From Napster to Total Information Awareness to flash mobs, the debates over who gets to control information and technology have revolved around a single question: How closely do we want to virtual world to resemble the real world? But while we weren’t looking, the real world has started imitating the virtual world – in some alarming ways. More and more of our social, political, and religious activities are modeling themselves after the World Wide Web, along the lines of either anarchy or oligarchy, total freedom vs. complete control. And battle lines are being drawn.
On one side, trying to maintain control of information, are corporations, judges, the military, and global institutions. On the other side, trying to liberate information, are educators, hackers, civil libertarians, artists, consumers, and political dissidents. The Anarchist in the Library, by the rising young academic star, Siva Vaidhyanathan, is a radically original look at how this fight will define one of the major fault lines of twenty-first-century civilization.
The recording industry has sued the music downloaders into submission, but as a model of communication, their effects still echo around the world. The proliferation of such peer-to-peer networks may appear to threaten many established institutions, and the backlash against them could be even worse than the problems they create. Their effects – good and bad – resonate far beyond markets for music. They are altering our sense of the possible, extending our cultural and political imaginations.
Unregulated networks of communication have existed as long as gossip has. But with the rise of electronic communication, they are exponentially more important. And they are drawing the contours of a struggle over information that will determine much of the culture and politics of our century, from unauthorized fan edits of Star Wars to terrorist organizations’ reliance on “leaderless resistance.” The Anarchist in the Library is the first guide to one of the most important cultural and economic developments of our time.
Siva Vaidhyanathan is the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. Vaidhyanathan runs the popular weblog Sivacracy.net and has written for many periodicals, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon.com, openDemocracy.net, and The Nation. He has taught at Wesleyan University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and is currently director of the undergraduate program in communication studies in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. He lives in New York City.