F*ck Big Media:
Rolling Your Own Network

Mark Pesce
Lecturer, Interactive Media, AFTRS


The worldwide consolidation of media industries has led to a consequent closure of the public airwaves with respect to matters of public interest.  As control of this public resource becomes more centralized, the messages transmitted by global media purveyors become progressively less relevant, less diverse, and less reflective of ground truth.

At present, individuals and organizations work to break the stranglehold of these anti-market-media-mega-corporations through the application of the courts and the law.  However, because of the inherent monopoly that anti-market media maintain on the public mindset, legislators have been understandably reluctant to make moves toward media diversification.  We are thus confronted with a situation where many people have interesting things to say, but there are progressively fewer outlets where these views can be shared. 

The public airwaves, because they are a limited resource, are managed by public bodies for the public interest.  While honorable, the net effect of this philosophy of resource management has been negative: a public resource has become the equivalent of a beachfront property, its sale generating enormous license revenues, but its transfer to the private domain denying the community access to the sea of ideas.

If a well-informed public is the necessary prerequisite to the democratic process, then we must frankly admit that any private ownership of public airwaves represents a potential threat to the free exchange of ideas.  Now that private property has mostly collectivized the electromagnetic spectrum, and with little hope that this will soon change, we must look elsewhere to find a common ground for the public discourse.

We are fortunate that such ground already exists.

Part One: Refugee Status

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever." - George Orwell, 1984

I'm not from around here.  You can probably hear it in my voice, that I'm North American.  Not only North American but from the United States, not only from the United States but from California, not only from California but from Los Angeles, not only from Los Angeles, but from Hollywood, and not only from Hollywood, but from Laurel Canyon, the cozy bush-in-the-city neighborhood that played host to the likes of Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell - 30 years ago.

Those days are over.  For the last twenty years, ever since the military industrial complex fled Los Angeles for cheaper digs in the American South, Los Angeles has been a company town, home to an ever-dwindling number of media megacorporations.  These corporations produce 92% of what Australians see on the movie screen, at least 50% of what you watch on the telly, and about 80% of the music that you hear.   These megacorps have an ever-growing array of subdivisions invading every area of the mediasphere.

But we'll come to that in a moment. 

Let me talk about myself.  I'm pissed off.  Very pissed off.  And desperate.  That's a dangerous combination, because it means anything can happen.   And, if I do my job well here today, anything could.

I'm a guest in your country - and because I am constantly asked, let me answer the question some of you are thinking: I like Australia a great deal, and am growing to love it.  No, it's not the center of the world, no it's not the most exciting place in the world, and yes, it's a bit provincial.  But here's a little-known secret: the most provincial place on Earth is New York City.  If any of you have ever lived there, you'll understand what I'm talking about.  Everywhere is provincial, and it's up to you to choose your province.   I've chosen Australia.

I chose Australia for two reasons: first, I've been invited to transform AFTRS, your national film school, into a 21st century institution, one which will move away from the artist/auteur model which seems to have infected all Australian filmmaking.  That project is underway but we won't see results for a few years.

The second reason is this: I've fled my homeland.  I imagine that all of you know why.  I am left-wing - liberal to libertarian (anarcho-syndicalist) in the American sense of these words - and for the past four years we've been living under a civil coup d'etats, confirmed by our Supreme Court and reinforced in the continuous state of emergency which followed September 11.  Last year I was invited to Sydney to give some lectures, and the moment I got off the plane it felt as though a cloud had lifted.  I was out from under the cloud of fear which is slowly strangling American liberties, and for the first time in years I felt as though I could breath freely.   When I flew back home a few weeks later, and spied the photographic totem of Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft at the Immigration station, I uttered a loud, derisive laugh - and immediately began to plan my exit.  I was lucky enough to get an offer from AFTRS just a few weeks later, and here I am.

I have just returned from a holiday in the USA, to make sure I was registered to vote in the upcoming election, and visit with family and friends.  My friends are starting to lose it.  People I've known for years are so - beaten down - that they're starting to fray at the edges.  There's a big question whether Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry will win the election, whether we will be able to wrest control of our country back by democratic means.   In the pit of our stomachs we know that if Kerry loses this election there won't be another election, at least not one that matters.  There will be more terrorist attacks, and a constant state of emergency which turns my nation into an armed camp where everyone is a suspect.  Think Brazil (the film, not the nation), and you've got it precisely: fascism with a globalist face.

Why has this happened?  Part of it is the post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by September 11 - but even this should be wearing off after three years, and would be, only we have something new to deal with - the collectivized mediasphere.  The fact that the Bush administration hasn't been called to account for its nearly constant failures - in foreign affairs, domestic policy, you name it - is due, in large part, to the anti-market consolidation of media.

I use the word "anti-market" in a very specific sense.  Being a very good American, I am a capitalist at heart, but in the model described by Thomas Jefferson - which allows for a very wide array of small businesses competing fairly in a market which uses government as a tool to prevent fraud and force.  It's an ideal which America was able to adhere to - at least with respect to media - until about 20 years ago.  One of the long-term effects of the Reagan/Bush 41 era was the deregulation of media ownership, culminating in an accumulation of capital around entities so large that they exert their own gravitational forces - economic, political, and most importantly, social.  These megacorporations have become, quite simply, too big to fuck with.  When that happens, when the power of the market is used to prevent the free and fair exercise of market forces, a market becomes an anti-market.  You can call it a cabal, or a cartel, or a conspiracy - but if you want to describe it by its function, you'd have to say that an anti-market exists to prevent free exercise of market forces.

In the United States we have seven media megacorps which control access to the global mediasphere.   They are Disney, Viacom, Sony, General Electric, Clear Channel, TimeWarner and News Corp.  There are others, but these are the titans which set the rules by which all others play.  The last three of these have particular influence over the body politic through their broadcast outlets.   Clear Channel owns a near majority of radio stations in the USA, TimeWarner owns CNN, and News Corp. - well, let me just say thank you from the bottom of my American heart for that little gift from Australia.

Who would have thought that a newspaper publisher from Adelaide would become the greatest threat to democracy since Leni Riefenstahl?  That he would build a media empire which would extend its reach through print, radio and television?  That he would become the beacon of far-right wing values, and, in so doing, completely pollute the collective mind of my nation?  If only we'd known, we never would have given him US citizenship - he'd have been stuck in Australia, vexing all of you, but he'd have left us alone.

Here's the honest truth, as surveyed by the Pew Charitable Trust in the United States: Americans who get their news from FOX outlets (and, in particular, FOX NEWS) actually know less about what's going on in the world than those who watch PBS.  That's right, watching FOX makes you stupid.  Or more stupid.

But FOX NEWS has so much power - particularly because it is the propaganda organ of the Republican Party in the United States - that it can not be challenged.   Robert Greenwald can produce Outfoxed, and try to get the truth out there, but because of the enormous economic power of News Corp, because of its unprecedented political power, because of its popular influence, it can't be challenged directly - at least not successfully.   FOX NEWS could choose to hide behind America's coveted First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press - and they'd be right to do so.  But because they are part of the anti-market which prevents free expression, it's a false defense.

So here's what I have to say: FUCK BIG MEDIA.  You won't be able to change them, not when they have this unholy alliance of capital and political power - and you know Australia with its PBL and News Corp and Clear Channel Broadcasting is in precisely the same boat - so just ignore them as the corrupt and corrupting influences they are.  These media megacorps are quite literally poison - for the mind.

So now that we've established the horror of the situation, let's entertain some ideas on what to do about it.

Part Two: Transmission Errors

The Internet views censorship as a network failure, and routes around it. - John Gilmore

Despite everything I've said, there is hope, because the seeds have been sown for an amazing transformation in media.  The means of production and distribution are being wrested away from the powers-that-be, by people who are willing to do the hard work of creating a real discourse of ideas.

Let me draw your attention to an example which occurred just a few weeks ago.   CBS News in the USA got some memos which purported to show how Bush 43 was given his safe berth in the Texas Air National Guard.  Nothing new there, actually, except the documents were fakes, and it took a legion of self-appointed authorities working in the blogsphere to bring this to light, and force a retraction from CBS.

