Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why SOPA is made of fail

I was talking on Twitter today with a friend about SOPA—as were most of us, I'm sure. Hot button topic. Really should have blogged about it about 7 hours ago, but I was at work and I needed to collect my thoughts.

Let me give you the Twitter answer: My thoughts are if SOPA passes, we're all learning to hack.

And now, I shall exposit.

Our notion, as a society, of timeliness is drastically shorter than any society before us. Hell, it's shorter than our notion of it was five years ago. We forget that. We also forget that we have a generation who have grown up with the expectation of instant access to information and media.

When a distribution system won't deliver on that expectation, that generation does what any innovative group of people do: They create a subsystem to resolve the issue.

That's what peer to peer sharing—piracy—is. Hacking a system that is no longer efficient for a growing majority of its users. And that is why no amount of legislation created by people who don't understand our evolving notion of timeliness will be effective against piracy.

Passing SOPA would be like legislating horseshoes to repair tires. Seriously, how does that help anyone? Horseshoes won't even fit around tire rims.

Another notion that's evolving is our sense of geography. The internet, aside from not being a series of tubes, is also not a physical space. It's everywhere. All at once. (Except, perhaps, China—but, guess, what? They're hacking what they perceive to be a broken system, too.)

Our distribution methods for digital media are still being based on practices that apply to distribution of physical media to physical locations. The generation that has grown up online doesn't think of availability as being defined by location—and they aren't willing to wait for people who still do. They seek their media out online because they want it now.

You know who's to blame for this? Us. We have trained them to expect that what they want should be instantly accessible. We have reduced their attention spans; we have diminished their ability to wait.

Us. We created this demand for instant access—and it is our failing when we don't supply it.

We can scold and rant about legality all we want, but it will never resolve either of these underlying factors. Piracy isn't simply about right and wrong. It's a far more complex sociological issue.

In fact, we often go out of our way to compound this very issue we're so dead set on oversimplifying. Example? Most mainstream media providers have obscured the breakdown of payment. You would be amazed how many people have no idea how little creators make off their creations. We need to do something about that.

Also, society's idea of ownership is evolving. If we believe we own what we create, then that means we can't punish those who create transformative art. Memes and fandoms are dialects of our shared digital language. They're forming meeting places for vast groups of people trying to survive our increasingly disconnected world. Nodes on our cultural network.

Canadians are experts at talking about the weather. We can have safe conversations involving the weather with just about anyone. It is the staple of awkward elevator meetings, line waits, and enforced family time.

Memes are a digital equivalent of "is it cold outside." They are often "safe" means of interacting with strangers in this everywhere space we all inhabit. They are ways of reaching out, of filling silences and sharing experiences. They are how we begin to tell stories to one another.

And many of them require a vocabulary dependent on media. If you cut off a person's ability to access the source material or deny distribution of it in a timely manner, you render that person mute during these "safe" conversations. You prevent them from being able to tell us their stories.

One might argue that piracy isn't related to free speech. One might honestly believe that people who pirate are using free speech as a way to defend stealing from one.

I probably won't change your mind. But I honestly believe as long as we continue to oversimplify and insist on only treating the symptoms, we will never cure the disease.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

And the paint under my nails

Quickly, I have signed a contract that keeps me at my current role with Indigo until April 30 2012. This is good because it keeps me through the winter and allows me to see spring in eastern Canada, which I hope is even half as beautiful as fall was. It also allows me to be in town for a friend's release party and many brunches. Oh yes, and I may get a chance to complete my Indie Coffee Pass.

And now a self-indulgent post about writing, where I admit things that I probably shouldn't on the internet. Ah, well.

There is a draft that I have been writing around for more than a year now. It is the manuscript that I cheat on other manuscripts with. It's the thing that I set aside to draft The Lost Art of Killing Dreams. When one is revising, which is probably where I do the majority of the work, one forgets what drafting is like.

It's sloppy and messy and paint gets on the floor, all over your hands and clothes, and under your nails. There is a lot of clean up involved in revision. Not to mix metaphors, but drafting is all about constructing a frame. There's always a point for me where I realize the frame I've built doesn't fit the true shape of the story. One can outline and think they know what a story's about, but it's the writing—the mess-making and building—where one realizes that they were probably wrong.

About 50,000 words into anything, I start to see what the frame needs to be. There's always multiple things that I'm doing in a story, all the questions I'm answering and the talking points I want to discuss. But there's a moment when I realize the way to string all of them together. It is one of the moments of clarity where I identify what is "wrong" with the draft. (Beside that it's unfinished.)

The tricky thing about Eight for Wishing is that it started as its own thing, then it was a reluctant companion for The Tale of Ariake, and then I realized it was logically a sequel. It was this story that nestled around and wove between TALE; it was an alternate filter through which to view that world and its characters. But when you do a sequel, you need a chord that connects the stories together and reason for having it.

I was talking to a friend earlier about this draft, and I said there is a character a reader meets in TALE who has his shit relatively together in comparison to everybody else. He has some things he has to deal with and confront, but he's in a place where he can do that quite a bit easier than the other characters. And the question that I started asking when I returned to throwing words at this first draft of Eight for Wishing is Well, how did he get that way?

That lead to understanding that this second tale I'm trying to tell isn't an epic love story of two younger characters who exist on the edges of the first manuscript. No, it's an epic bromance between a character who barely features in the first story and a character who the reader thinks they know. Because there's a whole other life this character has that we don't see in the first story.

As for if this grand experiment will ever be read by anyone else, I don't even know. Its the follow-up to something on submission, which brings in a whole other set of additional reasons that it may never see mass consumption. But I don't really write first drafts because I want other people to read them. That's a second or third draft.

I write like an oil painting. Not the gossamer way of a Rembrandt, either. I mean a Van Gogh—all those textures and colors you see, that never quite dry and are never quite finished, are layered upon each other more and more and more until they form a cohesive image. Beneath them, painted over and over and over again remains the under-painting, but you have no idea what it looks like.

Honestly, that's a good thing. You don't want to read my rough drafts. They're a lot of vague shapes, mostly blocks of colors, and very flat.

I probably will never be a clean writer, with smooth transitions between draft. Fortunately, by the time other people see things, all those brushstrokes look like they're meant to be there.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

One simple, good day where all is new again.

They say in Japan that how you spend the first day of the new year sets the tone for the entire year, and if that is true then I shall spend it relaxed, content to be where I am, and occasionally delighted. At the very least amused at my obliviousness that causes me to get off at the wrong station, and then trust that I've got time and another train is coming and I needed to dispose of my coffee cup, anyway.

I'll be up before the alarm goes off, and somewhat overdressed, and spilling out into the neighborhood before it's afternoon. I'll have time and be early instead of feeling like I'm running late.

It's also going to rain a lot, but I'll have an umbrella or it won't be more than a few drops that don't amount to much of anything. It won't be as cold as it looks, and people will be in better moods for it. I'll listen to music and laugh with friends and have my expectations exceeded by allowing things to be what they will. Maybe I'll miss a phone call or two, but that's what voicemail is for.

There will be proper breakfast, even if it happens at 3:30, and I'll write and I'll blog and be well-rested enough to be optimistic about what comes tomorrow. To believe there will be enough time in the day to fit it all in without straining.

And maybe I'll lose that clear-headed certainty that it'll all work out eventually or forget to look for what's open when everything appears to be closed. But I had it today, which means I can find it again. Right now that's really all that matters.