New Year's Message: From Optimism And Innovation… To The Power To Make A Difference

from the things-are-happening dept

For the past few years, we’ve had a bit of a New Year’s tradition here at Techdirt. The “final” post I put up for the year is a discussion on, well, awesomeness. Three years ago, it was “on staying happy”, in response to people complaining that reading Techdirt made them upset, and wondering how I kept writing for it. I noted that there were so many more reasons to be happy and optimistic than pessimistic — because even as there were some who fought against innovation, just look at how many amazing things happened anyway, in spite of the forces trying to hold back progress. The happiness comes from the conviction that innovation and opportunity always win out, even if it takes longer than it should.

Two years ago, I expanded on that to discuss the power of innovation and creativity to build out that optimism. I talked about a bunch of examples of folks who totally understood the power of what was happening thanks to innovation, and were embracing the tools creatively — and spreading joy, even as others chose to freak out and complain.

Last year, the discussion was, once again, about why we should be both optimistic about the power of innovation, but frustrated about that which got in the way of its progress. You’ll notice this is a running theme. Be happy about the power of change, but be frustrated that the rate of such change isn’t as rapid as it should be.

This year has proven to be really quite an incredible one for those of us who believe in the power of innovation and who, while frustrated with the pace and with those who seek to block it, believe that over time you can’t stop that innovation. The key element this year: the power of large groups of people to make use of the technology to start to say, “No!” to those who have sought to hold back progress. Of course, not all of these efforts will succeed, but the ability of people to speak up and actually make a difference is being seen all over the world these days — and that power is only going to grow, not shrink. And that’s something to be tremendously optimistic and happy about.

For years, when I’d complain about this or that industry seeking to impede progress, some critics would argue, “well, why don’t you go change things!” In the past, you could only change things by becoming powerful — and for most individuals, that was impossible. But what we’ve seen (over the last year especially) is that a new wave of change can spread by individuals coming together and doing something amazing as a group. It’s tremendously inspiring in all sorts of ways, and I can’t wait to see how more and more people learn to harness communication technologies and new services to make very real differences in the world that were impossible to even imagine just a few years ago.

We live in an exciting time, full of amazing opportunities. We can (and should) worry about those who fear where things are going and seek to impede this journey, but we should also be comfortable in the knowledge that we know how this story goes. Innovation and opportunity find a way.

Once again, a huge thank you to everyone who makes up the Techdirt community. We’ve grown quite a bit in the last year (our traffic has doubled in just the last six months). Beyond covering some amazing stories, we’ve had some fascinating and educational discussions and experiences. We’ve been working hard to do more for the community — including new stories, new tools and new services, many of which we’ll start to roll out in the next few months, so stay tuned. But, most of all, from all of us who do this all day, every day, it’s been a real pleasure having this ongoing discussion each and every day.

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Comments on “New Year's Message: From Optimism And Innovation… To The Power To Make A Difference”

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Spaceman Spiff says:

Kudos to Mike!

Mike, you are totally awesome! Thanks for all your hard work to keep the light shining in the dark corners. Give yourself a pat on the back, and my thanks for all you have done to keep the network open!

P.S. I just got a new job, so when I have a few extra $$, I’ll be sure to make a donation to TechDirt. Right now, the FSF and ACLU are getting all my spare $$… 🙂

N2iT (profile) says:

This sounds allot like the sixties peace movement

people learning that a collective voice can make a difference if it speaks the right message the right way to the right people. It is difficult to live a positive and happy life in the face of so much negativity. From every news cast to the captive audience advertising on television. as I go through the day and things happen I try to look at the positive side first. And that is not as easy as it sounds. But I’m getting better at it. And being happy is a way of life that starts with honesty.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: This sounds allot like the sixties peace movement

“It is difficult to live a positive and happy life in the face of so much negativity. From every news cast to the captive audience advertising on television.”

Turn the television off. Cancel any subscriptions.
Anything I have heard on broadcast “news” over the last few years, have been things I read about on the net 2-3 days beforehand.

Read, hike, volunteer…You will find it hard to find much negativity by doing so. Unless you want to find it.

Before something can happen, you must think/believe that it can happen.

Happy New Year all!

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This sounds allot like the sixties peace movement

I’ve recently become disabled myself. Hopefully temporary (hit by car).
You may find a few hours of entertainment there.

I personally like the logic puzzles:

I usually buy the logic puzzle magazines, but it is now too hard for me to get to the stores.

