The term red states, blue states introduced America and the world to the notion of a polarized society, one that rallies around what makes us different over the common ground. Polarization in politics isn’t new, but today the middle ground appears weak, a notion of the greater good replaced by one of a blind ideological viewpoint of us and them.
Sadly the new media and technology sector are moving in the same direction. Extremism on both sides is creating an us and them divide where moderate thought is drowned out by the fanaticism on either side.
I’d consider myself a moderate on copyright. The notion of allowing inventors and creators to profit from their work is enshrined in the US Constitution, and copyright law itself dates back to England before that. I believe that copyright as it was originally intended is a noble cause that encourages development and creativity. And yet today that original notion of copyright has been poisoned by the greed of big media and music, geared not to offering some just reward for creators, but in lining their own pockets for the rest of time. Copyright laws that once lasted 20 years have been replaced by the life of a creator + 70 years, a move that only benefits big business at the loss of the public domain. Worse still is the use of DRM and other artificial restraints, that seek to take copyright to new levels of stupidity, where those who buy the rights to use copyright protected items are limited in how they privately use them. It’s the ultimate greed tax imposed by law makers beholden to the next campaign contribution from those with an interest in profiting from those laws.
But lets take the other side, one that calls for the complete abolition of copyright law with a notion that intellectual property is imaginary property. If find it very easy to sympathize with their call, and there is no argument that Creative Commons and the Public Domain give to the greater good. But in a world without copyright, where we would be free to take and use as we please without the need for some compensation, what incentives would there be for creators to create if they are unable to profit from their creations?
I’m not talking music, which is an interesting adjunct, as the music itself can be used as a promotion tool for things like concerts. I’m talking real inventions, world changing inventions. It is not unreasonable to state that those who create should have some path to reward. That I believe was the intention of the founding fathers of the United States Constitution.
Every time I mention my anti-DRM stance or mention the latest BitTorrent tracker, I’m howled down by some as being an extremist against copyright. Likewise for even arguing here briefly in favor of some copyright and patent protection, I’ll be labeled an extremist in the other direction. In a polarized world, there is scant room for moderation.
I’d note also that I understand why those calling for the abolition of copyright take their position: the corporate greed of copyright holders has driven an extreme reaction in itself (and not unjustly), but the harder path is to take a moderate line and not simply become a reactionary.
I don’t believe that mainstream media will completely die out. I believe that broadcast television as a distribution medium is dead because the television companies are the least prepared for the changes the internet is quickly delivering, and that secondly the notion of a one size fits all broadcast medium is an antique concept that logically will be replaced when an alternative of custom choice on demand or custom mixed content when the technology is cheaply and widely available. I believe that newspapers are in deep trouble, and that within 10-20 years 5-10% will be left in the Western world, but I don’t believe they’ll die out completely, even if the notion of media on print itself will cease to be in a digital age. There will always be a place for quality journalism, and the smart print publications are switching online now in a big way, looking at ways of keeping their business going well into the future when print newspapers themselves are dead. The New York Times will be available in 2030, but it will be a website only.
The old media is still today struggling to come to terms with this change, and love nothing more than to lash out at the new media creators that are offering their first serious competition. I attend conferences to be told by media hacks that bloggers are nothing but conflicted amateurs, incapable of creating quality media, and that the only way to define premium content is by how much is charged for it. It would be unfair of me to say that it is all in the space, and there are many fine and smart people in media who understand the changing face of journalism and their need to adopt to the times, but the extreme hates the bloggers, hates the YouTubers and Facebookers, and anyone else who dares share their opinion in a space that until 10 years ago was the elitist domain of the mainstream media.
The flip side are those who say that mainstream media is dead, that they will all cease to exist, and the quicker the better. That their number will thin is a given, but to suggest that they will die out is another matter. I touched on newspapers, but the companies behind television and radio aren’t completely stupid either. Hulu may be georetarded and DRM infested, but it is the first considerable step away from the broadcast television model into a new age of media on demand. The Disney’s of this word may have vested interests in television, but they are production companies first and foremost and they will follow the crowd where ever it goes. Comcast offers shows on demand today via the cable box.
Again I sympathize with the mainstream media is dead meme, and when I’m attacked by the fanatics on the other side it is far easier to switch towards the us and them model than try to argue some common ground and a moderate view, and quite honestly I wouldn’t be greatly displeased if a lot of those walls came tumbling down tomorrow, after all this false idea that journalism isn’t biased compared to a biased blogosphere does need to die, because it is a grand delusion by those in the media who believe they are beyond contempt. However, the moderate view sees a major restructure in the media landscape, but not a complete wipeout, based on trends and numbers we are already seeing.
Likewise, there is really not a lot of difference between the top of blogging and old media. Many blogs I’ve dealt with would have stricter editorial standards than large chunks of print. Newspapers themselves are embracing blogging in a big way, further blurring the lines. I’d argue that “blog” as a term in itself is probably growing towards redundancy; there are news sites and those which indulge in editorial and opinion. That they are owned by News Corp or a blog network should not be the first criteria upon which to judge either of them.
I feel that I’m probably barking up the wrong tree, because many reading this simply won’t understand that there is a common ground, a middle ground in many of these debates, like they are unable to see it in politics. I saw someone on FriendFeed the other day (apologies but I don’t recall who it was) say that he was unfollowing and possibly blocking McCain supporters because they were McCain supporters. There was some suggestion that some had been annoying him, but he’d decided none the less to block them all because he believed them to be stupid, and not worthy of a place in his feed. This extreme need to block others with differing opinions, to look to the negatives over the positives, to ignore the common ground and instead focus of the extremities would appear to be more and more the norm. Moderates are the dying breed, and we will be all worse off for the polarity we are left with.