Some Netizens are Still at War for Their Independence

Friday, April 17 2009 @ 07:18 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

One of my American friends is a literary agent. She is a very intelligent person. A couple of days ago I received a mail from her in which she commented on some of my recent pieces like this:

"I particularly found fascinating your writing about your father, his knowledge about airplanes and his unheeded warning to the Japanese command of the need to develop an air force. I think in order to tell your father's story to the widest possible audience you have made the right decision to do so online. [But] you may find that the impact of what you are publishing online leads a publisher to contact you to write a book based on this information."

I know her comment was well-intended. But I am afraid she misunderstood me. Firstly, the fact that Japan did not have its Luftwaffe (Air Force) was the smallest part of my father's problem. Secondly, I'm fighting against my own enemies, not my father's. It's just that most of my foes happen to be the descendants of those who stood in my father's way. And lastly, but most importantly, I have no intention to use my website as a stepping stone to something more "real."

After the "dot-com bubble" burst in the early-2000, we saw signs that new crops of Netizens were emerging on the horizon of the cyberspace. In February 2005, Steve Chen and two other young men founded YouTube, LLC. In December 2006, TIME magazine selected You as its Person of the Year. These events gave us a good reason to be upbeat about our future.

But this didn't last long. We've been experiencing a serious setback in the Internet-driven revolution ever since.

In November 2006, Google Inc. acquired YouTube, LLC. Its co-founders may have earned $1.65 billion from the deal, but we Netizens lost much more than that because Google's move actually signaled a counterrevolutionary move to defuse the fledgling Netizens' Republic.

For the part of TIME magazine, it picked Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama as the persons of the years 2007 and 2008, respectively, as if to retract its previous support to independent bloggers, selfless Wikipedians and open-source software developers.

Obviously, the likes of Google and TIME are trying to artfully domesticate and neutralize these wild animals so that the old media empires can claim dominance over the emerging Netizenry. Indications thus far are that the media establishment wants to see independent Netizens eventually go extinct.

In order to show you my way of analyzing the current situation of this warfare, let me try classifying the millions of videos you can watch on YouTube into 9 different categories as below:

Category Description/Examples
1 Stepping Stone Examples include Paul Potts, a former employee of a carphone warehouse company and Susan Boyle, a Scottish church volunteer.
2 Auditioning Most famously the YouTube Symphony Orchestra was formed through online audition to stage a concert at Carnegie Hall earlier this month. I don't think this is what the co-founders had in mind when they employed the "Broadcast Yourself" slogan.
3 Promotional Many people are advertising their books, CDs and DVDs, for free, in order to broaden their audiences.
4 Rerun Many people have uploaded TV programs ABC, CNN, etc. have run in the past.
5 Rare Film Footage or Recording My own video about the legendary aircraft falls on this category.
6 Political Campaign by Independent Maverick Republican Ron Paul is the best example. I have embedded some of his videos in this blog.
7 Musical Performance by Amateur or Semi-Pro Innumerable people are generously sharing their performances just for fun. I have favorited dozens of them on my YouTube channel. A smile-inducing video uploaded by German girls is embedded below as an example. A world filled with their music makes your life really worth living.
8 Educational You can watch tutorials, lectures, religious preaches and many other visual presentations of educational materials. You may generically call them a visualized Wikipedia. Among other things, I found Daniel Barenboim's masterclass series (embedded below) quite impressive, although I don't particularly want to be a master of the instrument.
9 "Vlog" Some people are working on visualized versions of their blogs.

Of course, every one of us has the right to do silly things such as those I classify in Categories 1 through 4. Furthermore, I don't categorically call them silly. For instance the now legendary Paul Potts's video, viewed by more than 1.8 million people by now, and Susan Boyle's, viewed an astounding 18.9 million times, have raised them to stardom overnight. No one can quibble about their spectacular success stories.

To me, however, YouTube is not a playground, although I do enjoy doing "video mining" practically every night. Rather, it's one of the battlegrounds. As a general rule, I don't think it's really advisable for Netizens to use the Internet as a virtual stepping stone to something more "real" when a fierce battle is being fought against this "real" world, on YouTube, in the blogosphere or any other SNS sites. That is why I found the well-intended suggestion by my American friend objectionable. Since I have already set my goal on this side of the glass wall, I don't need any stepping stone to break the barrier. Sooner or later the barrier will melt down on its own.

As I argued in PART 4 of The Myth of Japan's Technological Superiority series, any disruptive technology, such as the Internet, is meant to be an enabler of change, and thus, should be used in a disruptive way.

In the business world, this perception has been gaining ground, though very slowly, as is evident from the proliferation of e-commerce and e-manufacturing systems. But the general population is by far lagging behind businesses in that respect.

We can't afford to lose the battle because we can defend the last bastion of freedom of speech only by a disruptive use of the Internet. In this context, it's encouraging to know the lip-synching German girls, the maestro from Argentina, the Maverick congressman from Texas and many other like-minded folks are refusing, if sometimes unwittingly, to emulate the old way of communication as if they were second-class citizens.

I hope in the not-too-distant future, Netizens of the world will declare independence from the entire edifice where so many subservient people are still clinging to an outdated way of sharing their thoughts and emotions.

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