In general, I am hesitant to be one of those people who are like, “Wow, we’re living through unprecedented times.” If you go back and look at a bit of history, things have always been bad. I think the internet just lets us know about more bad stuff at once. It’s paralyzing in a lot of ways: you now get to know about every bad thing happening at once instead of just the bad things happening in your geographic region or societal demographic.
I just mean that, like, in every era of history, it seems like stuff has been bad and a lot of people just proceed like business as usual. Currently in New York, there are Black Lives Matter protests, and a lot of COVID deaths, and widespread economic devastation – and yet I step outside and I go on dog walks and it seems like everyone has adapted pretty well. “Okay, I’ll line up outside the grocery store for my chance to go in.” “Let’s meet in the park but everyone wear a mask and sit a respectable distance please.” “Ah, another protest blocking traffic!” (The delayed motorists who seem to almost universally support the protests has been heartening.) “Hmm, the president posted a wacko conspiracy theory, just roll with it.”
Everywhere there are signs that stuff is weird and messed up (in an unprecedented way in my lifetime), and yet people are just doing normal stuff anyway. Which is why I keep thinking about this tweet from mysterious Twitter persona @dril.
It’s quickly risen in my personal ranking of @dril tweets, going from funny scenario to prophetic status in relatively short order. Every day something absolutely fucked happens and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll get to it in a minute.” It reflects a sort of helplessness on the part of the individual to do anything.
I was particularly struck by some stupid tweets that NYC mayor Bill de Blasio sent a couple of weeks ago as the police force he (ostensibly) oversees brutalized peaceful protesters. He was just driving around at night looking at stuff, seeing nothing, and making these sleepy posts.
I think that dril tweet exemplifies a particular spirit of “Sure.” that has always run beneath New York City. For decades, New Yorkers have been seeing nutso things on the subway and reacted with– well actually they just haven’t reacted. Earlier this month, I was in a protest that got boxed in on the Manhattan Bridge and while we waited to find out if the police would let us off or we’d trudge back over to the Brooklyn side, or get further boxed in and arrested, there wasn’t much for me to do except think to myself, “Well, fine.” I recall reading a thing about how even on 9/11, people were still throwing frisbees in the park. What else are you going to do?
But the additional, crucial layer of the dril tweet is that there is something the bathroom guy could do. He could stop taking a shit and get out of the Twin Towers. Similarly, de Blasio could do many things. He could support cutting the NYPD budget. He could resign. Instead he’s just ambling around the boroughs after dark, tweeting, essentially, “Alright. Just a sec.”
The PlayStation 5 looks great
The Internet Archive is Good
This week, the Internet Archive ended its pandemic-spurred emergency lending program two weeks early. The organization had set up a temporary National Emergency Library in March to make its many archived and scanned books available to users for free. In a normal situation, books from the Internet Archive are available to readers for 14 days (this is controlled by DRM) and the titles are distributed based on how many physical copies the library actually has. Everyone else gets put on a waitlist, just like at a brick-and-mortar library. This is known as “controlled digital lending,” and though its justification, rooted in the first-sale doctrine, seems sound to me, its legality is an unanswered question.
The National Emergency Library, given that libraries across the country were closed indefinitely, did away with the waitlist but retained the 14-day limit. It also combined with collections from schools like MIT to increase the number of titles available. “We chose that language deliberately because we are pegging the suspension of the waitlists to the duration of the US national emergency,” the organization’s Director of Open Libraries, Chris Freeland, wrote regarding the name of the initiative.
Book publishers got mad and now four big ones are suing the Internet Archive. The lawsuit has the potential to not only dismantle the archive’s library program but also take down the rest of the operation. (More than 1.4 million works were included in the emergency library, and the potential penalty for each one could be as high as $150,000. You do the math.) The list of potentially ruined IA programs includes the many public domain works — books, films, audio tracks — hosted online and made freely available, as well as the Wayback Machine, which takes snapshots of web pages. I consider the Wayback Machine an essential tool for understanding the history of the World Wide Web and a vital resource for tracking changes over time. (It’s also useful for holding influential people to account.) I reference it constantly.
Now, you might be saying, “Authors deserve to get paid for their work!” or “This is piracy!” That’s certainly the attitude of the awful writer Chuck Wendig (I once had the displeasure of reading one of Wendig’s Star Wars novels). He also happens to be one of the most annoying people on Twitter. Wendig has since locked his account after this all blew up and I hope it stays locked.
(I’m sorry you had to see that.)
The thing is: the authors got paid for these books when someone purchased the copy in possession of the Internet Archive. That’s the idea behind controlled digital lending. The claim that during this brief window in which waitlists were suspended, an author missed out on a significant windfall is unsubstantiated. This isn’t piracy and even then, some research has found that people who pirate media are also more likely to spend money on it too. (“For both unlicensed downloading and licensed streaming alike, our results suggest that consumers with higher interest in music view these channels as complements to licensed digital purchases to a larger extent.”)
This is all to say that the Internet Archive is good. It should continue to exist and it did nothing wrong. Book publishers litigating a public service out of existence isn’t going to fix their industry, the same way that Metallica killing Napster didn’t stop piracy or save the music industry either.
I’m only thinking about this: