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Yochai Benkler - On Autonomy, Control and Cultural Experience
New York, April 2007 
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Individuals have a stake in the fight for control over the information environment that goes beyond the lust for free entertainment. Here, Benkler discusses the growth of user autonomy, the possibility to be makers of our culture rather than remain merely passive recipients, as was the norm in the industrial system of information production. Those who formerly had control resist these changes for different reasons, be they the media industry through DRM, or teachers warning their pupils away from wikipedia.

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00:00:00 Interview with Yochai Benkler
00:00:06 When I say user autonomy, what I'm talking about
00:00:08 is at the simplest level the ability of people to do more for themselves,
00:00:15 by themselves, without having to ask anyone's permission
00:00:19 and without having to submit to anyone's
00:00:27 control over what it is they are doing.
00:00:30 What happened in the industrial information and cultural economy
00:00:39 was that people shifted from being relatively free to use a limited range
00:00:49 of materials that they had in social settings that were open for conversation.
00:00:55 Family friends, relatively small localities for the majority of people.
00:01:01 To an industrial model of cultural production
00:01:05 where the materials were produced by
00:01:08 some set of commercial professional producers, who then control the experience
00:01:15 and located individuals at the passive receiving end of the cultural conversation
00:01:22 so that efforts to take these materials and remake them,
00:01:29 or efforts to participate as a cultural speaker,
00:01:32 by and large required permission.
00:01:38 What we're seeing now is that through a combination of technology,
00:01:45 both digital processing and computation technology and networking technology,
00:01:52 people can take more of their cultural environment,
00:01:56 more of the information environment, make it their own,
00:02:01 use it as found materials to put together their own expressions,
00:02:04 do their own research, create their own communications,
00:02:07 create their own communities, when they need collaboration with others.
00:02:11 Rather than relying on a limited set of existing institutions.
00:02:17 Or on a set of materials that they are not allowed to use
00:02:20 without going and asking "please may I use this?
00:02:25 Please may I create?"
00:02:27 What happens when people can do more for and
00:02:30 by themselves is that the set of actors;
00:02:35 primarily companies, and in some places governments
00:02:38 that control the experience - those whose permission was required,
00:02:45 are resisting this transistion because
00:02:47 control is a good thing to get if you can get it.
00:02:49 Or at least control is a good thing to have if you can get it.
00:02:54 And what we're seeing today is a series of different kinds of campaigns,
00:03:01 Some of them quite self conscious,
00:03:04 I think for example, Hollywood's campaign to expand
00:03:08 technological constraint on use of cultural materials
00:03:13 digital rights management, trusted systems,
00:03:16 is a self conscious campaign.
00:03:18 Some of it much less conscious much more based on anxieties,
00:03:27 and speaking out anxieties. So for example
00:03:30 when you hear the persistent concerns over internet security,
00:03:35 and what will happen if people crack your system
00:03:39 when you hear the constant concerns about quality
00:03:43 and where will good quality come from?
00:03:44 and the error rate in wikipedia, these are all much more subconscious expressions
00:03:51 of a fear that ends up being used as justification,
00:03:55 for embracing the control system that is being displaced
00:04:00 because of the technological and social actions,
00:04:04 because of the technological characteristics and the social practices,
00:04:11 that are being adopted in widespread cooperative networked practices.
00:04:17 So we're seeing sometimes legal moves to change,
00:04:25 and require legal control where practically it's no longer necessary.
00:04:30 Sometimes we see... I wouldn't call them propaganda,
00:04:36 but I'd call them public debate and public enactment
00:04:41 of anxiety, in order to increase the perceived importance,
00:04:47 of the traditional controllers. The most important place where you see this is,
00:04:51 teachers tell students not to use Wikipedia.
00:04:55 Because that use shakes up the sense that I'm a teacher,
00:05:02 I know exactly what the set of materials are that I have approved
00:05:06 and are capable of being approved.
00:05:07 I am used to seeing Kids, appealing to authority
00:05:13 rather that cross referencing multiple resources.
00:05:16 I don't want to teach them that they should see this as a source,
00:05:20 But not as a source of authority, a source of insight,
00:05:24 a potential move in a research that's always sceptical.
00:05:29 One of the things that has to happen in the context of the radically decentralised system
00:05:34 Is that we all have to become sceptical beings, all the time.
00:05:38 Which is a fundamental change from the traditional cultural system
00:05:43 Where we would talk. 'How do I know if it's true? Well you've said it.'
00:05:46 Where did they publish it? And looking for indicia of authority
00:05:51 that will tell me this is authority.
00:05:53 Instead I have to begin to develop new capabilities
00:05:59 of looking at five sources, assigning them different levels of weight
00:06:04 and saying I have reasonable confidence that the correct answer is
00:06:08 x rather than y without really assigning full authority to any single site.
00:06:15 So that's another locus of control trying to,
00:06:19 get people to continue to hang on to to this sense that you need
00:06:24 the expert authority, you need the person whose is in charge,
00:06:29 to tell you what is good and what is not good. what is high quality, what is low quality.
00:06:33 What is reliable information, what is not reliable information.
00:06:38 And that's another domain where we see the controllers,
00:06:42 in this case I think less strategically,
00:06:49 than in the context of the way that for example, Hollywood backs digital rights management.
00:06:53 I think it's a cousin in terms of self preservation.
00:07:03 But I think it's also a public enactment of deeply held beliefs
00:07:08 about why it is, that the particular people, that play a particular role
00:07:12 of authoritative speakers, in the older system
00:07:16 continue to believe in the values that made them authoritative,
00:07:20 and made their authority important. And so that's much more cultural resistance,
00:07:25 than it is practical, legal or technical design resistance.
00:07:31 But were seeing resistance from different kind of actors who played the role,
00:07:37 of controllers in the older models, trying to preserve
00:07:42 their relatively privileged position as controllers,
00:07:45 through different systems of constraint.