If you don’t need speech recognition on PC, you may find Linux an interesting learning experience (no offense meant, and for all I know you are a ‘nix guru). I personally use PCLinuxOS(over four years), as main OS and have not found it necessary to use command line unless I wanted to use it.

I use the KDE version.

Ben in TX (profile) says:


Mike, thanks for doing what you do. I’ve been reading your blog for 7+ years now and it just gets better and better. Please keep it up! i don’t know what I’d do if you stopped!

I think I know why your traffic has doubled in 6 months:
1. SOPA and other issues you cover gaining more visibility.
2. Honest, frank coverage and informed, untelligent suggestions; your contributions to the community.
3. Me posting so many lunks to TD on my Facebook news feed 🙂

Thanks for a great year. Hope 2012 is even better.

Jose (user link) says:

A great thanks to you, Mr. Masnick

What a year: Absurd, inefficient and doomed to failure laws; the excesses of copyright; the persecution of citizens; politicians working for companies; industry abuses; lack of support or even persecution of free culture; have been expanding worldwide in the last year.
The copyright could be the oil of the XXI century, but it seems that oil is not synonymous of wealth, but viscous, black, contaminant and obsolete liquid.

In this context, you are a vital inspiration to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A great thanks to you, Mr. Masnick

… expanding worldwide in the last year.

?Court asks 22 websites including Facebook, Google and Yahoo to remove objectionable content by February 6?, Economic Times (PTI), Dec 24, 2011:

NEW DELHI: Setting a deadline for 22 social networking sites including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to remove all “anti-religious” or “anti-social” content, a Delhi court today directed the companies to file compliance reports by February 6.


Additional coverage of this story:
? ?Delhi Court wants FB, Google to remove anti-religious content?, First Post, Dec 22, 2011;
? ?Delete anti-religious posts: Court to networking sites?, Hindustan Times, Dec 24, 2011;
? ?Court summons Facebook, others for ?obscene content??, Times of India, Dec 24, 2011;

Loki says:

Discussion (real discussion) is vitally important. It forces people to actually think about the validity of the ideas and opinions they express. Sometimes that discussion allows people to simply help clarify what they already believe and more easily express it. Other times, you step back and say, you know, I think maybe I had this wrong.

And a lot of times, it’s not that I or someone else had it wrong, it is that we didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. We’d have enough pieces to think they picture showed us one thing, when someone comes along and provides us with a few more pieces that show us it’s really something else. This is why I object to things that hamper the free flow of ideas/information, but such actions often help obfuscate the bigger picture.

Jeff Downer Indianapolis, IN (profile) says:

Innovation's Limiting Factor

The call to not despair in the face of obstacles to innovation should be heeded.

I am in the criminal justice field and years ago came across an observation that applies to an almost a universal degree.

The observation came from Dr. Charles Friel of Sam Houston State University. It goes along the lines that technology is not the limiting factor on progress, but it is political forces that impede us. None the less we still manage to move forward.

It was true then, it is true now.

number one anonymous coward says:

I personally think it is time for all of you to stop whining and figure out the real issues. All the hand wringing and “sky is falling” BS isn’t going to change much of anything for those who want a new world order in content. It’s true actions that will change the world.

All the tilting at windmills about SOPA, Protect IP, and the actions of the dreaded **AAs are a waste of your time, because you are fighting the wrong war. You are fighting the battles that they have chosen for you, and the results are at best mixed. You will never win the war that they have defined, you may win some of the battles but you will always end up bogged down in a war that you cannot ever completely win.

The frustrations that you see blocking the way to the “innovation” you seek are put their by yourselves, not by anyone else. Much of it is created by the somewhat amusing attachment to “remix” culture, the desire to take someone else’s end work product, and mash it up with someone else’s end work product, and claim it as your own. That just won’t work, and will lead to endless battles that just don’t ever play out well. Again, you may win some of the battles, but you are in this area fighting a war that the **AAs are way more equipped to fight, way more willing to fight, and yes, they have the laws on their side.

Walk away. No reason to keep fighting for it.

If you really want to change the face of “content”, if you want to change the world, then exclude the AAs entirely. Exclude their products, exclude their work, heck, exclude their contracted “artists”. Stop worrying about them, stop worrying about what they are doing, and start worrying about what you can do yourself.

More importantly, stop playing off of them. Make your own unique new products, let them stand alone and proud, and promote them every way you can as the products they are. Write your own songs, make your own movies, run your own websites… with a product offering that the people will really want.

