New Year's Message: Keep On Believing
from the challenges-and-optimism dept
Since 2008, my final post of the year is one where I try to reflect on the year coming to a close — with a general focus on optimism. That is, the usual goal of these posts is to take a step back from the day to day grind and look at the larger picture to see what good things have happened, that often get missed in the daily struggle. Techdirt has now reached its 20th birthday, and we’ve now been doing these posts for nine years. The first one was a response to a few comments I’d received, asking how it was possible to write about all the stuff we write about without getting depressed — which made me realize that I was actually incredibly optimistic about the overall future. The things we write about are frustrating and annoying not because we’re pessimistic about the world, but because we’re optimistic. The frustration is a response to efforts to slow down or hinder all the good opportunities, and the progress and innovation we see. If you’re curious, here are the past New Year’s posts:
- 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
- 2016: New Year’s Message: No One Said It Would Be Easy…
There’s no denying it: this year has been a struggle. As many of you know, at the beginning of 2017 we were sued by someone who disagreed with our coverage. There is no denying that the lawsuit defined much of the year for us here at Techdirt — and part of that was coming to terms with the very real impact the case was having on us as a site and on me personally. Thankfully, many of you stood up to support our continued reporting, and this fall, the case was dismissed, and the judge affirmed what we maintained all along: everything we wrote was protected by the First Amendment. That was gratifying. The case, however, is not yet over, as we are still dealing with the ongoing appeal by the plaintiff.
In many ways, I think that our experience can be seen as an analogy for how I view the year as a whole. It has been quite a challenge on a variety of different fronts. For people looking to be upset or pessimistic, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned. The FCC has gone through with its plan to destroy net neutrality without any effort to bring about real competition in the market for broadband access. Attempts to undermine “the most important law on the internet,” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, have gained quite a lot of traction. While no such law has yet passed, it may pass early on in the new year. While Congress was just prevented from reauthorizing surveillance on Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (temporarily), there’s been little real effort to reform our broken surveillance system to abide by the 4th Amendment. On top of all of that, it feels like 2017 was the year that the dam broke, leading many people to start to be more concerned about the power of the internet, rather than the opportunities it enables. This has manifested itself in many ways, but most concerning to us is an increasing willingness to toss aside the principles of free speech in order to support censorship of speech that some segment of the population declares “bad.” And that’s leaving out a variety of potentially larger political and societal issues that have left many people quite concerned about the future.
And yet, believe it or not, I am still optimistic about the future. I still see the promise of the internet. I still recognize the wonders brought about by protecting everyone’s civil liberties and how it has opened us up to many more insights and voices that were unfortunately silenced in the past. The ability to speak up on the internet has created a fascinating situation over the past few months, where often powerful men have been brought down for abusing their positions of power. We’re also starting to see the beginnings of some brand new opportunities online. The concerns that many people now have over large internet companies are driving lots of interesting efforts into new online tools and services — and, somewhat incredibly, new protocols which at least offer hope that we can return to the original promise of the internet: a truly distributed system, rather than a series of large silos.
As with the lawsuit against us, it feels like we’re living through incredibly challenging times. They create struggles and problems and challenges. But by standing up for what we believe in and in fighting for the rights and the future that we know are possible, we can still prevail. The fact that there are setbacks, or even derailments, along the way does not define the end result. The future always remains possible, and the promise and excitement and opportunity that led me to start Techdirt in the first place all still remain. I’m still amazed at how much has changed in the 20 years since we started Techdirt — and while it’s easy to remember the bad things, it’s often hard to recognize all the good that has come along as well. And that’s doubly true during the most challenging of times. But don’t be fooled by short-term swings and momentum. Tides change, and the long-term trend for innovation and for civil liberties tends to go in the right direction, even with some challenges along the way.
If anything, though, this year should remind us that even as the larger trajectory tends to go in the right direction, it only does that because there are lots of people who are fighting to make it so. It does not do that entirely on its own, and there are times when forces push back against such progress. In short: keep on believing in the good things that can come, and then go out and fight for them. Don’t get disheartened by the struggles — just recognize that those also present new opportunities.
We certainly intend to keep on fighting here — and we hope you’ll be right there alongside us. If you’d like to help us — you can do so by sharing our stories, by commenting on them, or more directly supporting us. You can support us at our Insider Shop, our First Amendment reporting fund at ISupportJouranlism.com, our our Patreon page or pick up some of our great t-shirts, hoodies and mugs. Many media sites have struggled in 2017 and we can’t tell you how much we appreciate that you choose to spend time with us and to support us and keep us going.
As always, the most amazing thing about Techdirt is the community of folks that are here. The community continues to amaze us and support us and to make everything that happens around here worthwhile. We reached 20 years of Techdirt earlier this year and I still wake up each and every day excited to write about these ideas, to share these ideas, and to debate these ideas. And a large part of what makes it such a joy is everyone here — and not just the commenters, but the lurkers as well, or the people who share our stuff on social media. And, this year especially, seeing how the community stepped up to support us in our most challenging times was truly incredible.
Thank you for being a microcosm of why I still believe in the power of community on the internet. Thank you for making Techdirt such a special place.