Chapters 1 & 2 of ''The Ethics of Modern Communication''

posted May 28, 2003
in Communication Ethics

iRights was formed in January 2000 to track legal issues on the Internet. I was interested in these issues after spending the previous year in Third Voice anti-advocacy, and after studying the relevant law on censorship and such, I realized that nobody really knew how legal Third Voice was. Not only that, but there wasn't even a legal theory adequate to describe the situation as it truly was. A lot of metaphors were tossed about, but they all failed to capture vital aspects of the situation, even the metaphors I made.

I wrote an essay on why Third Voice was wrong, and while it was interesting, it was not really well-supported, and in retrospect, not very cohesive. I decided the best way to research the issues would be to track them, so I started a weblog.

Over the months and years of tracking the issues, and thinking about them, it became apparent that the weblog format had many strengths, but expressing an intricate, layered philosophy clearly was not one of them. While there isn't a official style guide for weblog posts that dictates a maximum length, and while I'm definately the type to make fewer, longer posts rather then posting links with short commentary all day long, even I balked at the amount of foundation I would have to lay just to correctly express "Technology X is a censorship technology." as I wanted to. (Right now, you probably do not understand what I mean with that, because I've developed a much more precise definition of "censorship" then is traditionally used.) Plus, because the foundation would keep scrolling away, I'd have to keep repeating it, over and over, tiring both me and my regular readers.

The dimishing posts in this year can be directly traced to the fact that my personal vocabulary has shifted over the past year, and it is no longer possible to express what I want to express about a given news story on this site. As a result, rather then post something I know will be misunderstood, I've simply not posted. Being able to point to this essay for terms and concepts will probably increase the number of posts I feel like I can make.

I saw that I needed a more conventional solution, and started writing The Essay To End All Essays on the legal issues surrounding the Internet in 2000. I actually did not know how it was going to turn out, and I have been very surprised at where this has taken me. It has been an excellent vehicle for clarifying my own understanding... and coming to understand just how chaotic the situation is. In a way, the fact that my Third Voice essay was poorly supported should hardly be held against it, as right now, nothing is well supported... except of course this essay. ;-)

Even though in many ways I remain unsatisfied with it (and as I write this several sections aren't technically done), it is time for it to get out into the public discourse and see what happens.

While I certainly have my opinions and I won't shy from expressing them, the most important goal I have for the essay is to completely reshape how you mentally model communication on the Internet, and in the process, potentially reshape and clarify your opinions on the various issues that have come up over the years. Whether you agree or disagree with me is much less important then whether you understand things better after reading this.

It's hard for me to be objective because I am very close to this essay, but in my opinion there is a lot of content in there that is new; at least, I haven't seen anybody dig this deep. It seems so simple to me now but I try to recall some of the surprise I experienced as I wrote it. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you find something to learn from it.

I'll be posting a chapter a week until I finish this, or unless I absolutely need more time to clean up a chapter or respond to feedback. This is to allow me time to give each chapter a final cleanup, finish the diagrams as necessary, and not have this consume my entire life. The index page of the essay is available here, and you can read a PDF if you like (16 pages, 217KB). (Probably won't be worthwhile until there's a few more chapters there.)

This week, there's a prelude describing why I chose to wrote the essay (with less emphasis on ruminating on the weblog format and less prior knowledge assumed), and chapter 2 establishes that the current system can not simply be patched up, so a "simple" essay will not do.


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