Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama spoke to a crowd of teenagers at a political rally and encouraged them to tell their friends to participate in the political process. (via Kotaku)
“I want you to tell them, ‘It’s time for you to turn off the TV and stop playing GameBoy,'” Obama said. “We’ve got work to do.”
GameBoy? LOL. Sure, it’s only a game console and this doesn’t make him any less of a candidate than the next guy (or gal), but little things like this really show us the kind of generation gap that exists between a generation that grew up with the Internet and feels more than comfortable being part of it and a generation that is just learning to deal with it and thinks of it as nothing more than an improved telephone network with Google.
Ah, yes. It’s rant time. ひさしぶり～
For my generation, it has been an accepted truth since forever that politicians high up the ladder just don’t understand technology. Technology to them is a scary and unpredictable wild card that has to be controlled and legislated or all hell will break loose. They all know how to Google for dirt on their political opponents and set up lunch appointments using their BlackBerry, but as far as they are concern, the Internet runs on voodoo magic and faerie dust.
In a way, this has always been true for every generation. The younger generation adapts to advancements in technology and science faster but the government has always been full of old suits. But the Internet is different the car, radio, plane, microwave oven or even television. While every new invention in the last century or two builds upon its predecessor to create something faster, better or more efficient, the Internet is almost completely new and self-advancing. A car is just a faster horse carriage. A plane allows us to delivery goods faster than ships. The television comes from the radio. They require a change in mindset for the people and the government, but on a very manageable scale. Roads need to be wider, more variety of goods can now be exported, new forms of entertainment can be produced.
But the Internet is all that and more. It is also growing a lot faster and changing a lot more than anyone had anticipated just a decade ago.
Just ten years ago, you needed to be somebody to be heard. You had to make a name for yourself before someone even gave you the chance to be published or to go on TV. And then you worried about what to say. Today, anyone with a message can post it and if it resonates with enough people, it will be heard. This kind of democratic force is hard to understand for the baby-boomer generation. To them, Internet discussion is nothing more than teenage chatrooms and trivial entertainment. That is until one of them gets brought down by blogs. As more and more people get connected, the power that a well-targeted website can have over the political process will become enormous.
Of course, I’m not deluding myself; we are still a long way off from that. Right now, we are at a transitional phase between the old and the new, and this is where it gets really frustrating for a lot of people and confusing for the others.
Take file-sharing and DRM issues for example. The politicians, the judges, the CEOs and the self-proclaimed legal experts: an overwhelming majority of them are old and male. There is nothing ambiguous about digital copyrights in their minds: file-sharing is bootlegging which is like fake Chinese products which is really stealing money. And naturally, they take steps to legislate and suppress file-sharing. But what they don’t realize is that file-sharing is a very different thing from traditional piracy which is mostly profit-oriented and organized. File-sharing is completely unrestricted and the tools are available to anyone and everyone. It’s an inherent part of the Internet that will never go away. It’s impossible to stamp out file-sharing without destroying the freedom and democratic forces at work that make the Internet what it is today. File-sharing is a Pandora’s Box that cannot be unopened and trying only makes you look like a huge joke.
Instead of trying to legislate the Internet into oblivion, maybe it’s time for the people and the legislature to re-examine the relevance of our concepts of creator rights and the centuries-old system that fails to account for present-day realities.
Instead of whining about how digital piracy has destroyed company profits and trying to sue the world back to its 1990s status quo, maybe it’s time for the entertainment industry to open its eyes, rethink its revenue model and reinvent itself to stay relevant in the new paradigm.
But of course that is all wishful thinking. The reality is that the people who matter in the grand scheme today did not grow up with the Internet. I doubt Mr. Bush even knows how to load songs into his own iPod without his personal aide doing it for him. People fear what they do not understand and decisions made on irrational fear are often bad ones. Just take a look at Jack Thompson. Now, I’m not blaming them or looking down on them; it’s just a sad, sad reality that cannot be helped. Politicians may hire tech consultants to keep themselves “updated” on the latest web crazes but it’s a completely different thing to learn about something than to know about something.
Judges and politicians are, in theory, selected from smart and capable people who can make sound moral decisions. But even if assuming that was true, can they make the correct decision about things like DRM and net neutrality if they aren’t even sure what those things mean? Maybe. But it can be a lot better.
Some cynics might say that this phenomenon will always be true, that the government and the influential will always be nothing but greying heads who lag behind technology. I agree to a small extent, but I personally think that the current difference is a lot more pronounced because the birth and growth of the Internet was too sudden for its level of impact on society. I think when the day comes when a new generation of leaders born after the Internet takes over, we will have a much less polarized society and a much smaller gap between our generation and the next. Because somehow, I just don’t think that it’s very likely for those of us who grew up with the Internet with all its limitless information at our fingertips to one day stop keeping up with its progress. At least I personally don’t intend to ever stop reading Slashdot (and its eventual successors) until I get Alzheimer’s or drop dead.
Perhaps I’m just being overly optimistic and perhaps political technophobia will continue well into our own generation when neutral interconnects are perfected and full virtual reality takes over the keyboard and LCD, making our generation look as outdated and irrelevant to the next as Hillary Clinton is to us today. (Damn it, I want a cyberbrain.)
Whatever the case is, I will bet that within 10 years, digital copyright laws will have to be radically revamped. I will bet 100 USD which, at the current rate of inflation and US currency devaluation, should be just enough for a can of Pepsi by then. :P
It’s a wonder how I drifted so far off-topic to come up with this rant just from reading a single line mentioning GameBoys in Obama’s speech. The unpredictable power of association that drives our logical mind.