We all know that the World Wide Web has revolutionized the distribution of the printed word.  One individual, working from anywhere on Earth, can effectively reach everyone else on the planet.  Everyone is now a publisher.  This means that there are no longer any marginalized voices, provided one has access to Web publishing resources - which are not substantial for anyone in a relatively prosperous region of the world.

This has been an enormous boon for free speech; without the Web, Outfoxed would have languished in a remainder bin - instead it sold 150,000 copies in its first month of release.  The Web was the beginning of an opportunity to move away from the collectivized mediasphere, but it isn't nearly enough.  We all know well enough that no one reads anymore.  I'm actually encouraged by how much Australians read - newspapers, magazines, even books - but Americans only occasionally use these media.  They prefer television above all else to learn about the world around them, and television is tightly controlled by the media megacorps.

Or rather, it was.  You see, back in June we crossed something of a watershed: for the first time the volume of video traffic surpassed the volume of audio traffic on the Internet.  In practical terms this means more bits were transmitted in violation of the copyrights of movie studios and television production companies than record companies.  But it also means that a sea-change is afoot - people are starting to understand that broadband internet access represents an alternative for the distribution of audiovisual materials - an alternative to television.

One of the biggest media organizations around - the BBC - is getting in front of this trend with something they're calling "Flexible TV".   It's a PC-based application which gives residents of the UK access to the BBC programming schedule, within a two week window: a week before the present moment, and a week after.   Viewers make their selections from the program schedule, and the programs are downloaded to the users' hard disks.   The BBC is testing Flexible TV with a thousand users, but expect it to be rolled out across the UK by the end of the year.

This doesn't seem that novel an idea, does it?  After all the Internet has been around in its present form for a decade - so why hasn't anyone done anything like this?  It has to do with the difference between broadcasting over the air and netcasting over the internet.   A broadcaster spends the same amount of money whether 10 people or 10 million are watching a broadcast, because the broadcast tower reaches all who want to tune into it.  The economics for netcasting are quite different.  Anyone can set up a server to send out ten simultaneous program streams - but it requires a million times the infrastructure and bandwidth to serve the same program to 10 million people.

Or it used to.

The BBC doesn't have the bandwidth to netcast its programming to all 66 million of its viewers.  Fortunately it doesn't that kind of capability, because the BBC has cleverly designed the Flexible TV application to act as a node in a Peer-to-Peer network.  Anyone using Flexible TV has access to the programs which have been downloaded by any other Flexible TV client, and can get those programs directly from them.  All BBC need do is provide a single copy of a program into the network of P2P clients, and they handle the work themselves.   More than this, because of the P2P technology used by the BBC (more on this in a moment) a Flexible TV user can get a little bit of the program from any number of other peers; rather than going through the process of downloading an entire program from one other peer, the Flexible TV client can ask a hundred other clients for small sections of the program, and download these hundred sections simultaneously.  Not only does this decrease the amount of traffic that any clients has to handle, it also means that it produces a virtuous cycle: the more popular a program is, the more copies of it will exist in the network of peers, and therefore the more easily a peer can download it.

In other words, the BBC has cracked the big problem which has prevented netcasting from taking off.  In this system of "peercasting" the network is actually more efficient than a broadcast network, because more than one program can be provided simultaneously, and failure in any one point in the network doesn't bring the network down.  In other words, this network can't be hacked, can't suffer from a power outage (unless it spans the whole network, which is very unlikely) and achieves unheard-of efficiencies in the distribution of audiovisual programming.

How is this bit of technological magic achieved?  Through the use of a new technology known as BitTorrent - something some of you may have already used.  BitTorrent is a P2P filesharing system specifically designed to prohibit one of the biggest social ills which plague P2P networks - a phenomenon known as "leeching".  A leech grabs files from a P2P network without providing anything in return.  With BitTorrent your download speed - how fast you receive your data - is determined by how much data you're sharing.  This means that a torrent starts slowly - because you haven't much to share - and then increases nearly exponentially; as you have more of the file, you have more to share, so your bandwidth increases, until the file is fully downloaded.

