One of the striking features of the demonstrations against ACTA that took place across Europe over the last few weeks was the youth of the participants. That's not to say that only young people are concerned about ACTA, but it's an indication that they take its assault on the Internet very personally -- unlike, perhaps, older and more dispassionate critics.
As sometimes happens, a text has been floating around that captures rather well the spirit of that generation. It was originally written in Polish, and released under a liberal cc-by license; there are now a number of translations. As its author, Piotr Czerski, wrote in an email to Techdirt, its origins were quite humble:
I was asked by the journalist from local newspaper to write a text explaining difference between "analog" and "digital" generations. I thought that I should write something more: text, which can offer some kind of self-identity for all this different people protesting against ACTA. So I used the poetics of manifesto.
The whole piece is really well-written and perceptive. Here's the key self-definition of those "Web kids" in the English translation by Marta Szreder:
We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet. This is what makes us different; this is what makes the crucial, although surprising from your point of view, difference: we do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us. We made friends and enemies online, we prepared cribs for tests online, we planned parties and studying sessions online, we fell in love and broke up online. The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us. Technologies appear and then dissolve in the peripheries, websites are built, they bloom and then pass away, but the Web continues, because we are the Web; we, communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.
Because of this, the Web kids depend on the ability to access a vast range of content online:
Participating in cultural life is not something out of ordinary to us: global culture is the fundamental building block of our identity, more important for defining ourselves than traditions, historical narratives, social status, ancestry, or even the language that we use. From the ocean of cultural events we pick the ones that suit us the most; we interact with them, we review them, we save our reviews on websites created for that purpose, which also give us suggestions of other albums, films or games that we might like. Some films, series or videos we watch together with colleagues or with friends from around the world; our appreciation of some is only shared by a small group of people that perhaps we will never meet face to face. This is why we feel that culture is becoming simultaneously global and individual. This is why we need free access to it.
But they are not naive: they know that artists need to earn money to live, and even have practical suggestions about how that can be done in a world of digital abundance:
This does not mean that we demand that all products of culture be available to us without charge, although when we create something, we usually just give it back for circulation. We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment. We are prepared to pay, but the giant commission that distributors ask for seems to us to be obviously overestimated. Why should we pay for the distribution of information that can be easily and perfectly copied without any loss of the original quality? If we are only getting the information alone, we want the price to be proportional to it. We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download. We are capable of showing appreciation and we do want to reward the artist (since money stopped being paper notes and became a string of numbers on the screen, paying has become a somewhat symbolic act of exchange that is supposed to benefit both parties), but the sales goals of corporations are of no interest to us whatsoever. It is not our fault that their business has ceased to make sense in its traditional form, and that instead of accepting the challenge and trying to reach us with something more than we can get for free they have decided to defend their obsolete ways.
The text makes lots of other interesting comments, and I urge you to read it. It goes some way to explaining why so many young people were prepared to brave sub-zero temperatures across Europe to march against what is, after all, just a trade agreement -- not something that normally brings people onto the streets. It also suggests that the European Commission's tactic of referring ACTA to the European Court of Justice, in the hope that people will forget about it and move on to other concerns by the time the decision is handed down, is doomed to failure. As the Web kids manifesto explains:
To us, the Web is a sort of shared external memory. We do not have to remember unnecessary details: dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names, detailed definitions. It is enough for us to have an abstract, the essence that is needed to process the information and relate it to others. Should we need the details, we can look them up within seconds.
The Web certainly won't forget about ACTA, and neither will the Web kids.
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