Dandelion Seeds

Yesterday I downloaded the sample of Cory Doctorow's "Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age." This amused me because it seems like a treatise on how information shouldn't be free, as written by the guy I most closely associate with the whole Information Wants to be Free, Man movement of a decade or so ago.

Nope. It wasn't.

I admit, I didn't read the whole book. I read the sample which was fifteen pages of Neil Gaiman explaining how we will find a way to adapt to our strange new world (we always do) and then Amanda Palmer telling her origin story (as she always does) and equating copyright to a ball gag on artists controlled by corporations. There was a lot to be said about the virtues of generosity and giving away what you create in hopes that people will feel driven to give you back what you deserve. This is how Amanda Palmer made her living as a street performer. But do note that she is no longer a street performer and the book itself has been published through traditional means, is marked up with copyright notices and only generous enough to provide about 10% for a sample. That's barely enough pages to get you through the introduction.

Ugh.

One interesting thing I did glean from this scant little bit of consumer bait was a corollary that the authors seemed quite happy to make which equates the state of the modern content creator to that of the dandelion. The general idea being that in the past we were mammals and we took a long time and a lot of care in raising our young but we only raised a few of them. We counted on these animals to grow big and strong and protect us in our old age. In the 21st century we are now dandelions. We sprout hundreds if not thousands of seeds which are fluffy little things destined to be blown off on a breeze and never seen again. For our efforts we have the hope that they will find fertile soil in the minds of others and spread the delicious saffron glow of the bright ideas which created them. Meanwhile back home the actual plant gets run over by lawn mowers and maced by cranky old guys with a near psychotic love of Round-Up and the zeal to achieve a perfectly green lawn.

I'm sorry but the implications of this analogy are terrible. Talk about an evolutionary step backwards. Personally, I like being at the top of the food chain rather than the bottom of the salad bowl, yet I do hear what they are saying. The time of the big project has passed like the age of the dinosaurs. The internet came as a comet crashing out of the sky and POOF! The big beasts of yore are now stumbling into fossil land. No more big novels. They take too long to write and don't return on the investment. No more music albums. Singles sell far better, performances are what people pay for. The TV Serial replaces the Blockbuster Movie. By being cheaper to produce they can be more creative in what they choose to do (except when it comes to bringing a successful series to a successful end, ie. Lost & the X-Files), etc, etc, etc.

Judging from the table of contents, this book itself - Information Doesn't Want to Be Free - is a big packet of dandelion seeds. It's a loose collection of short essays on the matter of intellectual property, probably culled from various blogs and tweaked towards the project over the course of an afternoon. I doubt the thing took more than a month to pull together, paperwork and all. For Doctorow and his fellow dandelions it worked. They got paid for writing and writing very little. Collectively they triumphed where on their own it would have remained a bunch of largely ignored blog posts. That the audience for the book, the people paying for the triumph, seems to be target marketed towards the thousands of other dandelions who are not in the clique yet struggling to survive - we'll just let that one slide.

For me this isn't about copyright. It's about creation, about whether or not the dandelion model is a good model for the future. Sure, you can eat dandelions. You can bottle them up and turn them into wine. Providing they haven't been steeped in toxins they're probably better for you than the cucumbers and iceberg lettuce sold in supermarkets, but what if that's all you had to eat because it was all the world could produce? What if you couldn't buy a pumpkin for Halloween? What if there were no watermelons for the Fourth of July? What if there was nothing to eat but dandelions?

Every vegetable we enjoy eating was at one time a weed, probably no different from the thorny smilax which is a nasty plant that only exists to exist. Yet we cultivated them. We nurtured them. Over countless generations we made them into what we desired. And now we turn our backs on them because its easier and cheaper to feast on the weeds gardeners used to pull in order to get other plants to grow.

Yeah, I don't think so.

04/14/15
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