Wikimania, media, and accessibility

There is a socio-technological irony in terms of the accessibility of what many are calling free culture. If oral cultures, or communities that have low literacy rates are to participate or be included in the fervour of free culture, then they will require a richer media environment. In a nutshell (and we can unpack it if you’d like), the training, tools and bandwidth needed for this rich media environment are less accessible to the very groups who need them most to participate.

I listened to Lawrence Lessig speak about free culture at Wikimania today. It was evangelical and idealistic (though still quite good). I think when anything is wrapped in the words “freedom” or “free”, that Americans react differently from other people. Perhaps it’s because the word is ubiquitous in their enculturation.

It’s all very glossy, this comparison of Wikimania to Woodstock. It would seem downright tacky if this conference were hosted at my home university. But Harvard is a very particular sort of place (more about that later, oh boy). Wikipedia’s a significant movement, but the real value is in fleshing out the particulars in the personal meetups and in the breakout sessions, like the one I’m in right now.

It’s a great conference, but it’s no Woodstock. In the big talks, I don’t see anyone getting high on anything save their own collective delusions.

I’m tempted to go all Hunter S Thompson on them.

5 thoughts on “Wikimania, media, and accessibility”

  1. Wasn’t the woodstock comparison just in the introduction? I think it misframed Lessig’s speech: the cyberlaw prof. was playing to what he thought was a typical bloggy cyber-y crowd — remember, there’s a miniature silicon valley style boom going on right now, and he probably speaks at a lot of tech conferences. Lessig himself emphasized the similarities between open-source culture and wikipedia culture (both of which are quite practical and unglamourous), and though he talked about freedom, it was intellectual freedom, not american-style economic freedom.

  2. I agree it was a misframing, Ben. I also think you’re correct to point out the difference btw intellectual and economic freedom – because people do get them confused and use the phrases interchangeably.

    Just a comment on the use of the word “free” that I’ve observed here, and in other Stateside fora. Don’t get me wrong – there’s much to be applauded about American optimism. The world needs optimism. But it also needs perspective. I think that extrapolating “freedom to know” to things like “freedom from suffering” (which Lessig did directly, talking about how free information leads to free politics and free labour…alternately referred to as “read-write” culture) oversimplifies a very complex, and assuredly tumultuous political and social process we only might be embarking on.

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