BitTorrent was also designed to avoid one of the biggest technical issues which affect P2P networks - the fact that peers come and go at will.  BitTorrent creates a "tracker" - a list of all peers which have the file you're downloading - and gives you access to all of those peers.  The file itself is divided into smaller sections, and each of these sections can be downloaded from any peer, in any order.  If a peer goes off-line while transmitting a section of the file, BitTorrent simply requests that section from another peer.  Whenever there's more than 2 or 3 peers, this is sufficient to guarantee a hassle-free download.  When there are tens or hundreds of peers - which is often the case - file transfers can happen very quickly and efficiently.

Now we all know that P2P networks are havens for those among us who show no regard for copyright.  I myself have used BitTorrent to watch all of the 4th season episodes of Six Feet Under (currently airing in Australia) just so I could keep up with my friends in the USA.   But BitTorrent has legitimate uses as well.   Open Source software projects, such as Redhat Fedora LINUX are distributed via BitTorrent.   Robert Greenwald, bless his heart, has just released all of the interviews from Outfoxed as a 500 MB MPEG file, suitable for editing and remixing, and that, too, was released via BitTorrent.  (That was a popular file - it only took me about 30 minutes to download.)   Watchdog groups in the USA have begun to release the video recordings of Congressional hearings on BitTorrent.   And on and on and on.   BitTorrent is the future, and it's the thing that's going to wreck commercial TV as we know it.

What makes me say that?

We all know that we're in the midst of a transition to digital TV - I myself have a card for my home PC which allows me to receive the five free-to-air networks via digital transmission.   The most interesting thing about the DVB signal - the standard for transmission of digital TV in Australia - is that it uses MPEG2 format for audiovisual data, in a format which is very close to the standard used on DVDs.  In fact it is very easy for me to record an off-the-air broadcast and burn it to DVD.  I've done that with season 5 of The Sopranos, which aired on Nine Network.   My digital TV card also includes software which allows me to record the broadcasts to my hard disk, so I can watch them later on - just as if I had a VCR.

I have broadband coming into my home, and a fairly sophisticated home network - as you might imagine - so my web server can see the areas of my PCs hard disk where I keep the recordings made by my digital TV.   That means that I can access my website anywhere in the world and check out what programs I've got recorded.  I can even choose to download them from my website to whatever machine I'm using.  This means that wherever I am in the world, I can watch the programs I've recorded.  And, if I give someone else the URL for this website, so can they.

Ok, just a minute here…  Doesn't this mean that I've become a television broadcaster?  I mean really, what's the difference between someone getting the bits for an episode of The Sopranos from Nine Digital or from my website?  Bits are bits are bits, and because of that, they'll be the same bits, whether they come from Nine or from me.  So why would anyone willingly watch Nine at the time that the Nine programmer has decided to air The Sopranos when they can watch it whenever they want just by downloading the bits from my website?

Once the TV producers figure this out, it's all over for the networks.  After all, wouldn't TimeWarner (which owns HBO) rather have you pay them directly to watch an episode of The Sopranos?  They'd make more money than they would from Nine Network.  Now truthfully piracy would be rampant in that environment, but it's rampant in the current environment - it takes about four hours between when an episode of The Sopranos premieres on HBO and when it premieres on BitTorrent.  Which is just about long enough to convert the broadcast from a fat MPEG2 file to a slimmed down DivX recording.

Piracy is the price a producer pays for living in the digital age.  We've heard the record companies and the movie studios bitch and moan about the money lost to piracy - even as they declare ever-greater profits.  They want all the benefits of digital distribution, without paying any of the associated prices.  Well, fuck them.  They can't have it both ways.

