The Internet has now entered its third decennial as a popular medium. In fact it is now one of the most popular medium we are using, the Internet is so popular that other traditional media is building their infrastructure upon its technological basis and within its frameworks. The traditional media are also absorbing pop-cultural phenomena from the net-sphere and remediating these other places. As a Schumpeterian disruption in the immaterial aspects of society, the multimedia-savvy computer platform has with its flexible and, recently affordable, representation of huge collections of information changed information as a commodity. From being bound to a physical medium as a celluite film or a book page information is now represented by bits in the computer. Bits are the building blocks which makes the computer a Swiss army knife, and more and more knowledge is represented by these fundamental entities. Once the algorithm of discretising and encoding of a media type are known virtually all media expression of that type can be represented digitally with the advantages this kind of representation have.
A digital copy is a perfect copy. Since all media expressions can be represented in zeros and ones cloning these patterns will make a identical copy, no loss involved (unless intended e.g. by compressing). This has removed some of the downsides that were with analogues copying. Before digitalisation the process of mechanically copying on exemplar to another involved technologies that also removed some of the quality for each reproduction iteration. The copying process was also bound to either temporal or geographical space: a mixtape required tapes and recording of broadcasting was limited to when programs were broadcasted. Today a request to a file server or another peer will initialise a transfer.
With the Interconnection between computers, through the Internet, this effect has accelerated. Groups of networks does not only grow linear in number of nodes, they also grow exponentially in number of connections between nodes, and new technologies harness this. With peer-to-peer or torrent technology which work decentralised and with designated parts of files sent through the Internet copying is very efficient.
This impacts our life world. Information is now at everyone fingertips (earlier just metaphorical, but recently also literally). To google has for years been a generic term for searching through the abundance of information made available, and more and more organisations are making their information available online. Live-feeds of time data from public transports providers, menus from restaurants, telephone directories, books, tv-series, music and movies are accessible through the Internet. The Internet has become everyone’s personal media and data repository. This effect is only increased with a recent emphasis on cloud computing.
With new ways of acquiring information comes new behaviour and expectations. The intellectual property organisations of the culture industry has several times told us piracy is stealing, but even if copyright infringement is against the law the examples used, e.g. “you wouldn’t steal a car”, is not representable as stealing a car would be theft of something with physical material value and something of physical exclusivity (I’m driving a car deprives you of the possibility to drive the same car). One should remember, however, that just a little cost of the production of a cultural artefact is in the physical product, the true value is in the production process. Well, enough of the law and philosophical consideration. Let’s speak about:
Free + Expectations = Freexpectation
Grown up digitally, information, as I perceive it, is free. So what is free? Richard Stallman has learned us that a distinction must be made. You get free beer, free speech or both. The first is good as you can save some pocket money, but the second is crucial in a liberal democracy. The second part of the distinction is often entitled with the word “libre”. The free presumptions which follows the web can, according to Manuel Castells, be traced back to the initial user groups working on the Internet. Scientists within the university and military sphere who lay out the architecture of the Internet placed more emphasis on alternative routing (through packet switching), open standards (TCP/IP, HTTP etc are free to implement and build upon) and equality (two-way traffic and later the culturally groups of prosumer and hobbyist culture producers through e.g. YouTube) than intellectual property protection. In the Internet sphere mash-up and other forms of mixing and building upon culture and data is considered to be a good, not necessary a matter of copyright infringement.
The definition of free is also dependent on the idea of the user. In a traditional broadcasting economy where the culture institutions have a exclusive right to be the sender limited by legal and/or physical laws the user is pretty much limited to be the receiver. With the Internet and its ways of physically transferring the signals and its free jurisdictional corpus regulating the medium the limits to who can act in various roles are limited to other contrast. No doubt broadcasters and news agencies are the ones going to war zones to report upon what is happening. A very few have time, interests and the economical means to conduct such research on their own. In other cases, however, actors not traditionally associated with the trade can now do more than before. The nature of the constraints have changed. The user now have tools earlier limited by restrictions, legal or economic, to partake in the creation of cultural artefacts, and the user can also distribute these artefacts. A lot of these creation processes involves sampling of other peoples work. Not just music, but all forms of cultural artefacts that can be represented on a computer can also be basis, or a part of new creations. The initial groups of the Internet made their works (code) freely available, and the code community has established many paths to reuse of other’s work. Legally GNU GPL, MIT Licence and more are encouraging users to build-upon creations, in code-methodology object orientation creates a paradigm where classes can be implemented into code without a tight coupling and hence easier to adapt.
Don Tapscott mentions in his book Grown up digitally how the “net generation”, the recent generation which grew up with the net, are more apt to take a larger involvement in buying and configuring products. This way they have gain the name “prosumer” which is made up of producer and consumer. The traditionally consumption patterns exists in lesser degree than before. 30 years ago the users waited for a new product as their time and attention-span was abundant, today this have changed, the products and attention-consuming artifices are abundant and attention is scarce. The supply and demand curve have changed axis-for-axis.
Illustration picture: Dollar close-up by Shai Barzilay on Flickr. The picture is licensed under a Creative Commons licence. Another good example on how free can be free to build upon.