My 73 cents

I love the treasure troves of thrift shops and used book stores.  I’ve been known to leave a consignment boutique with a J. McLaughlin tie, a Heineken tray, and the complete recordings of the Police – all in one swoop.  A week ago, I dropped into a used book store I had never visited, and thought I was going to leave empty-handed.  I scoured the shelves and only found trashy romance novels and books about climbing the rusty corporate ladder.  Then, I saw it: the treasure that was awaiting me.

It was an old, beat-up paperback copy of a book called The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, transplanted to my hands from the late 1960s.

I opened it and was sucked into a psychedelic experience of distorted photography, intentional blank pages, and text meant to be read in a mirror.  At the center of this “inventory of effects” was an annual about the evolving media environment.

So, I purchased it.  Given the store’s pricing structure of half-off the publishing price, I dropped all of 73 cents.

When I got home, I opened the book and read the first line:

The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life.”

A chill came over me.  It was as if I was reading a prophetic text, speaking to today’s emerging media and the byproducts of our social networks.

I read on:

“All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical.” 

This is true across history, and it begs a timeless question.  Should the media solely be regarded as the extension of the human who authored it?  Or is it an extension of our society as a whole, to be rewritten and reshaped on a communal level?

On one side of this two-way street, the content originator is awarded ownership.  The work is a protected asset of the psychic processes that imagined it.  It is a physical appendage that cannot be severed from the source that breathed it life.  Such is the current state of our regulatory climate, with laws governing intellectual and spatial property rights.   Entities such as the Internet Systems Consortium believe the legislation is spot-on.

The other side of this street is more of a cluttered intersection, with all parties thinking they have the right-away.  In this case, the electric technology itself is shaped and restructured by patterns of social interdependence (instead of the other way around). Some Internet contributors oppose legislation they believe would overprotect Internet property rights.  These individuals believe the societal collobaration offered by this model is necessary to ensure media continues to progress at the appropriate rates.

What do you think?  Are property laws, in respect to digital media, necessary to preserve the appropriate ownership of projects?  Or, would society as a whole benefit if the regulations were lifted?

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