Freedom matters

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating conversation between Paul Miller and Clay Shirky at Demos – some good questions from Paul Miller and lots of important insights from Shirky – do listen yourself. Later that day I visited Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid where he had a great link to an interview with Shirky in the Gothamist, some four years ago. His answer to the question, what will change the world, is worth reproducing in full:
“The thing that will change the future in the future is the same thing that changed the future in the past — freedom, in both its grand and narrow senses.
The narrow sense of freedom, in tech terms, is a freedom to tinker, to prod and poke and break and fix things. Good technologies — the PC, the internet, HTML — enable this. Bad technologies — cellphones, set-top boxes — forbid it, in hardware or contract. A lot of the fights in the next 5 years are going to be between people who want this kind of freedom in their technologies vs. business people who think freedom is a shitty business model compared with control.
And none of this would matter, really, except that in a technologically mediated age, our grand freedoms — freedom of speech, of association, of the press — are based on the narrow ones. Wave after wave of world-changing technology like email and the Web and instant messaging and Napster and Kazaa have been made possible because the technological freedoms we enjoy, especially the ones instantiated in the internet.
The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone that something is a good idea before trying it, and that in turn means that you don’t need to be a huge company to change the world. Microsoft gears up the global publicity machine its launch of Windows 98, and at the same time a 19 year old kid procrastinating on his CS homework invents a way to trade MP3 files. Guess which software spread faster, and changed people’s lives more?
So while things like FCC regulation of the internet have that MEGO quality (My Eyes Glaze Over), they matter, a lot, because the only way for 19 year olds to change the world in this medium is to give them the freedom to ignore all previous work to date, and come up with something new.”