Bombs, Bombs, and the Children

In the past several months there have been more and more fractures in the carefully maintained facades of the RIAA and EU’s democratic openness. They have also been the formative months of Nicholas Negroponte’s dream of putting inexpensive notebooks in the hands of the most disenfranchiased youth in the world, a dream that will be realized in a few short weeks. I want to quickly elaborate on the first two ‘bombs’, and then quickly comment on Negroponte’s dream.

Reznor Serves His Walking Papers

Trent Reznor is a brilliant salesperson. Over the course of his last album he used some incredible guerrilla marketing to generate (more or less) free advertising for his album . . . only to have the RIAA threaten to sue his fans! Reznor has been incredibly critical of the record labels for some time, but now he’s free of them! On the Nine Inch Nails’ website he has written;

Hello everyone. I’ve waited a LONG time to be able to make the
following announcement: as of right now Nine Inch Nails is a totally
free agent, free of any recording contract with any label. I have
been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the
business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very
different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a
direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.
Look for some announcements in the near future regarding 2008.
Exciting times, indeed.

NIN, along with Radiohead, are expected to release their music directly from their websites, skipping the middlemen, and directly addressing their fans. This is a stark blow for the RIAA and other yester-decade industry giants who are desperately clamouring for a total re-envisioning of what copyright is so that their industry can remain vibrant despite the significant changes in technology. NIN’s leaving a label, and prominently and actively berating the music industry, is without a doubt a bomb on the doorsteps of the recording industry. Only time will tell if it has any real effect.

The EU and Online Speech

I’m a big fan of the EU on the whole. I spend a lot of time writing about its very positive effects, and the real challenges that it may be able to overcome as the world’s first legitimated supranational organization. That said, I don’t know exactly what to think of their proposal to ban their citizens from using the Internet to distribute bomb-making instructions.

This proposal is, of course, being made under the auspice of preventing the dissemination of information that terrorists could use to spawn terror, but I think that it (like many such proposals) misses that terrorism thrives, in part, by striking against the civil freedoms people have. Terrorists succeed when they cause such terror that citizens are willing to restructure their basic law based on fear instead of the democratic principles that were needed to found and subsequently preserve the nation-state.

I, along with most people (I think), would be happy if bomb-making instructions weren’t readily available to bad people, but I fear that censoring information is neither effective in limiting terrorist attacks, nor is such censoring necessarily in line with EU nations’ democratic values of free speech.

Negroponte’s Dream

Nicholas Negroponte is the visionary behind the One Laptop Per Child program, a program that aims to put a notebook in the hands/laps of children all over the world in the hopes that it will:

  • Reduce the costs of textbooks/make them available;
  • Disseminate computer skills throughout the developing world so that future generations can compete in knowledge-based economies rather than being left out of the ‘new’ economy;
  • Allow for communications between children and adults that, until now, has not been possible as a result of technical, economic, and environmental challenges.

These laptops will be in production as of November and will soon be in the hands of children all over the world. The New York Times has produced an excellent review of the laptops, and praises Negroponte’s project – I’d highly recommend that you take a look at it if you want some decent balanced information about the project and the notebooks themselves.