Monday, February 16, 2015

Sustainable freedom and my own innovation: If "it's free", then is "it" sustainable?

This is a last “strategic planning” post (maybe as "a film in two parts") before I delve into the next phase of my work as a new version of music software arrives very soon to support my own composition work, and I cover some loosely connected, but critical issues. This is something the late journalist Randy Shilts would call "a festival of the hearts". 
Let’s start with a USA Today story on Presidents’ Day by Jefferson Graham, “Who’s making money in digital music?”, link here. Yes, the iTunes 99-cent singles idea hasn’t worked out as well as hoped, and the article goes back to Shawn Fanning’s 1999 innovation of “Napster” as the start of an unsustainable trend, most recently getting the attention of Taylor Swift in her battle with Spotify.  A problem is that the public expects to see stuff “free” (as Reid Ewing satirized in his 3-part “Reid-ing” Web series about four years ago, “It’s Free”, which is beginning to sound like a phrase somebody will try to trademark).  I certainly am on the side of sustainable business models.  But I play a lot of free classical music on YouTube, and some of the postings come down (even after I comment on them, causing the postings to embed automatically on my Google+ social networking blog) for “copyright” violations of the posters or complaints from the record companies.  I’d pay for these, but I’d like to see them all available on MP3 so we can save them in the Cloud and not have to handle physical records and CD’s.  The record companies still don’t do enough to make this easy for the consumer.

Then there is a story on a Vancouver, BC site “How Aaron Swartz paved way for Jack Andraka’s revolutionary cancer test”. Jan. 30, 2013 link here.  Here the model is different.  Researchers need efficient access to other research work.  The whole mechanism behind JSTOR is clumsy and it seems people are having to pay for stuff in the public domain, although the need for scientific and academic journals to earn revenue from their publications sounds legitimate. 
All of this provides a background perspective on how I approached self-publishing.  Originally, I had expected my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book back in 1997 to sell by “word of mouth”.  In fact, it did for a while, until about the Y2K period.  But by the end of 1998, I had found that I could indeed attract more readers, and “be noticed” by putting the material up online for free, because the major search engines would index it with no further effort from me.  In time, page requests increased.  Some people bought the book, probably out of conscience.  But not that many.  I didn’t need to depend on the book to make a living, so what I was doing (“constructive public self-instantiation”, to borrow from OOP jargon)  was somewhat revolutionary at the time.  Merely by staying up and getting found, I could put a monkey wrench into one-sided partisanship.  I could, with passive activity (almost borrowing from an old concept for maintaining tax shelters) have a disproportionate influence on public debate, forcing critical thinking. I felt proud of having done this.

There is a paradox in the particular way I did this.  The argument of the first DADT book played on the paradox of moral debates on human rights.  While defending private lives and public speech (particularly on gay issues), I had was dealing with the idea that sustainable freedom only comes with some acceptance of socialization, with the need to put others first, sometimes, particularly in the area of shared sacrifice and particularly apportioned personal risk.  I developed this issue particularly over my experience with the military draft and deferment system during the Vietnam era.  The military ban and past draft issue became a kind of moral dipole or swirling baton.  Other issues (a lot of them, I called “conflict of interest”) built up around this. 

In time, especially after 9/11 and my “career ending” layoff at the end of 2001, when my “second career” became my writing, my eldercare responsibility, and managing accumulated capital and savings that reduced the need to work for someone else in the usual sense (yup, oil and gas bailed this family out, and some people think that makes us capitalist, planet-destroying pigs). But a disturbing idea developed:  I would have to accept “partisanship” if I had more responsibility for other people, especially kids (I was able to hire most of the help for Mother than I needed through third-party agencies).  My speech could actually interfere with helping other people, if I had to be more partial to their specific needs.  (Somehow, this reminds me of “Life of Pi” where Pi’s life on the boat becomes settled with providing for a tiger’s specific real needs, after training him, and releasing him free when they finally hit land.)  In a way a little analogous to the invention of Napster, I had done something not sustainable in the real world.  

So I may come across as a chatterbox or as "The Pharisee" in my story "The Ocelot the Way He Is". I set up a commentary mechanism where it becomes necessary to address everything conceivably relevant, to maintain objectivity.  Some may think they don't need to get the news from me, when there are professional sources, although the postings where I add some unusual perspective or insight, often based on personal experience, do seem to attract a lot of readers.  And, yes, in social media, I can sometimes fine tune who is likely to really read the message, at some loss of objectivity -- but necessary to move forward.  It is still troubling, that I don't find helping others who actually have "real needs" (adaptive) personally a "worthy" goal, at least if it meant redirection of the self and submission to the specific agendas of others.  

Update: Feb. 18

This video of a TED talk at the UN by Jack Andraka in late 2013 discusses the "open access" problem with research journals, starting at 9:18

Note that Andraka quotes Harvard University as saying that the old system of requiring a paywall to access research journals is unsustainable.  

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