Sunday, January 22, 2012

…the power of connection

By kay.e.strong

Much attention last week focused on the Internet Blackout, a showdown—somewhat reminiscent of the gun-slinging old Wild West—that pitted staid power-bases against an interwoven network of upstarts scattered around the globe. While designed to flex muscle over the control, distribution and access of bytes and bites, the take away is more portentous.

CBS reported: “On Jan. 18 websites like Wikipedia and Reddit staged a blackout of their sites to protest Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). Google joined the protest by blacking out their famous logo for a day. A count by the organization Fight for the Future placed the number of sites participating at 115,000.”

In perspective, the outcome fostered by 115,000 sites is a pale blush of the potential power of 582,716,657 connected sites acting in unison (January 2012 Web Server Survey -

Bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Reid backed down whining that the twin evils of counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs annually.  On the flip-side, however, downloading free media content from the Internet saves American consumers billions of dollars annually, supports alternative expenditures, stirs the pot of innovation and spawns jobs in imitation industries.

The idea of protecting intellectual property is really about protecting privilege—the privilege of money and power.  Money and power move lockstep in an amplifying feedback loop.  Money begets power which begets money which begets… bottom line:  Own the rules, own the game!
Money buys a seat at the table at which the rules are written.

The concept of intellectual property rights is antiquated—a throwback to despotic rulers positing a royal right to grant monopoly privileges.   In this country IPRs are neatly package into the “lone cowboy” series, epitomizing the ideals of self-fulfillment and self-reliance. Rugged individualism glorified and reward.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. Just as spectacularly beautiful coral reefs are built from the dead skeletons of many generations of coral polyps, so are ideas.  It was Bernard of Chartes (~1130) who observed: "We are like dwarfs standing [or sitting] upon the shoulders of giants, and so able to see more and see farther than the ancients."

Those clinging to the mythology of IPRs are clinging to vestiges of the old economy, one in decline. In It’s Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology and Business (2003), Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis describe the economic life-cycle as gestation, growth, maturity and decline.  In this final phase enterprises are unable to adapt to new ways of organizing work, they thrive for a time but the period of exuberant growth has ended. Industries have consolidated but profitability is a function of oligopoly power and organization skills rather than growth or innovation.

In their earlier book Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy (1998), Meyers and Davis highlight the power of connectivity, speed and the rising importance of intangibles characterizing these three as “the derivatives of time, space and mass.” 

The Creative Commons has been operational since 2001, thanks to Lawrence Lessig et al. Open-sourcing—that is, free access and redistribution of digital code, media and the like—has long been a silent partner of Internet growth. Engaging collaborative synergies (peer production, massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) and alternate-reality games (ARG) and ResearchGate) is at the heart of new production models, while prosuming (coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in 1980) and freeiums are fast becoming the business model of necessity.

The old economy—hinged together by antiquated rules—daily draws closer to its expiration date. The Internet has proven a worthy opponent in its first spar with those seeking to hold together the old money-power base. May openness and innovation live a long and prosperous life!

And just in case the new kids on the block decide to get cocky; be reminded:

“All comparative advantage is temporary.  Some advantages last longer than others, but all sources of advantages have a finite shelf-life.” (Beinhocker 2006, 329)

Kay Strong, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, M.T., University of Houston, M.A., Ohio University; Associate Professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Areas of expertise: international economics, contemporary social-economic issues, complexity and futures-based perspectives in economics. E-mail:

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This blog lives under the auspices of the Department of Economics whose mission has been to hold high the lantern beaming an "economic way of thinking" onto the world. Selfishness, rationality and equilibrium have been central to the teaching of an economic way of thinking rooted in the Renaissance. And, in this regard, the department has faithfully stayed the course. The intent of this blog, thinking out loud..., however, is to entertain exchanges which may challenge the centrality of economics as we teach it.