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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Google Print and the Future of Copyright Law

November 3, 2005 | By David Bollier

If you want to understand the titanic struggle between reactionary Old Media business models and the counterintuitive models of the emerging networked environment, look no further than Google Print Library Project. This ambitious, innovative effort aims to digitize millions of library books and make them “discoverable” by Internet users through Google keyword searches.

What the Environmental Justice Movement Might Teach Us

October 31, 2005 | By David Bollier

As environmentalists continue to slog away – with diminishing success – against a market juggernaut that continues to commodify nature at every turn, many people are starting to wonder: Has environmentalism lost its way? This fear was catalyzed last year by the controversial “ Death of Environmentalism” essay, which many enviros lambasted as exaggerated and simplistic and others hailed as a much-needed kick-in-the-pants for a stodgy movement in need of fresh leadership.

Identity, Reputation and Social Currency

October 31, 2005

One of the great “discoveries” of the Net over the last decade has been the power of rating systems in affecting trust and the willingness of people to make purchases online. Yet the power of rating and reputation systems were not so much invented on the Net as “revealed,” because rating and reputation system are a natural and universal artifact of all forms of human cooperation.

Links, Nodes and Tags

October 29, 2005

Since self-organizing social networks are dynamic and evolving, any analysis must take account of intersubjective and fluid relationships. Everything is constantly in flux. In order to understand how online networks direct and control themselves, it is necessary to treat the types of interactions and exchanges as different types of links.

Self-Organizing Social Networks

October 27, 2005

Not ten years ago, the accepted wisdom was that the Net was neither safe for significant transactions nor would people trust those whom they had not physically met. It was further assumed that the Net was the province of techies and that it would never become a consumer, global medium.

One-Fifth of the Human Genome is Now Owned

October 25, 2005 | By David Bollier

Last night the wife said,
bq. “Oh boy, when you’re dead
bq. You don’t take nothing with you
bq. But your soul – think!”

Oxytocin, Reciprocity and Civil Society

October 24, 2005

For contemporary economists, most economic behavior revolves around aggression and self-interest. These social emotions are considered the primary drivers of the market. This emphasis, unfortunately, neglects the extremely influential role played by empathy and reciprocity in our economy and in society more generally. New discoveries in neuroscience are revealing just how primary these emotions are in all aspects of our lives.

The Walt Scale of Crass Commercialism

October 24, 2005 | By David Bollier

Over at Stay Free!, one of my favorite blogs, Jason Torchinsky has proposed a brilliant new unit of measurement: the “Walt Scale” of crass commercialism. Think about it: we have Nielsen ratings for levels of TV viewership, “Q” ratings for the likability of celebrities, and hedonics analysis to put a price tag on pleasure denied. In physics, there are ohms and ergs and rems.

Social Emotions and the "Big Man" Model of Social Organization

October 20, 2005

One of the most disturbing traits of human beings is their behavior in crowds and mobs. Seemingly rational and compassionate individuals, when placed into a group and acting as a collective, can assume a monstrous group personality. This dynamic is not confined to the “madness of crowds” situations, but can be found in the “groupthink” of a distinguished board of directors who approve actions that they individually know to be wrong, but seem incapable of checking when acting as a group member.

This Land Is Their Land

October 20, 2005

There is a grim symmetry to the gasoline act that recently passed the House of Representatives, in particular the provision to make old military bases available for oil refineries. Take land once used to defend the nation, and use it to feed the habit that makes much of that defense necessary.

U.S. Thumbs Nose at World – Again

October 19, 2005 | By David Bollier

Should nations and indigenous peoples be able to protect their cultures against the global market power of Hollywood, American TV and pop music? Tomorrow, the 190 nations that belong to Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) will vote on a treaty to authorize precisely that. Every Unesco-member nation except one is expected to support the treaty, ponderously known as the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression.

Cooperation and Self-Interest as Evolutionary Issues

October 18, 2005

In economics, arguments about the power of self-interest vs. cooperation are often based on moral grounds. Polemicists cite the role of each in contributing to the common good, or to a person’s moral character, and so forth. But from an evolutionary perspective, the question is quite different: Does a given attribute represent an “evolutionary stable strategy” – i.e., does it contribute to a species’ evolutionary “fitness” in a stable, persistent way over time? Does it enhance a group’s survivability?

A Renaissance of the Science Commons

October 14, 2005 | By David Bollier

In recent years, the story of the scientific commons has been chiefly one of enclosure: the privatization of research, new limits of how knowledge may flow, and worsening ethical conflicts of interest. But now, surprisingly, there is a burst of good news.

Thanks to a variety of innovations in Internet-based software and networking, academic scientists are laying the foundation for new online genres of sharing and collaboration. I call this neglected trend the “renaissance of the science commons.”

Trust and Reciprocity: A Platform for Evolutionary Success

October 13, 2005

Were all the artifices of civilization stripped away from Human Nature, what would be left? Is there an irreducible essence of what it means to be human? There are really no satisfactory answers to these kinds of questions. The problem is not that humankind did not evolve in a vacuum, but rather human beings are born incomplete. There is a deep evolutionary expectation that, as humans interact with other human beings and their environment, certain developmental responses are triggered. Some are predetermined, and some are not.

Wabi-Sabi and Market Culture

October 12, 2005 | By David Bollier

Whenever I read critiques about the spiritual emptiness of consumerism and mass culture — familiar diagnoses that are more or less accurate — I often come away feeling discouraged. After all, the splashy superficiality of consumer culture is the pervasive reality of our lives. It is always available, highly developed and utterly normative. By contrast, a wholesome and viable alternative is ill-defined. It tends to be a grab-bag of “don’t“s — a set of negatives that invite cynicism, not a coherent and compelling “positive” that is inspiring on its own terms.

Who Owns the Beach?

October 12, 2005

Some seventy percent of the earth’s surface consists of oceans, and we all own it. But getting access to what we own isn’t always easy. Or even possible.

Here’s the basic math. Half the population of the U.S. lives within 50 miles of the coast. But 70% of coastal land is privately owned; and the percentage is increasing all the time. A relatively small group of private owners constitutes a blockade to a much larger group of common owners. What gives?

Human Nature and the Commons

October 11, 2005

Roughly 197,000 of humankind’s 200,000 years on Earth have been consumed by surviving the raw challenges of Nature: disease, famine, climate, natural disasters, and fellow predators. The multiple colorations, shapes, weights, and immune systems of the races of mankind reflect 200,000 years of opportunistic adaptations. Just 60,000 years ago, the continued survival of homo sapiens was in question, dependent upon the luck and pluck of just 200 ancestors. Only within the last five hundred years, just 0.25% of the human record, did the population of humankind exceed 500 million.

When Marketing Masquerades as Philanthropy

October 10, 2005 | By David Bollier

The gym at the Alice Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn, N.J., is now called the ShopRite Center, after the supermarket chain. Football players at Vernon Hills High near Chicago now play at Rust-Oleum Field. Athletes at Everglades High in Broward County, Florida, play at Eastern Financial Stadium. If the public schools are meant to prepare our children for life, well…they may be doing that all too well. Today’s lesson? How to sell out to a market culture.

Harriet Miers and the Market Stalls of Manila

October 8, 2005

The hounds are sniffing for a paper trail on Harriet Miers, the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Yet a matter of great significance is out in the open, in her official biography, and most opponents don’t seem to notice. Ms. Miers was a corporate attorney in Dallas. Her clients included Microsoft and Disney, and her specialties included what is called “intellectual property.” This deserves a look.