Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Saying Information Wants To Be Free Does More Harm Than Good

As seen on The Guardian, Saying Information Wants To Be Free Does More Harm Than Good, by Canadian writer Cory Doctorow. An excerpt:

For 10 years I've been part of what the record and film industry invariably call the "information wants to be free" crowd. In all that time, I've never heard anyone – apart from an entertainment executive – use that timeworn cliche.

"Information wants to be free" (IWTBF hereafter) is half of Stewart Brand's famous aphorism, first uttered at the Hackers Conference in Marin County, California (where else?), in 1984: "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

This is a chunky, chewy little koan, and as these go, it's an elegant statement of the main contradiction of life in the "information age". It means, fundamentally, that the increase in information's role as an accelerant and source of value is accompanied by a paradoxical increase in the cost of preventing the spread of information. That is, the more IT you have, the more IT generates value, and the more information becomes the centre of your world. But the more IT (and IT expertise) you have, the easier it is for information to spread and escape any proprietary barrier. As an oracular utterance predicting the next 40 years' worth of policy, business and political fights, you can hardly do better.

But it's time for it to die.


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