Saturday, March 22, 2008

Digital Renaissance and Feudal Lords

One of the ideas that I've been kicking around for a while is the comparability of our own digital moment (and its new flows of information) to the early Renaissance, when older texts were (re)discovered, translated and put into new patterns of circulation by dedicated humanists (soon with the aid of transformative new technology, especially the printing press).

Well, if some of us are the humanists, Nick Carr's identified the feudal landlords: the owners of closed social networks (in this case Bebo) who capitalize on the work done by hundreds of thousands of peasants (in this case musicians).

When challenged in this way, the plantation owners counter that they are doing musicians a favor by providing them with a place to promote their work. But this, too, as Bragg notes, is disingenuous: "Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?"

The fact is, it should. And arguments to the contrary are ultimately specious and self-serving. Exploitation is exploitation, no matter how lovingly it's wrapped in neo-hippie technobabble about virtual communities, social production, and the gift economy.

Digital sharecroppers of the world, unite!

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