The case for ‘local’ metaphors

Ok – this is going to be very muddled. I’ve just been chatting with a bunch a people here about this morning’s sessions. There was a round table on DRM, and whilst there were some great speeches, particularly from Cory, a lot of us felt that the conversation didn’t really go anywhere.

The session was full of passionate calls to action to counter DRM proposals from Microsoft, et al, but this macro-rhetoric felt a bit wasted on this audience. We *do* need really good metaphors for the wider battles about DRM, and Cory provided an excellent one. Having described the accumulation of content through Napster as being the biggest repository since the Library of Alexandria, he said:

“DRM is the answer to a question that none of us should be asking: How can we burn down the library for good?”

Needless to say, this went down a storm, and is no doubt propogating the blogosphere as I type. But, outside of the micro-climate of ETCON, this rhetoric might not take root and grow. In my work environment, I need metaphors that are actually going to mean something in the culture of the organisation. The binary opposition of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that is so important in motivating people to action actually reinforces stereotypes and creates barriers.

I’m looking for local metaphors – stories and role models that can help us create real solutions to the problems of DRM. Stories that are going to get people who still exist in a world of Broadcast and Baftas as excited as the people here at ETCON. The problem is, in order to find these role models, we’re going to have to find out what a wide range of people want to do in the open spaces we’re working so hard to preserve.

We can use ‘rip.mix.burn’ as a mantra, but what if most people want to just ‘pick.watch.chat’? Preserving the diversity and access of information spaces for these passive activities is just as important as preserving them for innovation. We need our passionate calls to arms to make enough noise for the rest of the world to listen. But unless we’ve thought hard about the subtler arguments, when ‘they’ finally decide to listen, we won’t have enough to say.

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