Monday, March 11, 2013

"The Freedom to Connect"

(this is a cross-post from my personal blog)

Since ENG 420 encourages the use of blogging on class material, I think a discussion on the idea of sharing on the internet is natural. This idea comes as a tangent to an earlier post on the fallibility of individuality. By opening up thoughts and a desire to connect online, the conventional sense of ownership may no longer apply. This is something Aaron Swartz, and many others, worked to define so that non malicious users would not be made into criminals. Should my sharing the link to his speech on my own blog post be considered a copyright violation? Some say yes.

Swartz's form of protest, among many other campaigns, was to release publicly funded and purposed academic articles into the public domain.  If the function of information is to teach, why wouldn't educators and thinkers encourage the use of the internet to easily share?

Most do. That's what Wikipedia and Creative Commons is all about. These sites take a leading stance on privatizing information by demonstrating how public access to information leads to more educated, creative people.

Not only does the internet offer a huge way to connect ideas with resources, but it allows for an amazing (and easy) way to organize. Online petitions are a new form of activism, and possibly more effective.

But technological development moves quicker than the laws and legislators we have in place. Attitudes overwhelm knowledge; not understanding a system creates fear both in companies and policy makers who do not embrace the expanse of the internet. It is perhaps necessary that those in charge of defining use of the internet should be literate in its functions. Not only would it make for more engagement between politicians and their constituents, but it would perhaps change their idea that the internet is a scary place. When Swartz defines the influence of the internet on the passing of a bill, it becomes clear that it operates in a truly democratic sense; "it was really stopped by the people, the people themselves."

While Swartz may have violated a user agreement or annoyed the administrators at a college, he was breaking into and establishing what a world with a free exchange of ideas requires. It is best said in a New Yorker article after Aaron Swartz's death, "Swartz’s frontier was not geographic like Thoreau’s, but defined by other barriers unique to our times. His form of civil disobedience consisted of heading into an M.I.T. closet with a laptop, hooking it up to the Internet, and downloading millions of articles from JSTOR, an academic database. Swartz thought information should be free. It wasn’t a major coup, but it counts as a defiant act—and one that made its point, for it was, and remains, absurdly hard for the public to gain access to what academics supposedly write for it."

Does the political reluctance towards the internet come from a class division? Why was this behavior deemed defiant?

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