Friday, May 28, 2010

Human/Intellectual Property Rights on the Web

In my previous posts I’ve brainstormed Stienbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in relation to Internet issues involving supply and demand of information, the evolution of the new media, and how groups can unite for social reform through means of media. This series of tangent thoughts has led me to examine the larger issue of intellectual property rights of the Internet.

But wait a minute. Didn’t I say in my last post that social activism was my main point? I did indeed. However, I’m now seeing that while these digital revolutionary movements have been the result, property rights have been the cause. It all gets back to the question of the human rights of use and ownership and the boundaries for containing those rights. So what are people exactly entitled to in terms of this digital age? Ownership of information? Certainly people deserve to be attributed acknowledgement at the least for their efforts and contributions to society, but do they really own what they publish as theirs?

 Once a conceptualized idea becomes public domain, does it really have an owner?

When the Joads were evicted from their farm in The Grapes of Wrath, it was because the bank had staked ownership on their land – much the way that Internet databases stake claim to their collective knowledge. Going along with a quote from Capitalism and the Internet: “Can the big corporations enclose the commons that is the Internet? If so, how? The jemmy they want to use to break in to the Internet commons is intellectual property law . . . they claim to own the software and won't let anyone else use it” (See Any comments?

I’m trying to get a hold of The Intellectual Property Renaissance in Cyberspace: Why Copyright Law Could Be Unimportant on the Internet by Eric Schlachter, but other ideas for sources to go to would be great too.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Global Activism through Cyber Media

Going back to my main point on the importance of social activism and the tool new media can have in that activism, I found an article from English Global Voices about a successful effort of the masses in Egypt coming together to combat poor living conditions by demanding the right to minimum wages.

The movement was nationwide and was propelled and unified particularly by a central website which chronicled the groups’ efforts, purpose, victories and strategies. All of this convalesced into a huge, coordinated strike on May 2nd that resulted in a court ruling fulfilling the peoples’ aims of a minimum wage compensation for all of its workers.

Contrast that with the ultimate failure of the sporadic strike efforts in The Grapes of Wrath, and you can see what impact communication in networked communities has on social movement impact. The migrants to California in the book all had a common goal of achieving a sustainable quality of life. What they lacked was the centralized communication necessary to organize and coordinate their efforts.

What drove the old farmers of the Dust Bowl era off their land was the development of the tractor – a development that forced the "exodusters" together in purpose even as it drove them from the land their lives had been grounded in before. Does this tractor signify the new media driving out those of the old media age? If so, it seems that the old media’s chance for survival rests in how well they integrate with the new. The Dust Bowl farmers were neither able to integrate into their new environment or unify in their efforts to combat its threat to their livelihood. The Egyptians did integrate in a unified effort against the threat. And collectively, their voices were heard and acknowledged. Any other effects of the old and/or new medias strike you at all in how well they enable/disable social cause?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Colonization of the Internet

Since my last post I’ve decided against promoting the idea that minorities lose their voice in new media. If anything, they’re able to get better organized and amplify their cause with new media. I would go that route, but I don’t see how that would relate to major groups in Grapes of Wrath – especially since the migrating farmers wouldn’t technically be considered a minority in the first place, seeing as they outnumbered the bosses. Might they be considered a minority in another sense? But even if that classification could be made, their unity in circumstance didn’t invoke any real change in their condition except perhaps for self-commiseration and empathy for their fellow man. So that makes me wonder what’s (online) networking good for except having that emotional/ideological support?

So, I’ve instead been researching more along the lines of how online communities/groups make an influence. Sometimes it seems they are ignored by the government in spite of efforts to rally and protest online (this going along well with the migrant workers' ineffective strike against their bosses in the Grapes of Wrath). I remember reading something along those lines involving George W. Bush in an eloquent rant published in January by political science professor Jodi Dean which I’m frankly a little apprehensive to cite.  But if I were to push against her argument, as my colleague Becca suggested in class, I’d be contradicting myself and really be putting myself in a pickle.

I was able to find a good paper called “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” which involves the psychology of society where the Internet resembles a conglomeration of the elemental human mind. The middle paragraph on page 7 reminds me of the clip Dr. Burton shared (Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us) and, getting back to the group mentality, how people can become their computer and feel naked and alone without it - just as the migrant workers would feel alone without each other when at first they were simply a bunch of individual families. Any thoughts? I really have been getting great input so far, but does anyone see any connections I'm missing?  Might the subject of Group Think be worth investigating?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Repercussions of the Digital Divide

Currently, I’m seeing a relationship between the open spaces of the nation in The Grapes of Wrath and the great expanses, or voids, of information between intermittent communities (ideologically as well as physically) – possibly in the Internet. I’m wondering, is space necessary? If so, how much?
Further, I’m thinking the Joad’s journey is reminiscent of the development of new communication medias in modern culture. For starters, the family had to leave their farm without having a lot of outside information to go off of – significant of the early days of one way web communication. Accordingly, that one source had incredible influence on the decision the family made of where to seek employment.

It seems Midwestern Tenant farmers’ only options was to accept the new media of that time - AKA the call to California – thus suggesting an essential need to adapt or become extinct if one wishes to survive the shift in society. Both of the grandparents died because, as much of the prospect of moving on to a new level of life excited them, they didn’t want to abandon familiar territory. For that matter, no one was too thrilled at the prospect, but there wasn’t anyone specific to shoot over it, just the ephemeral threat of the Bank. They didn’t have the means of resistance and so had to leave.

As they became better able to navigate the path toward bridging the gap between a figurative digital division with the rest of society, they began to establish networks with other families and found their greatest success in one small, government-run camp where everybody looked out for everybody else. The small group of a common interest contributed to their greatest contentment despite their being fenced in from the rest of the country.

Upon leaving this camp and finding jobs in California, supply and demand for workers (or contributors to the developing media) was so disproportionate that people were not being valued enough for their contributions; their efforts became obsolete as they were easily replaceable, so lots of people died – this is significant of potential consequences to new media being developed without a proper balance of sorts.

Still, everyone suffering from the same exploitation was able to unify into a universal family without barriers. Essentially, I want to promote new media as being good but with the cautionary note that an unregulated torrent of universal consciousness can drown out the interests of minorities. How’s that sound? What could I do to strengthen the stakes I’m arguing? Any suggestions for simplifications or need for clarification? Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summary of Digital Issues in Grapes of Wrath

One of the greatest themes in Grapes of Wrath pertains to the troubles of misleading information. The story revolves around the Joad family's struggle to make the move to California after being evicted from their tenant farm by the foreboding entity of the Bank during the Great Depression. They, and many hundred other families, had no idea of how or to whom to protest their deportment and so were compelled to find work elsewhere. Elsewhere advertised itself to be California in the form of fliers advertising jobs as produce pickers. Unfortunately, too many of these fliers circulating about the Midwest attracted much more people than positions that were available, and the huge influx of competitive workers reduced each family's pay to less than sustenance level.

I'm going to be drawing comparisons between problematic communications then and now and similar problems that we face in the digital age. I'm thinking currently that I will write along the lines of too much versus too little information and how a checks and balances system was and is necessary to regulate confusion that could lead (and seems to be leading) to a similar disaster unless something is changed. And then I'll introduce something about social obligation to share information as a potential solution. Does anyone have other ideas for problems or solutions to the "too much information" issue of the digital age?