Went to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund benefit last night featuring Cory Doctorow & DJ Spooky. Of course I wanted to say hi to Cory after CW, but I have also been a fan of Spooky for a very long time, thanks to Jen.
The two of them talked about nearly everything, from Spooky's brilliant 'remix' of D.W. Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation' to the state of the Internet in Africa. Summarizing the interplay between these two extroardinary minds would be like trying to trace the path of a butterfly.
But one of the things that Cory said that caught my attention was what he said about the relationship of kids today with information technology. Basically he said that for geeky GenXers of his and my age (roughly thirtysomethings), the computer world seemed like the potential for an amazing new world. But that teens today have more in common with the generation before us, who saw IT as the means of oppression and control. He pointed out that kids of today have had their rights trampled on from the day they first sat down at a keyboard, from being blocked arbitrarily from sites by 'filter' programs to big companies tracking their information to turn them into marketing tools.
A slightly older father in the audience commented that based on his experience with his son, the opposite was true. The son did not seem to care what people did with his information, and didn't mind being in a digital fishbowl. When the father tried to interest the kid in Cory's 'Little Brother' books, the kid had no interest whatsoever. Cory acknowledged that in fact, a lot of kids had not yet been burned by having their info hoarded & databased, and did not yet realize how bad it could be. He said that sites like myspace & so on were skinner boxes awarding people for giving up information about themselves.
That made me think of what Charlie Stross once said in his blog about how we seemed to be moving towards a culture in which people tracked their identities from birth to death on cameras, and that it was only a matter of time for such data storage to be available to any individual. This, of course, is the opposite of the kind of suspicion that people like Cory would probably like kids to have more of, probably justifiably.
It occurred to me, however, that there is a continuum of risk and benefits here. On the one hand, the more info there is about you online, the more people can market to, prosecute, manipulate & harrass you. On the other hand, if you are trying to get a job, find a mate, sell a service, publish a novel etc., it benefits you to be as visible as possible. After all, Cory frequently says that the main purpose of the Net is to minimize transaction costs, or more simply to help people do things together. But for that to work, people have to find you.
So if there are a lot of kids who don't fear having their peckers in the air online, so to speak, that says something good about the net. That means more and more people will get in touch and make something happen. On the other hand if more and more people are getting sued by the RIAA, or stalked by the FBI for 'suspicious' language in their posts or e-mails or whatever, the garden of creativity will dry up as people are afraid to take the risk of interacting.