Felix Writes: On information, matter and the laws of physics

DigitalThoughts / On information, matter and the laws of physics

I want to clear up a misunderstanding. You see, opponents of sharing often attack the phrase "Information wants to be free". They seem to mistake it for a philosophical or moral statement. It is not. This phrase simply describes a law of nature.

Think about it. If I have an apple and share it with you, we both end up with half an apple. Sharing divides matter. (It's usually a good idea to share material goods anyway, but that's another discussion.) But if I have an information and share it with you, now we both know it to the same degree. I didn't lose anything, and you gained something. Sharing multiplies information. (Not to mention you may even be able to show me a different angle to that piece of information, which again enriches us both.)

So, information behaves in a fundamentally different way from matter, not because somebody wants it to, but thanks to the laws of physics. You may dislike the implications (though I can't figure out why anybody would willingly choose scarcity over abundance), but that's the way it is. I don't hear many people complaining about the fact that the water is wet, the cold is freezing and the sun is hot; we deal with it. Usually by turning the inconvenience to our advantage. Similarly, some people have found a way to deal with information's natural tendency to spread. (I would never had bought a book by Cory Doctorow or Charles Stross if I hadn't found their novels online first. As it is, they never lost anything and they gained a paying fan.) But that's only half the story.

See, if you have any appreciation at all for computers and the Internet, complaining about the ease of copying digital information is simply hypocritical. By the time you read this text, it will have spread over half the Internet: In the working memory of countless routers, in Google's cache, and yes, in your computer's RAM, on your hard drive and in your video adapter's display buffer. It wouldn't work any other way (hint: there have been attempts). And if you don't like that, by all means, stay off the 'net. Keep your precious intellectual creations locked in a safe deposit box. Let's see how much money you'll make with them that way.

In conclusion: if I can see something, I can photograph it. If I can receive a radio signal, I can record it. If I can hear a speech, I can write it down. That's the way of nature. If you argue against sharing, at least keep your arguments straight.

Edit: For a more detailed treatment of the same topic, see: The New Class Struggle by Klaus Æ. Mogensen. On a related note, you might like the older and more emotional Who's Afraid of the Public Domain? by Peter Saint-Andre.

2010-01-28