Wednesday, April 19, 2006

the wealth of networks


The Wealth of Networks (html version) is a new book by Yochai Benkler, a Professor of Law at Yale Law School. HTML repository is here.

I have great admiration for Lawrence Lessig for his prolonged campaign to help build a free culture and he has given this book a tremendous rap:
This is — by far — the most important and powerful book written in the fields that matter most to me in the last ten years. If there is one book you read this year, it should be this. The book has a wiki; it can be downloaded as a pdf for free under a Creative Commons license; or it can be bought at places like Amazon.

Read it. Understand it. You are not serious about these issues — on either side of these debates — unless you have read this book.

The debate has already begun about the book at Lessig's blog.

Seth Finkelstein says it is written in academic language and deconstructs and parodies the language and message, "a little mouse can be heard if a big elephant trumpets him"

Lessig concedes that it is an academic work but says it is well worth the effort for its contribution to an important debate which spans law, economics and social theory.

Seth continues his critique of the standard blog evangelism in the book, that blogging does marginally improve democracy but the z-listers are fooling themselves and shouting in the wind. He follows up with, "punditry is not democracy" and that "Popularity Data-Mining Businesses Are Not A Model For Civil Society"

3blindmice accuse Benkler of merging the distinction between information production and information distribution and argue that copyright remains necessary for information distribution.In one entry they accuse Benkler of marxist kum-bah-yah, the tyranny of mob rule and marshall mcluhan reasoning.

ACS argues that the internet has created an environment where a mixture of pleasure and altruism generates the "survival of the most popular" and this is not as good as our present regime of "survival of the fittest" created by a disciplined commercial approach.

So will I get the book? I think I must. Despite and because of the discontents at his blog, the Lessig endorsement is still good enough for me, although I am a bit put off by the academic nature of the work. 3blindmice and ACS strike me as too clever by half conservatives not willing to contemplate a radical transformation of society. Seth Finkelstein is much more interesting (prodigious anti censorware work and essays) and so I plan to study some of his work too. Here is an interview with Seth and here is his blog.

The first paragraph of the final Part 3 of Benkler's book:
Part 3: Policies of Freedom at a Moment of Transformation
Part I of this book offers a descriptive, progressive account of emerging patterns of nonmarket individual and cooperative social behavior, and an analysis of why these patterns are internally sustainable and increase information economy productivity. Part II combines descriptive and normative analysis to claim that these emerging practices offer defined improvements in autonomy, democratic discourse, cultural creation, and justice. I have noted periodically, however, that the descriptions of emerging social practices and the analysis of their potential by no means imply that these changes will necessarily become stable or provide the benefits I ascribe them. They are not a deterministic consequence of the adoption of networked computers as core tools of information production and exchange. There is no inevitable historical force that drives the technological-economic moment toward an open, diverse, liberal equilibrium. If the transformation I describe actually generalizes and stabilizes, it could lead to substantial redistribution of power and money. The twentieth-century industrial producers of information, culture, and communications—like Hollywood, the recording industry, and some of the telecommunications giants—stand to lose much. The winners would be a combination of the widely diffuse population of individuals around the globe and the firms or other toolmakers and platform providers who supply these newly capable individuals with the context for participating in the networked information economy. None of the industrial giants of yore are taking this threat lying down. Technology will not overcome their resistance through an insurmountable progressive impulse of history. The reorganization of production and the advances it can bring in freedom and justice will emerge only as a result of social practices and political actions that successfully resist efforts to regulate the emergence of the networked information economy in order to minimize its impact on the incumbents.


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