Innovation, Optimism And Opportunity: All Coming Together To Make Real Change

Over the past few years, we’ve had a bit of a “New Year’s” tradition around here for my last “regular” post of the year. It started in 2008, in response to an email asking how I didn’t go crazy with anger over all of the bad stuff we wrote about all the time. In response, I explained why I was actually quite upbeat over all of the amazing and wonderful things going on, if a bit frustrated by the attempts to hold them back. The following year, I talked about the nature of creativity and innovation and all of the examples of people starting to recognize the possibilities that were being enabled, rather than just fighting against them. In 2010, I pointed out that despite the roadblocks, innovation was an unstoppable force, and last year I talked about the fact that people were finally speaking out and making a difference.

This year, I’m going to follow along with that thread, in looking at some of the amazing things that were accomplished in the past year — things that seemed impossible just a short while ago. I’m using the slot we normally use for the “favorite posts of the week,” because in some ways this will be my “favorite posts of the year” post. First up, obviously, was the amazing blackout day last January 18th, in which the internet rose up and said NO! to some awful legislation proposed by Congress: SOPA and PIPA — leading to millions of people deciding to take action and protest the bill.

To this day, very few people realize how amazing that situation was, and how unlikely a scenario it was just a few months before. This was bipartisan-supported legislation that was seen as a “no-brainer” by most in Congress. Previous attempts at similar types of legislation tended to pass easily with little or no debate. Yes, some of us would make some noise, and maybe the absolute worst bits of a law would get excised (after being put in the bill for that purpose), but a bill like SOPA/PIPA was a foregone conclusion: it was going to be law. Until it wasn’t. That is amazing. Last year at this time I was excited about the fact that people had finally come together to speak out, but the bill was still alive and we hadn’t fully achieved anything yet. And a few weeks later… we did. It was an amazing moment of real representative democracy in action.

And it didn’t stop there. Almost immediately following the SOPA victory, a large group of people suddenly discovered ACTA. ACTA was an ever more foregone conclusion than SOPA. It was basically done — and all but “signed” in Europe (the US had already signed it). It was a mere formality. And, yet… the success against SOPA energized the opposition, leading to a months-long process that resulted in the EU Parliament loudly rejecting ACTA, and the EU Commission finally giving in just a few weeks ago. Without the success against SOPA, that doesn’t happen.

The wider internet spoke up on other occasions as well, including on cybersecurity and on internet freedom. Not all of these campaigns led to victories, but these activities are no longer being ignored by those in power. The wider internet is finding its voice, and that’s a good thing — and something worth being quite excited about.

Of course, it is still early, and there will be setbacks. Politicians and legacy industries have been at this for too long and are too good at “playing the game” to just give up. But, the playing field has shifted notably and the opportunity to speak out and have an impact has increased drastically. At the same time, the tools for such activism have grown and expanded. The ability to use innovative new platforms — and for those platforms to exist and be useful — continues to expand.

At the same time, more and more people are engaged and aware. More and more innovators are recognizing that there are new opportunities for disruption. More and more amazing things are within our grasp. Countries are suddenly taking things like copyright and patent reform seriously. There are growing discussions about the power of innovation to help an economy. People are recognizing that new platforms and services are enabling things that used to be impossible (rather than merely updating old things).

It’s an exciting time, full of opportunity. There are, as always, threats and those who wish to get in the way of that opportunity, but we’re on the cusp of a new era, in which more and more people are able to stand up and speak out and put a stop to those attempts to block innovation and opportunity. And that’s incredibly exciting.

Once again, I want to put forth a huge thank you to everyone who makes up the Techdirt community. We’ve continued to grow and expand quite a bit over the past year, with many new people, new insights, new opinions and great conversations. It’s an exciting time to be covering all of the opportunity out there, even if it also means covering those who stand in the way of such opportunity. We’re continuing to work hard to do even more for the community in the next year, and we appreciate the insights and support you continue to provide to the site. We started Techdirt as a place to have a discussion on these issues, and that ongoing discussion has continued to be amazing, thought-provoking and wonderful.

I’ve now been writing Techdirt for more than 15 years, and I wouldn’t keep doing it if it wasn’t an absolute joy and pleasure every single day — and much of that is because you come here to read, to comment, to share and to suggest other stories and ideas. It’s an amazing experience in and of itself, so thank you.

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