Within a decade - and perhaps a lot sooner - the television networks will have been deprived of nearly all their pre-produced programming.  Television will become a live medium - as it was in its beginning, so it will be in its old age.   Sports, news and event programming (terror attacks and awards shows) will be the staples for broadcasting in the 21st century.  Advertisers will love live television - because it's where the people are - but never again will a television broadcaster be able to dictate to you what you can watch and when you can watch it.  Those days are already past - at the price of a small crime of copyright violation.

All this means that as the Internet rises, broadcast television falls.  That means cable as well as free-to-air broadcasters, because cable will also be competing against this Internet-based television.  As more and more material becomes more consistently available to the TV viewer, the trend will be away from the circumscribed choices offered by the TV channel (five or five hundred channels, neither are very alluring when compared to the near-infinity of programming available over the Internet already) and toward the Internet.

Which gives all of this triumph of the media megacorps the flavor of a Greek Tragedy: when they reached their zenith of power, at that moment the seeds of their downfall were sewn.

Now let's take a look at some techniques to accelerate the inevitable collapse of the media megacorps.

Part Three:  New Day Rising

The Chinese Taoist laughs at civilization and goes elsewhere.  The Babylonian Chaoist sets termites to the foundations. - Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminatus!

Over the last few weeks, as I've been working on this presentation, friends and colleagues have been guiding me to various websites with some relevance to the main idea I want to advance today: that it is possible to build an alternative news network, one which will be pervasively available to the public - as pervasive any of the networks of the media megacorps.  There have been a number of attempts in the US: Guerilla Network News, BuzzFlash, Democracy Now!, TruthOut, CommonDreams, and AirAmerica.   In Australia you've got Stephen Mayne's crikey.com.au and IndiMedia. Of these, only AirAmerica uses broadcasting to get its programming to the public - hence, it's the most successful of all.

Independent news organizations tend to overlook broadcasting as a distribution channel because of its tightly regulated nature.  The airwaves are held in trust by our governments for the common good of the people.  Or so we are told.  The truth, as we all know, is that they're held by the government for the profit of the anti-market forces which have become entrenched and enriched by these resources.  The public airwaves were saved from the "tragedy of the commons" by government regulation, which only produced a worse "catastrophe of the commons," creating a media plutocracy in place of an anarchic free-for-all.

I think most of us would prefer anarchy to plutocracy.  And in this spirit, let's examine the ways in which we can open some gaps in the functioning of these powers, gaps wide enough to transmit a signal.

The AM radio band is a little bit different in Australia than in the USA.  In the US it goes from 540 Khz to 1710 Khz, while in Australia it only extends up to 1620 Khz.  This means there are at least 50 khz of spectrum that are quasi-unregulated.   They are regulated by the ACA but not by the ABA - and hence not subject to the normal rules of broadcast regulation.  What's interesting is that most (perhaps all) of the AM receivers sold in Australia actually provide access to the band as defined in the US, so at the top end of the dial, there's nothing but empty space.

Now you can't just plop a transmitter into that range and start broadcasting 50,000 Watts of power - the government shut you down immediately, or perhaps just demand hundreds of millions of dollars in license fees.  But it is possible, and at least marginally legal to use so-called "micropower" AM radio transmitters in this band.   A micropower transmitter generally has a transmitter power of 100 milliwatts or less - not much, you might think, unless you consider that most of WiFi communications use even less power than that.   With that kind of signal strength you can get up to about a 500 meter transmission radius - if you're antenna is located on a nice, high point.   That's not very much, although in the urban areas where most Australians live, that would still reach a fair number of homes.

But so what?  You could all have your own little micropower AM stations, each saying your own little things, making your own little reports, but really who cares?  A network isn't a thousand stations saying a thousand different things; a network is a thousand stations speaking with one voice.  That's what Clear Channel is - here and in the United States.  So how do you turn these little stations into a network?

Well, there are two answers to this question.  The first is fairly obvious: you put the transmitters close enough together that each station is a paired receiver/transmitter, and in so doing you create a mesh network of transmitters.   The receiver picks up the signal and passes it along to the transmitter, which rebroadcasts it on the same frequency.  This is somewhat analogous to how mobile networks work - you move from cell to cell and the signal follows you seamlessly - and is very well suited to densely populated urban districts, college campuses, public events, and so forth.

