Saturday, December 29, 2007

12.20.07 End of Year I

This article first appeared in the 12/20/07 issue of Metroland. I think. Been pretty disconnected from the real world lately.

It’s been a tumultuous year in the world of information; the world is changing so fast and so intractably that it’s hard to keep up. Here’s what I think are the biggest changes and phenomena:

1) The iPhone: The internet, your stereo, your TV, and (oh yeah) your phone in your pocket. Everybody’s been saying this was coming, and once again it took Steve Jobs to bring it home. Like Apple’s done before with portable music and the iPod, the iPhone revolutionizes personal communications in a package that’s sleek, breath-taking, and lovable. No, I don’t have one. Yet. But friends that do say it’s changed their lives, and like the ad says, they don’t know how they got along without it all these years.

2) Voluntary payment for music: I was at the Future of Music conference this Fall, and one of the speakers said “let’s face it, payment for music these days is entirely voluntary.” And she was pretty much right. 30,000 lawsuits by the music industry against its core customers notwithstanding, you can find whatever you want for free on the internet, or just cop a file from a friend, or, if you’re in a real pinch, you can buy the damn song. Music wants to be free, and music gets what it wants. And no amount of huffing, puffing, or litigating or legislating is going to change that. The era of Big Music is just about over. And you know what? More music is being made now than ever before in the history of the human race. And, like always, some of it is real good.

3) Social networking rules: It’s exploded and it’s here to stay, one way or the other. Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the rest have revolutionized how we communicate with each other. If you’re my age you might not get it. If you’re half my age you’re going, like “duh!” At NYU this year they had special orientation classes for incoming freshmen, teaching them the ins and outs of face-to-face communication. Everybody already “knew” each other through Facebook, but nobody was quite sure how to actually talk to one another.

4) You have no privacy: Unless you live in the boonies, most of your time outside is on camera. If you have a cell-phone in your pocket, you can be tracked. Unless you’re a geek that knows something about encryption, most of your on-line activities are being stored somewhere by someone you don’t know. And the government thinks it’s perfectly OK to listen in on your telephone calls without a warrant, or at least to sweep your conversations for bad words. And the telephone companies seem to think its OK to help the government to do it. Even though it’s clearly illegal to do so; nobody seems to care! And Congress looks like it’s gonna grant the phone companies that broke the laws a get out of jail free card in the name of, what, national security or something? And of course, nobody seems to want to bother with the government’s illegal acts, why, it would be distracting attention away from other more pressing matters, like not reforming health care, or not passing real environmental legislation. And if you think these privacy issues are going to get fixed when the Democrats take control in a year, don’t hold your breath. The Democrats don’t care about your privacy because privacy issues don’t show up in the polls, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because we now have a young, entrenched neo-con Supreme Court that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you.

5) Activism works: Maybe. A whole lot of activist work went into getting the FCC to loosen up its LPFM (low-power FM) radio station rules, against the cries of the huge companies that didn’t want home-grown competition. Now it looks like tons of communities will have opportunities to start local radio stations. If all the frequencies don’t get gobbled up by Jesused-up whack-job organizations, maybe you (yes you!) could have your own radio show. Get involved in this, if you believe in the power of community and fun. It’s worth it on about six different levels. I am witness to it. Go start a radio station. And it looks like the same sorts of activists are putting the breaks on FCC Commissioner Martin’s attempts to commandeer the ownership rules for mainstream TV and radio frequencies. The public owns the damn airwaves, and the Clear Channels of the world are supposed to be the stewards of the public trust. Do they sound that way to you?

Have a terrific holiday season, and don’t forget to boogie.