Internet idealists like me have long had an easy answer for creative types — like the striking screenwriters in Hollywood — who feel threatened by the unremunerative nature of our new Eden: stop whining and figure out how to join the party!
That’s the line I spouted when I was part of the birthing celebrations for the Web. I even wrote a manifesto titled “Piracy Is Your Friend.” But I was wrong. We were all wrong.
Like so many in Silicon Valley in the 1990s, I thought the Web would increase business opportunities for writers and artists. Instead they have decreased. Most of the big names in the industry — Google, Facebook, MySpace and increasingly even Apple and Microsoft — are now in the business of assembling content from unpaid Internet users to sell advertising to other Internet users.
There’s an almost religious belief in the Valley that charging for content is bad. The only business plan in sight is ever more advertising. One might ask what will be left to advertise once everyone is aggregated.
How long must creative people wait for the Web’s new wealth to find a path to their doors? A decade is a long enough time that idealism and hope are no longer enough. If there’s one practice technologists ought to embrace, it is the evaluation of empirical results.
To help writers and artists earn a living online, software engineers and Internet evangelists need to exercise the power they hold as designers. Information is free on the Internet because we created the system to be that way.
We could design information systems so that people can pay for content — so that anyone has the chance of becoming a widely read author and yet can also be paid. Information could be universally accessible but on an affordable instead of an absolutely free basis.
People happily pay for content in certain Internet ecosystems, provided the ecosystems are delightful. People love paying for virtual art, clothing and other items in virtual worlds like Second Life, for instance. Something similar is going on for music within the ecosystem of the iPod.
Affordable turns out to be much harder than free when it comes to information technology, but we are smart enough to figure it out. We owe it to ourselves and to our creative friends to acknowledge the negative results of our old idealism. We need to grow up.
Labels: blake leyh, bmore, government names, the wire
Children--brown-skinned children from Liberia, India, Jamaica and Baltimore, the post-hip-hop nationals of what M.I.A. calls World Town--climb all over the grooves of Kala. Their noise becomes part of the record's texture: they shriek in delight, laugh and dance; they kick rhymes; they cock guns. Not unlike the fourth season of HBO's hit The Wire, Kala explores poverty, violence and globalization through the eyes of children left behind. M.I.A.'s London refugee crew sling sugar water, bootleg CDs and color TVs to stay ahead of Border and Immigration, send remittances back to Asia or Africa and survive another day while their parents pray they become accountants. "Why has everyone got hustle on their mind?" she asks.
On the opener, "Bamboo Banga," a nod to Darkroom Productions' Baltimore street anthem "Bmore Banga," she sets up an image of a Hummer speeding across the desert with a quote from the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner": "Roadrunner roadrunner/Going hundred miles per hour/With your radio on." For Jonathan Richman, it was the sound of postwar innocence, Kerouac in love with the modern world and the open road. For M.I.A., it's the sound of Green Zone excess, First World abandonment, white flight on wheels. She roll-calls the planet of slums: Somalia, Angola, Ghana, India, Sri Lanka and Burma. "Now I'm sittin' down chillin' on some gunpowder/Strike match, light fire," she raps. "M.I.A. coming back with power power." Suddenly the setting isn't the desert; it's your country--a Lou Dobbs nightmare, the future sheathed in dark skin come home to your streets. "I'm a roadrunner," she sings. "I'm a world runner."
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Labels: bamboo banga, burma, global hip hop, M.I.A., pakistan, sri lanka, the clips, the nation, the world
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