The costs for each node in such a system are very low - probably less than fifty dollars for both the AM receiver and the transmitter.  And because it's low power, it can all be run off of batteries which are automatically recharged via solar cells.  It should be possible, with only just a touch of design and engineering, to produce a tiny all in one receiver-transmitter-charger unit that could be dropped almost anywhere - say on the rooftop of every tall building in your suburb - and voila! - you've got yourself a network.

(For technical details google "micropower radio" and peruse some of the links.)

Now it isn't possible to blanket an sparsely populated entire country - like Australia or the USA - with a micropower radio signal.   There are places where the transmitters would be more than 500 m apart, and the signal chain would be broken.   In situations like this, Internet streaming comes to the rescue.  Any signal which can be delivered via AM radio can also be delivered via the internet at dial-up speeds.   The streaming signal output can put plugged into the AM transmitter, and, once again, you've got your network.  In this way you can cover both the densely populated areas and the spaces in between them with one network.

Now both of these proposals are more than just idle ideas - they're the heart of a new network - RADIO RHIZOME - which launched in Los Angeles a week ago today.  RADIO RHIZOME has hijacked frequency 1680 on the AM dial to bring a continuous loop of programming to the city which the media megacorps call home.  And they can't do anything about it.  Jeff Cain, the artist/creator of RADIO RHIZOME describes it in these words - "I took a look at the telecommunications law, and squirted myself in between all of its forms, like foam, filling up all the space they'd left empty."   In the US this means micropower AM radio, with a mixture of repeaters and Internet streaming to cover what could potentially be the entire planet with a single broadcast network.

If we had some sort of networking in this building we could tune into RADIO RHIZOME right now; if we had a few micropower transmitters, we could set up a mesh network that ran all the way through this festival.  And that's the point: anywhere you go, you could be setting up your own mesh-style radio networks.  Radio networks aren't meant to be permanent - even if that's what the media megacorps want you to believe.  Put them up, get the message out, take them down again, move on.   Mobility is more important and more useful than permanence; flexibility trumps sheer size every time.

Now one thing that RADIO RHIZOME has - one thing that every network has - is a "head end" - the point from which programming is distributed through the network.   This is an architecture that is quite literally built into the design of the network.   Thus, true power lies at the head end, at the top of the hierarchy of transmitters.  This is what people are going to fight over - the right to control the distribution of content.  It won't be a big issue when the mesh is small, but as the mesh extends to cover the nation - and this isn't very hard to imagine happening - people will begin to have very serious disagreements about what goes onto the network.  In the beginning you'll be hard pressed to find enough content to put over the airwaves, but as you reach an inflection point, you'll find yourselves swamped with programming choices.  And you, like every radio and TV programmer who has gone before you, will have to decide who gets to decide who gets to the airwaves.   That's a lousy choice, because it basically means you will recapitulate the gatekeeper strategies which are the hallmark of the media megacorps.

Or is there another way?   This is the challenge I'm presenting to you - here and now - a challenge that needs to be solved.  In some space between the community access-for-all methodology and the strictly constrained gatekeeper methodology there must be a middle path which allows for an equality of opportunity but also allows for a response to taste and quality.  In the age of computers and the Web, it shouldn't be all that hard - but it's a problem of social engineering, not technology.  I look forward to learning about your own solutions to this problem.

And now we come to another technique, which doesn't rely on broadcasting, and which doesn't suffer from the same sorts of questions-of-quality which plague head-end distribution of programming.  This one is near and dear to my heart, and if I didn't have a full time job trying to breathe some life into the Australian film and television industries, this is what I'd be doing full time: I'd be working to create my very own version of BBC's "Flexible TV," using that as the core of a new sort of television network, one which could harness the power of P2P distribution to create a global network of left-wing reportage.

The pieces are all there: we have BitTorrent to get the pieces distributed, transmitted and received; we have the Web and email to get the word out; we have encoders like DivX and Xvid to ensure that people can get tiny downloads over their dial-up connections.  But right now these pieces are separate and disjoint.  It takes someone with a fair bit of ability - in computing, in communications, in video and audio production - to pull it all together.  Individuals with core competencies in all three of these areas are few and far between.

