How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Leaving Cyberspace and Entering the Real World
By: Siva Vaidhyanathan
(April 2004)

From Publishers Weekly

This relatively brief book tackles an expansive topic: Internet technology and its effect on our social, political and cultural future. For cultural historian and media scholar Vaidhyanathan (Copyrights and Copywrongs), the digital revolution is about far more than downloading music. Weaving an array of historical examples with prescient analysis, Vaidhyanathan takes the Internet battles common to most readers today-e.g., the well-publicized efforts of the recording industry to stop file-sharing; the practices of those who share music online-to craft a treatise on how technology highlights the eternal cultural struggle between “oligarchy and anarchy.”

He discusses the evolution of copyright law in the digital realm, and looks provocatively at the political contributions of such technology and the evolution of nation-states in the digital world, at times painting a truly Orwellian vision of how our future might turn out. For example, digital networks now erase borders for commercial gain as well as for piracy, and at the same time such networks, as illustrated by the war on terror, are elusive and ungovernable. Where, how and on what principles do we draw the lines?

Vaidhyanathan refrains from offering any quick-fix solutions, instead arguing that the friction between anarchy and the desire for control now highlighted by technology is an essential element in the creation of culture. Vaidhyanathan is a brilliant thinker and an energetic writer. But the sweeping scope of this book, and its vague, theoretical and at times academic slant may leave readers more confused then enlightened.

Then again, welcome to the digital world.

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Book Description

From a fast-rising academic star, a radically new take on how peer-to-peer networks are affecting the coming battle over information.

Peer-to-peer networks have existed as long as gossip and word-of-mouth advertising–but with the rise of electronic communication, they are suddenly coming into their own. and they are drawing the outlines of a battle for information that will determine much of the culture and politics of our century, from file-sharing websites like Gnutella to private edits of Star Wars to the neo-Nazi concept of “leaderless resistance.” On one side, trying to maintain control of information–and profits–are legislators, judges, cabinet officers, entertainment conglomerates, and multinational corporations. On the other side, trying to liberate information, are educators, computer programmers, civil libertarians, artists, consumers, and dissidents under all sorts of regimes.

Vaidhyanathan draws upon examples ranging from ancient religions to open-source software to show how this battle will be one of the defining fault lines of twenty-first-century civilization. His radical and original explanation of the future of information is a warning shot that will mobilize anarchists and controllers alike.

About the Author

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a cultural historian and media scholar, is Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication at New York University. His research has been profiled on National Public Radio, CNN, International Herald-Tribune Television, and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. He lives in New York City.

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