iPad and the internationalisation of ideas.

I’ve never watched a huge amount of TV. I’ve never really been able to explain why, it’s just something I’ve never really done. But Clay Shirky’s explanation in this talk really resonates (talk posted by Jeremy Zawodny); I tend to want to play with the mouse.

I completely missed the music download arguments of the last decade; at a party on Friday, a friend asked me “what music do you listen to?”, a question I answered incredibly badly, as I don’t actually have that much of an answer. The most listened to playlist on my ipod is “background”, the second most contains similar stuff, only it’s not named that so I have 2 choices. But it’s a relatively eclectic mix of stuff I can have on in the background and ignore. Bal didn’t particularly like the answer, but it’s there. By the time I started listening to music again, the iTunes music store existed.

About the only TV show that I’ve heavily watched while it was on in the last decade was the West Wing. I came late to it, so only had caught up to airdate by the time season 7 aired in the US. I never watched it on TV. One of the reasons I find most TV so hard to watch is the adverts; having not really watched any since before I went to Uni in the decade before last, and even before then, I tended to record things so I could fast forward. And as soon as WW Season 7 became available for pre-order on DVD, I had ordered it; and then the box-set of all for convenience factor.

I’m used to buying books from amazon.com since they’re not available on amazon.co.uk yet (even before their bulk imports arrive). Something Stuart Brand noticed when he signed my copy of Whole Earth Discipline – noticing it was the US cover, rather than the UK.

But, with the advent of the iPad, I’m suddenly used to buying and downloading books rather than waiting for them to show up in the post. And while my book buying and reading has gone up considerably; but so, equivalently, has my level of dissatisfaction. Not just because the UK iTunes Book store isn’t great (it’s not, yet), but because so many books are released only in the US at first. And, like previously in music, TV or films, that’s running into a problem with how the internet works. Like the music fans of 5 years ago who saw that a new album from their favourite band is out in one country, but they can’t get it legally in their’s, I looked on pirateBay for a copy of Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus which isn’t available as an ePub (or PDF) in the UK (it’s not on pirateBay either). It’s available and being promoted in the US, and many of the online communities that I follow and engage with are talking about it, but I can’t actually read it.

This suggests something’s broken in a way which isn’t going to be sustainable for very long without significant pain. As the incredible success of TEDtalks has shown, people want to hear ideas that resonate, and books are the current primary means of exposing the substantive argument and detail behind ideas.

Salmon Nation is the idea of a nation/community based wherever Salmon return to spawn. Irrespective of country nationality, the issues salmon (and those who care about fisheries and the nature required to keep the salmon alive long enough to spawn, year after year) are generally the same – state of rivers and watercourses, population and salmon sustainability. Until it exists as a set of communal but geographically separated place, it exists as a website, and mailing list, and facebook group etc.

Like salmon in rivers, ideas on the internet don’t have any sense of international boundaries, they follow the cultural boundaries. Paul Hawken (Paul is to environment what Clay Shirky is to Technology)  also talks about how the aim of life is to create the conditions that are conducive to life (his 2007 bioneers talk, including a Salmon Nation discussion). The internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it (John Gilmore (ish)); but it’s also inclined to treat commercial restrictions the same way. Stuart Brand’s famous quote is that “information wants to be free, and information wants to be expensive”. If the aim of ideas is to create conditions for ideas to thrive, and there is possibly no greater example of that than the internet, then this problem will get addressed.

Before a good eBook store, the week wait for a bit of dead tree to be flown from the US wasn’t an issue; now, I’m pretty concerned about it as there’s a better option available; it’s just not evenly distributed yet. The main source of my online book buying hasn’t yet been Apple, but O’Reilly. The ease and value of their online ordering system (and, admittedly, their current twitter promotion to sell ebooks for about £7), and the ease of ordering in any number of formats, has made this really invaluable. And easy. And has turned dealing with various other sources (amazon) into the equivalent of those annoying ITV adverts.

But for now, it’ll be 12 days until I have a copy of Cognitive Surplus to read.

[10 days later, Cognitive Surprlus has shown up. More on these themes – post-reading – in the next installment. As ever, Clay has offered a new way to view the world]

Jun 2010
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