The issues that face the “new business model” universe is that there are no structures in place to move it past it’s current levels. All the Topspins and such of the world don’t amount to much, mostly because they don’t have the true reach or top of mind awareness to make a dent in the marketplace. How comes there is no real NBMtunes? Yes, I know, you can name 10. But can the public? Alas, the main problem is there, thousand and thousands of independent companies and individuals working on independent projects, all thinking they have a better answer and none of them really producing that one end product that will get the public on board.

You also can’t get anywhere without offer alternate structures for things as well. You want to advance the NBM movie business? You need to find a way to get more and more movie theaters to give screens over to you. The movies need to be put together and marketed as a whole, giving a structure and a distribution method that will allow the public to view them as they are use to seeing them. There has to be deals made to get them on PPV, on the movie channels, features on Netflix… without it, you will endlessly fight the battle of obscurity.

Finally, my biggest tip of all: Stop trying to make the other side do it your way. You may think your NBM are amazing, great, and wonderful. You may think you have the answer for everything. Yet, you waste all of your energy trying to drag the other side unwillingly to those business models. Stop it. If you NBM is that strong, then build a structure around it, build it up, and wipe them out by being better.

If you want to beat the **AAs, you have to be better than them. Stop trying to drag them down with piracy and attacks, let them be. Beat them with better products, better services, better distribution, better personal service, and better ways of doing business. Until you can do that, you are doomed to hit your head against the wall for years to come.

On that note, this anonymous coward signs off from Techdirt forever. It’s been a thrill, but the level of debate here has been lowered significantly in the past 6 months or so. Not surprising that it matches with an increase in traffic, lowest common denominator stuff always packs them in. May 2012 bring you everything you want… especially if you stop trying to force everyone else to do it your way.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You seem to have ignored the key issue, which is that the *AAs who you want us to ignore are constantly seeking to create laws that block the sorts of businesses you want us to build. They are the ones trying to “force everyone else” to do it their way – not us.

You also seem to have ignored the fact that remixes are a central part of culture and have been for, quite literally, centuries. Your belittling reference to our “amusing attachment” to it shows that you must have a very, very small mind when it comes to art and creativity.

I think it is a wise choice for you to sign off from Techdirt forever. Your worldview is fundamentally opposed and, in my mind, quite incorrect. If you truly believe that remixes are worthless, and that media companies are totally innocent and not working to stifle new businesses – well then I’m afraid you’re a fool. In time you will probably realize this, but until then there is no point in stubbornly debating it with a bunch of people who have a far deeper and more nuanced understanding of cultural progress than you do.

So if you’re really leaving forever (I’m dubios) then: Goodbye, good luck, and good riddance.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You also seem to have ignored the fact that remixes are a central part of culture and have been for, quite literally, centuries.

Absolutely. The troubadours would spread news by memorizing each others’ songs, for example. Stealing IP? Uh huh.

And watching Connections constantly bemuses me as I see how one invention builds on others. I’m always thinking back to the IP protectionists on Techdirt, and how they claim that it’s stealing and seem to think that innovation happens by inventing everything new and fresh.

Waterwheel. Drives cams which drive hammers to pound grain to make bread. Those cams went through several generations of inventors before it got to computer cards. Meantime, they’re also used in the internal combustion engine to drive and sequence the valves.

Disease. Volta (who pretty much invented the battery) believed in the bad smell theory of disease. He had a special glass “gun” made where he’d trap gases and try to ignite them with a spark, and he’d wander around through marshes and such looking for the source of disease. Must’ve been a fun guy to hang around with. Well… the battery ended up being used in automobiles as a portable source of power, and the pistol for igniting flammable gases? The spark plug.

You make the flammable gas in the IC engine’s carburetor by atomizing a flammable liquid and mixing it with air. The atomizer? Came from the scent spray.

From bells to bombards to cannon, they figured out how to make accurate cylinders by turning them on a lathe. Ended up in the IC engine.

That’s just a few of the ideas that ended up in Otto, Daimler and Maybach’s 4-stroke internal combustion engine. In nearly every case the people inventing things were doing so NOT to make money, but to solve problems. And in nearly every case they were using ideas other people had come up with and improving or building on them.

So, IP maximalists, don’t tell me our culture is about throwing away everything that has come before and coming up with new ideas created from whole cloth. It’s about re-applying what has come before in new ways that solve new problems, or solve older problems more efficiently.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This isn’t about doing it “our” way or, if you prefer, Mike’s way. It’s about adaptation. Even you would agree that a business model that’s failing is wrong, which is where the *AAs are at and now seeking legislative protection against. Not just in the United States either.

