New Year's Message: No One Said It Would Be Easy…
from the a-tough-year dept
Since 2008, my final post of the year tends to be a post where I take a step back and reflect on how the year went. It started, back in 2008, as a response to multiple people asking me why I always seemed so optimistic about the future, despite writing all sorts of articles highlighting all sorts of bad behavior and threats to innovation, free speech and civil liberties. And my argument, in short, has always been that I strongly believe in the forward march of progress and innovation — and that any anger you see coming through in my writing comes from being annoyed and frustrated at people and events that slow it down. That is, my anger is at the pace of change, but my optimism is for the inevitability of change. And, each year, the message has been more or less the same, often highlighting key events and reasons why we should all be so optimistic, even in the face of various challenges. Here are those past messages if you’d like to see them:
- 2008: On Staying Happy
- 2009: Creativity, Innovation And Happiness
- 2010: From Pessimism To Optimism… And The Power Of Innovation
- 2011: From Optimism And Innovation… To The Power To Make A Difference
- 2012: Innovation, Optimism And Opportunity: All Coming Together To Make Real Change
- 2013: Optimism On The Cusp Of Big Changes
- 2014: Change, Innovation And Optimism, Despite Challenges
- 2015: New Year’s Message: Keep Moving Forward
The last few years, I’ve noted that it felt like a lot of really bad stuff had happened — but when you looked back at things as a whole, a lot of really wonderful stuff had happened that more than made up for the bad stuff. For the first time in writing these end of the year messages… I’m not so sure that’s true this year. 2016 has been a mess, and I fear that we’re in the process of taking numerous steps backwards on a variety of things. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still incredibly optimistic about the future. But I fear that the forward progress may slow to a crawl, and it may take a while to get it back going — and that’s frightening.
I know that some will attribute this claim to the election of Donald Trump. I’ve already explained why I’m pretty sure that a Trump administration will be bad for a variety of issues that we care about at Techdirt. But that’s not because I thought Clinton would be much better. She would have been terrible too. In fact, part of the gloom of 2016 is not who won, but who all of the candidates were, in that our political system seems unable to find candidates who can actually support both civil liberties and innovation. And that’s truly unfortunate. Of course, the difference with Clinton was that she would have been terrible in fairly expected ways — ways where many people know how to push back and fight back. With Trump, it’s all a giant question mark. Almost everything he’s said about these issues is horrible, but no one really knows what he’s going to do or how he’s going to do it — and that’s frightening in the uncertainty.
And yet, I’m still optimistic. I’m just… annoyed. We have such amazing opportunities to create a better world for everyone — and not just in the pie-in-the-sky world of Silicon Valley dreamers claiming every new app will “change the world.” But the reality is that modern technologies have enabled so much that is powerful, and there’s so much potential to do so much more. And I fear that silly partisan squabbling and clueless bureaucrats are going to squander so much in the meantime. But the fact is that there are tons of people around the globe doing really amazing work. Even as many mock new internet services, things that originally appeared to be useless “toys” are turning into powerful disruptions, enabling many people to do so much more than they ever could before. It’s opening up opportunities all over the place, and that’s not going to stop.
And, yes, this year’s message certainly feels more pessimistic. I still think the forward trajectory on these issues is unstoppable, but it feels like, for the first time in a long time, we’re likely to be hitting a real hiccup in that march forward. It will continue. Things will move forward. But the headwinds may be stronger for the foreseeable future. And into that mess, we see opportunists of all kinds leaping in. And that’s often a recipe for disaster. Legacy industries are ramping up their efforts to shut out competition and kill off innovations and the next year is going to be one where we need to watch out for and support competition and startups and true innovators over legacy players looking to stop that innovation. But, in the end, innovation always wins out. The force and inevitability of innovation is too much to stop — and that keeps me optimistic, even as I may remain frustrated by efforts to hamstring the pace.
For what it’s worth, I should also note that it’s been a trying year for us at Techdirt as well. As I’ve mentioned a few times this year, the advertising business, which has been on the downswing, basically fell off a cliff in the last year. And that impacted a number of the things we’ve wanted to do. Many of you have stepped up, by supporting us directly via the Insider Shop, our Deals Store, or via our partnership with Private Internet Access. Many of you stepped up earlier this year and supported us via our crowdfunding campaign on Beacon, which is now, sadly, defunct. Others have supported our new Patreon campaign or bought some of our t-shirts (and get ready for more, because we’ll be launching some new t-shirts in the near year, after taking the last few months off). And we can’t thank all of you enough for helping to keep Techdirt going. It’s still been tough. We’ve seen a number of sites that had similar-sized audiences to ours completely shut down in the last year — and we completely understand why. It’s a different environment out there, and it’s difficult.
But we’ve still been working hard on a bunch of new projects which we’ll be launching in the new year, and I’m still excited every morning about coming here and writing stuff and interacting with all of you. Some of the stuff we’ve got planned is really exciting, and we see it getting closer to fruition (even if we had hoped to launch some of it earlier this year… it’s getting closer).
At a time when so many websites are focused on shutting off their communities, or have no desire to interact at all with them, we’ve always found that the community of folks here inspires us, makes us think and is always pushing us to be at our best. Everyone here has helped make Techdirt what it is today and I can’t thank you enough for that.
Thank you again for being a part of all things Techdirt.