On Staying Happy
from the happy-new-year dept
A few weeks ago, we got an email sent to the feedback box that asked how we can possibly stay upbeat. I have to apologize because I can’t find the email anymore — so I don’t remember who sent it — but he pointed out that while he really enjoyed reading Techdirt and liked what we had to say, the stories about corporate cluelessness, political corruption and short-sighted thinking were so consistently frustrating and depressing that there were times he considered giving up on reading Techdirt — if just to keep himself from banging his head against the wall. He wanted to know how we possibly stayed upbeat, and kept positive enough to avoid giving ourselves heart attacks. I didn’t get a chance to email him back, but wanted to address the question here as my final post of 2008.
Techdirt has been going strong since 1997, so it’s not like we’re new to covering these sorts of things. But, in the end, I personally stay extremely happy and optimistic because I see how far we’ve come — and I recognize the inevitable outcome of most of these debates. Yes, we point out plenty of bad stuff, but it’s not about complaining about how terrible things are — but about trying to help open some eyes to the possibilities of moving forward, adapting and embracing new technological possibilities. And, while there are some extremely loud and public holdouts, every day we’re seeing examples of it working. We see the inevitable results of technological change in enabling new and powerful business models that greatly expand markets, provide consumers with much more than before, and enable new innovations that you might never have thought were possible before.
The internet is a phenomenal communications tool that very few people had even heard of not so long ago. The world wide web only came into being slightly more than fifteen years ago. The ability to go online and find just about anything you need in seconds is a brand new phenomenon. The fact that you can talk to people, easily, in far away places — make new connections, share stories, exchange ideas, debate, argue and connect, well beyond your local community — is all simply amazing. Beyond online communications, the internet has provided new and amazing tools for business, commerce, entertainment and information that were nearly impossible to imagine by all but the most visionary people just a few decades ago.
How can you not be optimistic and excited when you look back at how far we’ve come in such a short time, and think about how much further we can go?
Yes, we’re in the midst of a brutal financial mess — but that won’t stop innovation. Yes, incumbent forces, with short-sighted plans and a desire to hold back the tides are annoying and disruptive (not in a good way) in the short run. But even they are finding they can’t hold back progress. Robert Friedel has a wonderful book called A Culture of Improvement that details how we, as a society, are constantly looking to improve on what we already have. We add ideas and ingenuity to old concepts and build something better — not because of the desire to grab some “intellectual property,” but because of the desire to improve our own lot, to build a better tool that we want to use. Incumbent short-sighted players have been able to hinder and harm progress, but they can’t keep it down completely. That culture of improvement can’t be stopped entirely.
There is, of course, plenty to be vigilant about, of course. Bad and corrupt political moves can seriously stunt economic improvement, but history has shown that such periods are often short-lived, as the need for continued economic growth and advancement is impossible to stomp out completely — and as it seeps out through the cracks, legacy businesses crumble, and outdated political rules and short-sighted policies are pushed to the side. Yes, more come along, often as the innovators of yesterday seek to stop the innovators of tomorrow, but the march of innovation hasn’t been stopped yet.
So, yes, we rant and rage against short-sighted policies, and efforts that hinder and delay the inevitable, but we’re excited and optimistic and happy about what we see as the eventual possibilities from that advancement and innovation. Any “anger” or “unhappiness” we might display is more frustration at ourselves for not being able to clearly paint a picture — for those seeking to hold back progress — of just what opportunities moving forward provides.
As we move into 2009, there are plenty of things to be worried about, but look around at what progress has brought to us already, and look at the trends and the obvious direction in which technology is taking us — there’s so much to look forward to, it’s hard to let any depression seep into the discussion at all.