Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"An Army of Davids" by Glenn Reynolds of Instantpundit: Is this new democracy, or just amateurism?

Author:  Glenn Reynolds (from Instantpundit)

Title: “An Army of Davids
  
Subtitle: “How markets and technology empower ordinary people to beat big media, big government and other goliaths”

Publication: Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.  ISBN 978-1-59555-113-0, paper, 290 pages, indexed, has Preface, Interlude, Conclusion and ten chapters
  
Amazon link is here

First, let me note that I was under the impression that the publisher’s brand is well known for Christian books.  This book is definitely secular, and certainly on the libertarian side of conservative, and certainly on the individualistic side of faith.  This is western culture.

The basic theme is certainly well known now.  Technology has revolutionized the production and distribution of media, allowing individuals to compete with whole companies for attention to their ideas, with little barrier to entry. 

The author pays little attention to the legal framework for the new status-quo, where service providers are largely exempted from downstream liability exposure for what users to, by Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (CDA-230), for libel and certain other torts, and by the DMCA Safe Harbor for most copyright infringement.  Some people want to weaken these protections, because they think the “goliath” ISP companies have the deep pockets to protect children or prevent piracy, but it wouldn’t work that way.  It’s also noteworthy that book publishers do not enjoy such immunity, which accounts for the (rarely enforced) indemnification clauses that authors have to sign with book publishers, even self-publishing companies.

Reynolds does talk about the issue of FCC regulation, and the relationship between broadcast companies and newer podcast operators.  He mentions Lawrence Lessig and the “Happy Birthday” copyright case, as apparently having started way back in 2006 or so, even though it was in the news last year (2013).  Old legacy media companies have every reason to resist new kinds of competition.  He is prescient about the issues that the FCC faces today given the recent appeals court ruling “striking down” its attempt at network neutrality.

He has a cute alliteration: “Media” vs. “We-dia”.  Except, one can say that the “we” is often a collection of independent voices, not the solidarity (or shared vision) that we usually connect to the pronoun “we”.

The “Interlude” or intermission is an essay on good blogging.  I agree, that the best blogs present information you can’t easily find from established media.

  
The second half of the book argues that we approach a “singularity” in the scope of our technology.  He goes into some esoteric areas: nanotechnology, increased longevity, and space travel and even relocation to Mars.  The nanontechnology could be dangerous, as in the television series like “Jake 2.0”, “Revolution” or “Intelligence”.  He mentions the theoretical possibility that a miscue could turn the entire world into goo by a miscalculation.  (He doesn’t get into quantum computing.)  On longevity, he says that medical advances could drive actuarial life expectancy at any age to the “escape velocity” for immortality – but that could only benefit the young – who would have to stay healthy forever and never retire (like the aliens in NBC’s “The Event”). 
  
I like his idea of “horizontal” distribution and consumption of knowledge.  That’s very challenging to politicians in some parts of the world, where knowledge is seen as a perk of social position and success in commercial, political or familial competition.  For example, in Russia, Vladimir Putin thinks that he will increase the birth rate if he can keep knowledge about gay rights away from impressionable minors.   It’s not too good for individuals to think too much of themselves, and not provide their country a biological future.  But what if indeed people can live forever?    


Other comparisons: Rohit Barghava's "Likeonomics" (Dec. 19, 2012 here); the films "Generation Like" (PBS, TV blog Feb. 19, 2014) and "Us Now" (Movies blog, Feb. 20, 2014).  

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