3 Years Later

Come August 1, I will have lived in my current DC apartment for three years. I can’t really complain about the experience. The building supers have been great, the building manager is accomodating (like when I went out of town for three weeks he tossed my mail under the door), and the neighbors are friendly and quiet.

But having lived here three years, I still get the previous tenant’s mail. We’re not talking about junk mail, I’m talking about hand-addressed letters.

I’ve taken it upon myself to inform the senders of these personal letters that the intended recipient of their message no longer lives at this address.  I cross out the address, write RTS (mail slang for Return to Sender), followed by, “Nancy hasn’t lived at this address, for three years. If you do not know this by now, you aren’t friends.”

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Internet Sharing and Community – Part II

Marx and Engels start the Communist Manifesto with a warning: the people in power are scared of the coming changes. This warning can be adapted for our times:

A spectre is haunting the Internet – the spectre of file sharing networks. All the powers of old media have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the RIAA, the MPAA, the corporate lawyers and government police-spies of the FCC.

After reading Lessig’s book Remix, I realized the war waged on file sharing could be made into a Marxist argument.

Current intellectual property laws give rights to the copyright holders. In most cases, this is not the artist. For musicians that sign a contract with a record label, the record label retains exclusive rights to the artists’ songs. Over time, the length of a copyright has been increased dramatically. Originally, the rights to an idea, song or movie were held for 20 years. But now it has been increased to the life of the artist plus 99 years. Since the artist doesn’t own the rights to the songs, the record label stands to gain much from this arrangement.

After years of abuse, the musicians are fed-up with the poor treatment received at the hands of their tormentors. Music sales have also declined. The price of media has continued to rise, but there has been little reason for the cost hike. Online distribution eliminates the need for manufacturing and physical distribution, so it should reduce the cost to consumers.

Marx argues that when the working class rises up to fight the unfair and oppressive ruling class, it will then redistribute the wealth so that everyone shares ownership of property. After this revolution, anything created by an individual   can be used by anyone without having to ask permission. Comparing this to communism, the file sharing networks take property in the form of mp3s from the RIAA or ripped movies from the MPAA (the bourgeoisie in this instance) and redistributes it to the masses (the proletariat).  Most people do not view intangible electronic files as something that one can possess due to the lack of a physical presence.

It seems the time for revolution is now.

Artists such as Nine Inch Nails and, to a lesser extent, Radiohead, are releasing their music for free.  File sharing networks are most of the traffic on the Internet. The MPAA and RIAA are trying to put the kibosh on any extra curricular activity.

The Internet is the great equalizer Marx envisioned. With the Internet, any one individual has as much power as the next.  If the entire Internet community united against the media companies, nothing could be done to stop it.

So, do I feel sympathy for the record companies? Not really. I do feel bad for struggling artists. If I enjoy their music, I should support them in some fashion. If I don’t buy their albums, then I should at least make an attempt to see them live or purchase a t-shirt from their website. As one of my friends told me, “albums are loss leaders for tours.” The music is the advertising used to pull in more revenue.

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Internet Sharing and Community – part I

I’ve been ready Lessig’s Remix:Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. In his book, Lessig mentions several open-source projects and how they are made better by the community. For example, volunteers improve Wikipedia entries on their own time without compensation (other than the satisfaction knowing they are helping others). A similar attitude can be found in the open-source software community; people update and improve lines of  code, usually to meet a specific need, but provide these enhancements for free to the entire community.

This type of sharing can be found on the Internet as a whole, especially with file sharing. Metcalfe’s Law suggests that the more people in a social network, the more value it has. With Bit torrent, the more people sharing the better the network. But there is also an element of comraderie. People sharing files do so because they want to help other people. It isn’t a giant “Fuck you” to the RIAA and MPAA (although it turned into that). No one dislikes the artists of the music or movies they are “distributing.” They are fans who want other fans to have the material.

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Global Warming

Al Gore talks a bit more about global warming. From February 2009.

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Nothing Like This

J Dilla “Nothing Like This”

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Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun – “Walking on a Dream”

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Movies of 1999 – Fight Club

Fight Club, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same title, was considered a box office failure. It earned approximately $36 million during its box office run. If you watched the trailer above, you’ll notice that it doesn’t do the movie justice.

The plot, summarized as succinctly as possible, is about a corporate man’s (fans know this character as Jack) insomnia that ultimately puts him in touch with anarchistic character named Tyler Durden.  Tyler is everything his desk jockey counterpart is not; aggressive, impractical, daring, accepting of others but hating of conformity, and completely insane. Tyler could be considered a blue collar/middle class Robin Hood – he’s rebelling against an institution (credit, government, etc) that no longer looks out for the little guy while encouraging other people to break the norms in favor of doing what they want versus what society tells them to do.   Tyler starts a series of fight clubs across the country, starting a counter-culture movement and creating an army to destroy the empire built by credit card companies.

The movie’s twist makes it great, and I apologize if you haven’t seen it, but it turns out that Tyler Durden is a manifestation of Jack’s subconsicious and this second personality has been using Jack’s body when he’s asleep.

The impact of this movie is widespread. DVD sales almost doubled box office revenue. Worldwide, the movie did $100 million in its international release.  The movie did much better in theaters outside of the United States. My guess is that people in the U.S. caught the movie at the tail end of its run, told others to see it. In the early days of the Internet, this movie probably benefited from word-of-mouth reviews.

It also seems to have spawned lots of underground fight clubs.  I won’t go into too much detail here, but there is some documentation to this.  I know I’ve seen several investigative journalism pieces on this topic. I’m not really into pain, so I haven’t joined any fight clubs myself.

I watched this movie again a few weeks ago and think it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s got some lasting appeal, but maybe that’s generational. I feel the film is a commentary on the state of our society. Lots of people feel lost in the corporate shuffle.  We do what is expected of us, and not so much what we want to do.  It may not hold the same interest to people 20 years from now. Time will tell.

You’ll notice a trend forming. As with the Matrix, the story talks about how society shapes us and expects to act a certain way.  The Marquis de Sade actually wrote a good bit about this.  His philosophy was basically “does a person not do something because they think society will think poorly of their actions, or do they not do something because they don’t want to?” I think his writing came about as a way to justify his sexual deviance, but it can be applied to other topics as well.

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