New Year's Message: Optimism On The Cusp Of Big Changes
from the make-it-so dept
While Techdirt started back in 1997 (yikes), since 2008 I’ve had an end of the year tradition in which I use the final post of the year to reflect a bit more generally on the topic of optimism. It kicked off after I received some comments from people questioning how I didn’t go crazy after writing about all of these negative things — and I noted that I’m actually quite optimistic and happy. The frustration comes from all of the efforts to hold back the pace of progress, but I’m quite excited about all the progress that is happening. In 2009, I focused more on the power of creativity and innovation, and followed that up in 2010 by noting that innovation can help turn pessimism to optimism. In 2011, I pointed out that we could then take that innovation and optimism and finally start to make a real difference, because the power was now in our hands. That turned out to be prescient, because 2012 was a year where we started to see real change, as people spoke up and actually made a huge difference around things like SOPA and ACTA.
For this year, that trend continues in a big way. The accomplishments of the past have only resulted in continued pressure to change things for the better in the future. The story of the year, without question, is the revelations about the surveillance state (thank you Ed Snowden), a story that is still just beginning, but has already had tremendous impact around the globe and will continue to drive efforts towards real, lasting and important changes. It’s interesting to see that the infrastructure that came together around SOPA starting in 2011 is continuing to operate today on issues related to privacy and surveillance. Yes, there’s a big fight ahead, and it may not go perfectly (nothing ever does), but to suggest that change is not coming is naive in the extreme.
This kind of change is not just possible, it’s becoming probable. In the past, it was nearly impossible for the public and a loose coalition of folks nowhere near the centers of power to effect change. But that’s been altered in a big, big way over the past few years, and it’s only going to continue. It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, but we’re already seeing the beginnings of change and it will continue so long as people continue to speak out, speak up and push for basic freedoms and rights.
And, of course, we’re seeing similar things happen beyond the issue of surveillance, in other areas that we normally talk about. After years of pushing copyright law to be ever expanded, Congress has now started a (long) process towards comprehensive copyright reform, in which it’s clear they’re paying attention to what the wider public thinks, rather than just focusing on what one legacy industry thinks. Again, this is the earliest stage of this process, but just the fact that Congress is open to comprehensive reform — something most thought to be impossible just a few months ago — is a sign of how far we’ve come.
Similarly, on the issue of patent reform, Congress is poised to pass significant legislation to try to limit patent trolling. The legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough, but a year ago it was laughable to think that Congress would even take up the issue, since it had passed (basically useless) patent reform in 2011 and pretended that it had solved all of the problems. The fact that Congress was willing to go back and revisit the issue so quickly — and this time to actually look at the problems — is a sign that when people really speak out about these problems, it is possible to create change. There’s still more to be done, but things are moving forward.
Yes, there’s much to be cynical about. And there is tremendous frustration in bad laws, bad rulings, clueless policy, dumb decisions and lawsuits. But if you go back just a few years and look at where we are today, you’re being willfully blind if you haven’t seen the somewhat astounding progress. Two years ago, you’d be laughed at if you said that at the close of 2013 we’d be talking about significant reforms to surveillance, copyright and patents. Yet we’re right on the cusp of all of those things.
That’s an amazing statement of the power to create change in important ways.
We can and should be frustrated that this change happens as slowly as it does, and at the efforts to dilute or limit the change. We should be furious at the steps backwards that inevitably happen in this process. But we should be energized by the power to create change that we’ve seen over the past few years, much of it driven by large groups of people gathering together and speaking out. The amazing ability of the internet to bring together and amplify those voices and to drive home the message that these changes aren’t just desired, but necessary, should not be discounted.
2014 is going to be quite an interesting year in so many ways, and each and every one of you should pat yourselves on the back for helping to get us this far… while gearing up to continue the fight.
We’re looking forward to 2014 and additional efforts we’re making to do even more for the community here.
I’ve been writing here for over 16 years and it remains an absolute joy and pleasure every day to share this space with all of you, to learn from you and to discuss and debate with you. You continue to inspire me, each and every day, to see what we can do not just to make this a better place for the community, but to look at ways that we might, in whatever little ways we can, make this a better world for everyone. Thank you again, for being a part of this effort.