What we need is a single tool to wrap it all up in a nice, easy to use form.   We need a tool which makes publishing content into this media stream no more difficult than selecting a audiovisual file.  We need a tool which makes finding the programming you're looking for as easy and straightforward as Google.  And we need all of this to be one single tool, so that we can forever erase the false distinction between producer and audience, between professional and amateur which has kept most voices silenced as a few have used their positions as professional producers to push a pack of lies down our throats.

When we get that, it's game over.  The networks will no longer matter, they will no longer determine our diet of pre-digested truths.   The truth will return to its natural state: crazy, anarchic, contradictory, subjective and as wildly mercurial as a manic depressive who's gone off his meds.  In place of a few well-controlled voices, we'll have hundreds, then thousands, then millions of competing points of view, and our job will be to figure out how to find some signal in the midst of all that noise.  

That won't be as hard as you might think, because we already do this every day as citizens situated within an incredibly over-mediated environment.   We rely on our natural filters - our social networks - to help us locate the quality, the signal in the noise.   We already listen to our friends for their thoughts  about what tracks to listen to, what movies to watch, which events to attend.   Every one of us is a potent filter for our friends, and we'll be able to use our communications technologies to reinforce and automate a lot of that work.  You'll be able to automatically share your "moments of quality" with your friends, if that's what you want to do, and they'll be able to do the same thing for you.   You and your mob will become something like a media superorganism, capable of digesting an enormous amount of information, winnowing through the chaff to find the grain.

At least, that's what I'm hoping.

All of this is contingent upon one very crucial relationship - you've got to make friends with your geek peers.   Those folks are already on the cutting edge of all this tech, they've already mastered it, and they're sitting around wondering what it's good for - besides downloading the latest porno or techno tracks.  They already live in a liminal world where freedom of expression has been gobsmacked by copyright law.  They understand the true function of the media megacorps - to preserve and protect their profits.  And they have skills you need.

I have been very lucky in my own career, because I've been able to sit in the gap between the community of creative producers - people like you - and the community of technological wizards.  You each have a lot to offer the other, and you can both change the world.  But you're going to have to do it together.  One without the other would be a bit like the old maxim: "Revolution with revelation is tyranny.  Revelation without revolution is slavery."   You folks hold the keys of revelation, but you're going to have to go and seek out the folks who have the keys to the revolution, and seduce them - convince them that this is their opportunity to make a difference, to do something insanely great, and change the world.

You will encounter resistance.  Already the US Senate is attempting to make P2P technology illegal, even technologies such as BitTorrent, which have demonstrably non-infringing uses.  They say it's because they want to stop the huge amount of copyright theft going on.  DON'T BELIEVE THEM.   They can see what's happening.  They know they're about to lose control of the global mediasphere, that the media megacorps which have helped them become entrenched powers won't mean a good god-damn in a decade.  And they're scared.  So they're trying to make all of this illegal, trying to close the gaps in the functioning of their power.

Every generation gets a battle worth fighting.  I'm perhaps a bit older than most of you; my battle began back in the 1980s, when I realized that hypertext systems were incredible ways for human beings to get a handle on information.    Because of that work, I was savvy to the Web from nearly the moment it was launched.  I knew what it meant and did what I could to get it in front of other people - influential sorts who, once they'd seen it, would spread the word.   And so the world changed.

The world is changing again.  What happened to print a decade ago is about to happen to television.  And television is far more potent than print.  This time the revolution will be televised - and it will make the Web era look like a tempest in a teacup.  They'll call you criminals, revolutionaries, thieves and saboteurs.  And they'll be right.   But fuck them.  Fuck big media.   You're the asteroid, just about to break the atmosphere, and wipe out those fucking dinosaurs.

Good luck.

Mark Pesce
11 Chuen - 12 Eb (25 - 26 September 2004)

Rights for reuse of this work and the ideas herein granted under the Creative Commons Attribution License.