No such thing as free information?

“The fiction writer and activist Cory Doctorow, among others, has succeeded commercially, as well as in the impact of his ideas, by giving away online access to his books even as he sells paper copies.” – p. 109

 

I read Little Brother a couple years ago, so whenever Doctorow’s name is mentioned, my ears perk up. This novel, on top of being a YA-accessible (not a bad thing!) bildungsroman romp through a near-future San Francisco, has a lot to say about encryption, and the nature of our data-saturated lives in general.

This quote intrigues me. I remember being astonished when Radiohead’s In Rainbows was released as a set-your-own-price (i.e. free) digital download. The album was a huge success — critically, commercially, and financially — and I thought we’d entered a new paradigm in content sharing. After all, despite what the RIAA might want you think, music pirating has only helped the music industry flourish, as more fans are able to find more bands that they love enough to actually want to pay for the album. Unfortunately, eight years out, and most artists are still selling their new albums for $15 in the store, $10 on iTunes (U2’s annoyingly-automatically-on-your-iTunes album aside). It might be too soon to tell, but it seems Doctorow’s libertine notions of the nature of information are not coming to fruition. At least, not if you read the title of his new book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. 

And I admit, I’ve only read the title. I actually bought the book on Amazon today in class when Mr. Edson mentioned the book (yay for in-class macbooks!). I’d never heard of it before, but I immediately knew I had to read it. The title, which may be only ironically pessimistic, does a good job of explaining the abysmal condition of online information-purveyors we discussed in class today. Information doesn’t want to be free, because information is power. And power has always been carefully limited. Maybe. I hope not. But it makes a kind of Machiavellian sense to me.

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