the effervescent,
techcrunch-reading, i-can't-wait-to-unbox-my-new-tethered-toy crowd
and start raising the level of discussion to where it becomes simply
impossible to say that technology is not political?  As much as I love
JZ and Lessig (and I do, I have posters of both above my bed), at a
certain point the straight-shooting, simplify-it-for-the-masses
approach they are so good at seems to get in the way...


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