Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thinking it all over

Half-way through the summer of thinking it all over, I sort of like the idea of suspending judgment. I just float ideas around, talk with folks about them, Google this, Google that, see what's already out there on different subjects, sort of try them on, and then just let them go. A couple of things are emerging as guideposts: "stay away from copyright" and "slow down."

Going back for a third degree is really quite a different proposition than going back for a second, and certainly totally different from going for the first. I have got to be doing this for the process, not for the product. It's not a step in any direction or a prerequisite for anything. It is simply and completely what it is itself -- pure experience. It is just life happening, one day after the other. I suppose I'll go from being someone who gets a Ph.D. in record time to someone who has to be booted out the door after years of tinkering.

The urgency of the copyright issues, the urgency that comes from 20 years of dealing with it all and being quite sure about myself and my views and knowing what needs to be done, where the work will be most productive, is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I really wanted this experience to be about. The trouble is that copyright isn't just tangential to the world of libraries and information in the digital environment -- it's right there in the middle of things. So, it's not easy to avoid it. But it needn't be the focus of what I do. And that's what it was about to become.

But, because I have so much experience with it, and the players, and the theories, and the politics, and the absurdities, all that baggage comes along with exploring even a relatively new facet of copyright (new for me). I really need to just leave the subject at the door and wander around in the world if ideas that don't have copyright at the center.

That takes care of one major parameter. The other is the slowing down. I felt in a hurry because of the time sensitivity of the arguments I was developing. I'm just going to tend towards topics that aren't urgent. In a way, just by publishing here, on my blog, the ideas about how things might be more difficult when the next copyright term extension act gets proposed (because of the explosion of the free over the next 10 years), well the ideas are already out there. I have done what I wanted to do. I could spend 3 months or 6 months or 24 months expanding, polishing, refining, but in the end, the core ideas are going to be the same, and they are already out there for anyone to see and for anyone to build upon. From what everyone says, after all that polishing, refining and expanding, I'd have something so minutely pointed that only 6 people in the whole world would read it, and 4 of them would be on my committee (the others being my mother (not) and me), and already, I am pretty sure more than 6 people have read it. So I am moving on.

Ah, I can see that the idea of that polishing until it's so esoteric that no one is interested, that idea is going to give me problems. I just find that absurd. If that really is what one has to do to prove oneself worthy of the title, scholar, I am not and don't want to be a scholar. I am so much more interested in writing in such a way about subjects, so as to appeal to as broad an audience as possible -- people who really do care and would be interested but won't be able to get past the long and boring scholarly crap. The idea of purposely incorporating verbiage that makes it hard for people to understand what you are trying to say seems so sad and wasteful. I don't think I'll want to spend very precious days of my life producing something that won't help anyone do anything. Life's shortness becomes more and more a focused part of the picture as you approach its end. And that fact, life's shortness, colors just about everything I do these days.

It is much simpler when all you want is a piece of paper and a job somewhere. There is no way that I could have predicted it would be more complicated to not need or want the standard outcome of an educational experience, but just the educational experience itself.

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