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Saturday Morning Musings on Corporate Control and Internet Freedom

Good Morning Conflucians!!

It’s so nice to wake up to sun pouring in my windows after the horrible rains of the past couple of weeks. I guess I should consider myself fortunate that all I had to deal with was some water in the basement. And since my ex-husband liked to buy every kind of tool and gadget, I happened to have a sump pump and a shop vac down there.

Yesterday it was 70 degrees here in the northwestern Boston area, and it looks like the nice, warm weather is going to stick around for the next week.

Ah…Spring! The forsythia is coming out and lots of green stuff is appearing in the yard. Soon the cherry trees will be blooming all over the place. Somehow it’s a little easier to be optimistic at this time of year than in the dead of winter.

In my Saturday morning ramble around the blogosphere, I came across an interesting piece by Cory Doctorow: Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either) I found it thought-provoking, not because I was agonizing about whether to buy an iPad–I’m not even slightly interested in it–but because the arguments Doctorow makes are relevant to innovation in every area of life, including politics. Doctorow’s main point is that “incumbents make bad revolutionaries.”

I’ve spent ten years now on Boing Boing, finding cool things that people have done and made and writing about them. Most of the really exciting stuff hasn’t come from big corporations with enormous budgets, it’s come from experimentalist amateurs. These people were able to make stuff and put it in the public’s eye and even sell it without having to submit to the whims of a single company that had declared itself gatekeeper for your phone and other personal technology.

Doctorow argues that once any entrepreneur, no matter how visionary and innovative, gets enough power and control over a market, that entrepreneur/corporation/politician/journalist will try to corner the market and become a “gatekeeper” for what the rest of us are allowed to do, see, read, and buy.

We become nothing to them but anonymous “consumers” who will fork over our money and time and take whatever the controllers want to dole out to us. He says these gatekeepers have contempt for us as consumers–they want to “infantilize” us, keep us dependent on them, and prevent us from sharing the products we buy with others and modifying those products in ways that work for us as individuals.

Doctorow uses the example of a new iPad app offered by Marvel Comics. Not being a “comics person,” I don’t quite understand what it is, but here is Doctorow’s explanation:

I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them. If there was ever a medium that relied on kids swapping their purchases around to build an audience, it was comics. And the used market for comics! It was — and is — huge, and vital. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone spelunking in the used comic-bins at a great and musty store to find back issues that I’d missed, or sample new titles on the cheap. (It’s part of a multigenerational tradition in my family — my mom’s father used to take her and her sibs down to Dragon Lady Comics on Queen Street in Toronto every weekend to swap their old comics for credit and get new ones).

So what does Marvel do to “enhance” its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites.

Isn’t this what is happening in every area of our lives these days? The internet has changed how we get our information and form our opinions; and the mainstream media, politicians, corporations, and the entertainment industry don’t like that one bit. They are going to fight to death to maintain control over the populace–making every effort to keep us passive and willing to settle for less than what we really need and want. As Doctorow says,

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of “content” isn’t just that they can get it for free, though: it’s that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed. Rupert Murdoch can rattle his saber all he likes about taking his content out of Google, but I say do it, Rupert. We’ll miss your fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the Web so little that we’ll hardly notice it, and we’ll have no trouble finding material to fill the void.

Politicians are in the same boat as corporations–no wonder they have joined forces with big business in their joint efforts to control us and keep us consuming all the crap they want us to buy from them! The health care reform debacle is certainly a case in point. Most Americans want a single payer health plan–just expand Medicare to everyone and be done with it. Medicare already covers 40% of Americans, why not all of us? Medicare has very low overhead, so why should we have to buy insurance from corporations with 30% overhead?

It makes no sense, but the politicians tell us not to believe the obvious evidence that Medicare for all would be the best plan for the American people. They are going to do their best to try to convince us that we want to be forced to buy crap insurance from whomever they tell us to buy it from and that it was a fair trade-off for women to lose their reproductive freedom so that approximately 25 million more people can have crap health insurance that probably won’t provide the health care they actually need.

In 2008, the Democratic Party, along with the giant corporations who control the mainstream media, decided to force voters to sit back and just be consumers of whatever crap they decided to force down our throats. They selected a candidate for us instead of listening to what we wanted in a President. They weren’t interested in listening to us, and the President they chose for us isn’t interested in listening to what we think either.

Clearly Barack Obama and his corporate backers saw the danger of a vital, rough-and-tumble liberal blogosphere, and they realized they would have to deal with the big liberal blogs in order to win the Democratic nomination.

David Axelrod had a long history of running astroturf campaigns, and he knew just what to do. First, he needed to get young people involved. They would be attracted to a candidate who offered hope of “transformative change.” He introduced him to the product, Barack Obama, as a “transformative leader” and “inspirational speaker,” a “messiah” would would save the country from the Bush/Cheney gang.

Younger people wouldn’t know the difference. They wouldn’t really remember John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, or even Bill Clinton, all of whom were better speakers and who implemented much more transformative policies than Barack Obama was offering–even the campaign before he reverse himself on nearly every issue.

Axelrod organized Obama camps where these enthusiastic young liberals could be trained to be “ruthless for Obama,” doing whatever was necessary to sell the new product on the internet and in person.

Then he sent these young people out to infiltrate the prog blogs, especially the biggest ones–Daily Kos and Democratic Underground. What the Obama crowd didn’t bank on was people like us who were a little older and/or wiser and just weren’t all that impressed with the packaging of the product. We wanted blueprints, details and specifics. We wanted to know what the guy really thought and believed. We looked past the packaging, and we decided not to buy the product.

Since, as Marcos Moulitsas likes to say, “it’s a big internet,” we headed out into the wilderness and started our own liberal blogs. No wonder they tried so hard to kill us off during the primaries. We weren’t interested in just being consumers of a product. We wanted to have a say in our own futures. We saw the government and the Democratic party as our employees, not our masters. We wanted freedom of choice.

Now that the banks, corporations and media have won the battle, now that they have their chosen front man and they have turned the “progressive blogs” into “access bloggers,” they are still doing everything possible to limit our choices so they can stay in control of the political system and keep us from gaining any real power over our lives. They are going to fight to the death to limit our control over our own internet experience, our choices of what media to consume.

We must be eternally vigilant in preventing the government and corporations from completely neutering the internet. Interacting with each other–with more and more people around the country and the world, freely exchanging ideas and information, is our best hope for saving what is left of democracy in America. They may have won this battle, but they have not yet won the war.

I’d love to get your take on this, but as always, please post links to what you are reading in the comments. Here are a few other stories that caught my eye this morning to get you started. Have a great Saturday everyone!!

Apple’s iPad hits store shelves


The Militia Man Next Door


Urologist Posts His Politics on His Florida Office Door


Terrifying Sea Critter Hauled from the Ocean’s Depths

Finally! Scientific proof that greasy breakfasts are good for us!

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