Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

19May/12

Why Information Must Be Free: The Factory Girl

I must admit, I like the idea of having information implanted in me for immediate access to it all. A personal database. Or a link to a complete information database in the Cloud. The Internet is a start to this, but it must be better organized. And the information must be free. Not owned by anyone. That is crucial. But it may not be where we are headed.  And we must deliberate and take action about this before it is too late. For the thrust of the day is in the direction of companies finding ways to profit from the storage of and subsequent sharing (and/or licensing) of hoarded information.

Our  founders had it right when they determined that all literature should be housed in a public and free system: libraries. If democracy is the goal, if equal opportunity is the goal, if righteous progress is the goal: information must be available to all and it must be free.

What if Einstein, Marie Curie or Thomas Edison had not had access to the crucial learning and information they personally read, stored and pondered to come up with their critical-to-history discoveries? Had Beethoven, Debussy or Amy Beach not had access to the scores of composers who came before, on what would they have founded their own knowledge and growth? (actually, Amy Beach did not have all the information access she needed, since she was not allowed to study in Europe "with the men," and that did have a detrimental impact on her work as a composer - something I am exploring in my biography-memoir, Amy Beach and Me, amybeachandme.com)

How many human beings living in the time of any of the above greats did not have access to the base of knowledge afforded to those “geniuses”? How many human beings had absolutely no opportunity to achieve greatness for the simple reason that they did not have access to educations or the prior knowledge on which which those greats established/founded their work?

From the earliest days of the Internet, scientists and researchers have recognized the important role of the WEB to connect the research dots of the planet. If research is entered into our Internet Cloud database, and made freely available, there is no limit to the discoveries that can be made with instant access to parallel or supportive research, nor is there any longer the gross waste of redundant research and discovery, or aborted research and discovery due to duplicated paths to dead-ends.

Today a young woman works for minimum wage in a factory somewhere in the world, she lives in a dormitory, watches communal TV, and her future is not particularly bright. But what if she had free access to the Cloud, and it contained all information ever created by humankind? What might that mean to her future?

She might read about the history of unions and determine to organize her workplace so that she could eventually access more free time to improve her lot in life. She might take an online class in robotics from MIT, then another and another. She might study Spanish literature or film editing, or biology.

When she discovers how to manipulate mammalian skin temperature and render it impermeable to extreme climate conditions, she must be allowed to publish her findings to the Cloud, where they are highlighted and made available to the rest of the Cloud’s scientific community; she must not be blocked from this circle of intelligentsia because she does not hail from one of the self-proclaimed elite centers of research and learning. Nor should she be blocked from obtaining data from this community, and making use of it in her own work, because she does not have the funds to license or publish said data.

Today most research scientists work for universities that “tend to” these annoying but required processes and costs for them. In the egalitarian world I am envisioning, this discriminatory process for access to data and publication and discovery must be ended.

For this discriminatory access to information to end, however, we will have to rethink and remodel a great deal of the worlds societal, cultural, economic, political, legal and educational models.

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