|Chalk and cheese.|
Now on an aside I want to point briefly to the relationship between geeks and creatives, and especially my own attempts, at the beginning of last year, to understand SOPA, the proposed anti-piracy law that failed to pass in the US Congress. My take on this subject is that companies that produce digital content have a right to protect their product, and I suggested that the complaints from the geek community were overly partisan and extreme. There's this feeling in the geek community that certain types of organisation that are involved in digital content production do not merit respect, and are therefore fair game for ingenious hackers. The funny thing is that I don't hear any of the creatives who work with those companies complaining about poor treatment. There were no writers, sound recordists, scriptwriters, poets, musicians or other creative individuals complaining about SOPA. Not as far as I know, anyway. And I think that's meaningful. Aaron Swartz got caught up in this type of shitstorm and it looked like he would lose, but it's also interesting to note that for most people his suicide was the first time that they'd heard of the prosecution against him. Is that because it was just not newsworthy?
Everyone likes to think their own priorities are important, and they react with delight when they find people with similar views. When Julian Assange began to release classified information publicly his relationship with the media was solid and productive. They were best mates. Hale fellows. But Assange made the mistake of treating the media like just another module in his plan to change the world, and he overreached. You don't verbally assault the editor of one of the world's leading liberal dailies like he was some n00b code monkey. You respect his priorities and work with him. You keep the liberal media onside because they can save your skin when the shit hits the fan. But iconoclastic, self-confident, driven Assange rubbed the media up the wrong way and when he needed help they remained silent. They spoke different languages. They did not communicate. Words were said that would later be regretted.
As for the law, journalists have long experience with it because there are specific elements of the law that touch on the occupation. And danger? Journalists die every year in their hundreds for doing their jobs. What about changing the world? Yes, journalists are acquainted with the sensations attached to this idea, and daily search for the story that will cause the government embarrassment, reveal corporate malfeasance, or even lead to a change in the political makeup of the country. This is why Assange was - and remains - of such interest to journalists, and it's partly why Swartz has simply dropped off the radar in the mainstream just one day after the announcement of his death. The techniques the two men used may have been the same, the fire that drove them might have been similar, but to the rest of the world they are just chalk and cheese.
On a final note, none in the geek community paid any attention to the call I put out in yesterday's blog post to try to find ways that can cause writers to be paid. Wouldn't it be great if creatives and geeks could start talking the same language? The stuff creatives produce is as popular as ever - more so even in the era of social media. Our stories are shared in millions of links every day by people who want to communicate with each other in the context of larger narratives. But we're not benefiting much financially from this increased exposure. Our employers are strapped for cash and the first thing to go is the freelancers. New websites that deal in news appear but they set their rates too low to be of any use to a self-respecting journalist. Hacktivist geeks are trying to free up more information but in many ways that's damaging the people who so successfully inform and entertain the world. Why can't we put our heads together and find a way to ensure that the people who do the work that the world values so highly are paid adequately for their labours. That's a game-changer.