Even you’ll admit that the business models that worked prior to the industrial revolution failed as that came in. Among them mercantilism and with no louder thud that the failure of the East India Company.

I don’t know what will come next.

In pricing perhaps we’re on the verge of returning to the bazaar. We need to keep in mind that fixed pricing is a new innovation, somewhat less than a century old. Before that people dickered. Outside of the West that’s still what most people do.

The point you’re still missing, and most do, is that “remix culture” is nothing new. You can find it all over symphonies. Pick one, listen and then find out about them. Filled with references or direct “steals” from folk music and the popular music of the day remixed into a symphony. Hymns used in churches were, and still are to an amazing degree, remixed popular music of the day. Of course these days things are licensed and churches pay a small amount to use the tunes but it’s still a remix.

You’re right when you say that sometimes we get distracted on the issue of the new business model. If the RIAA/MPAA don’t want to go along with the notion that their way doesn’t work anymore, well, that’s up to them.

At least till they bankroll legislators to run through bad legislation such as SOPA and PIPA. As we have no business forcing a business model on the unwilling they have no business telling the citizenry of the United States, Canada or France or the UK or anyone else to protect them from the inevitable. They aren’t “too big to fail”, merely rich enough to convince Congress, Parliament or whatever that they are. Hiding, of course, behind copyright, or at least their reading of it. Follow the money. In politics never a phrase was ever truer.

So, what’s to come? Dunno.

You are right that better service, better product and better, well, everything usually wins out. But not always. Look at what happened to most local grocers and local butchers who knew their customer base and, in the vast majority of cases, served it very well but were taken down by the economies of scale that supermarkets had.

But that’s also been discussed here. Beating the big guys at their own game. And avoiding becoming like them in the process. It doesn’t always happen. Just often enough it does to make it possible, and attainable. Linux took over the internet from the BSDs, Sun and Microsoft to the point where it’s ubiquitous now on DNS and other core routers and servers. And often the OS that guards MS servers from attack behind them. It’s everywhere but the desktop. So far. And no 2012 is not the year of the Linux desktop.

As for piracy, that people here oppose SOPA/PIPA and their copies in other nations doesn’t automatically mean we’re supportive of piracy. Free doesn’t always mean as in beer (see Linux above) but free as in freedom like Creative Commons licensing of, wait for it, a valid copyright. And again while it seems to make sense that piracy costs the copyright holder lost sales and,therefore profit, nearly every neutral study made disagrees. At worst is may be a perpetually lost sale in which case, well, it was never going to ne made. At best it’s a purchase delayed. Try before you buy, for example. It can also be valuable word of mouth.

Business models are as varied as the entities taking them on. The Business model for a small parish church is likely to be vastly different than Microsoft, for example. The parish would like to get to a small surplus rather than endless red ink while Microsoft wants to make every penny possible. Nothing evil or spectacularly good about either of them in that. Just what they do.

Like individuals they all want to take more in than the send out. The scale is different but, at the end of the day, that’s the only business model there is.

All that said, I’m sad to lose you. May 2012 bring you, joy, happiness and inner peace.

For my part I agree to stop trying to make everyone else to do it my way as soon as the “everyone else”, the **AAs in terms of this discussion stop trying to make me do it their way.(Then again, over 30 years in Alcoholics Anonymous has pounded it into my skull that my way often fails to I need to listen and learn from others. Even Anonymous Cowards!)

Take care.

FM HIlton (profile) says:

Happy New Year to all, even the trolls!

Mike is never going to just ‘walk away’ from any issue, thank the heavens!

It’s often only by openly discussing/airing, bitching and complaining that anything of substance ever gets done. Or would you just rather crawl into your basement and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist?

“All the tilting at windmills about SOPA, Protect IP, and the actions of the dreaded **AAs are a waste of your time, because you are fighting the wrong war. You are fighting the battles that they have chosen for you, and the results are at best mixed. You will never win the war that they have defined, you may win some of the battles but you will always end up bogged down in a war that you cannot ever completely win.”

Says you? The only way you win the war is to fight the battles. The only way you know you at least attempted to change the game is to play it, not make snide comments from the sidelines.

Goodbye to that AC-it wasn’t nice hearing from you.

Happy New year to the rest of the crowd!

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