Want feedback: PDF movement talk

June 5, 2012 § 6 Comments

Next week am talking at Personal Democracy Forum in New York. My goal is to get people thinking about the big picture of the open internet movement: where product, policy and teaching the world to code connect. Also, I want people to start imagining the long game. I’m excited.

The talk is now at the point that I’d like some feedback, so I’ve posted my outline below. It’ll go through at least 2 – 3 more iterations as I make the slides and refine the narrative. Comments on notes like this always help a ton.

Movement Making:  What punk rock, Scouting and the Royal Society can teach us about  movement building. Plus: quick, practical thoughts on keeping the open ethos and technology of the web alive for the next 350 years.

[blank slide]

At 15, I found my first cause. A cause that sticks with me to this very day.

[mark as a teenage skinhead]

At the time, I called it punk rock. It was about creativity, experimentation, edginess, laughter, freedom, comradarie, surprises. It was magnetic, and it was fun

[add ‘creativity + freedom’ to the same slide]

Over time, two things truly stood out for me about this cause: creativity + freedom.

Ultimately, that’s what the punk DIY ethic is about: the idea that anyone should be able to do or make anything they can imagine without asking permission from others.

As I soaked happily in this creativity and freedom, I started to look for ways to bake this ethos into the world around me. This is when I first started paying attention to technology.

[slides of punk + tech]
[ad for a four track tascam recorder + punk concert]
[photocopier + maximum rock n roll cover]
[sony portapak + still from a protest video]
[2400 baud modem]

I suspect that this quest to bake creativity and freedom into the world — and to bend technology to this end — is something that almost everyone in this room has embarked upon in one way or another. It is at the core of our cause. It is essential.

[picture of a network + words ‘freedom + creativity]

This quest is more important today than it ever has been, because it ties back to the internet and what it becomes.

Creativity + freedom are core to the design of the internet and fused into the internet culture that we have built. But there are many people who do not share our love for creativity + freedom, who have a different vision of the internet. One based on prescription + control.

This matters to more than just the internet itself. The internet is now so central to all aspects of our lives, that, as goes the internet, goes humanity.

[text slide: as goes the internet, goes humanity]

The internet we end up with in 100 years will very much shape everything that is possible and everything that is. If you care about:

  • Privacy
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Commerce
  • Friendship
  • Love

… then you should care about how the internet turns out, because it will impact all these things.

With this in mind, I want to explore how we succeed at our quest, how we explain our vision of creativity and freedom, and how we bake it into society for a very long time.

[mark’s business cards w/ i ❤ open web on them]

These days, much of my time is spent thinking about how to explain this ethos of creativity + freedom to 100s of millions of people.

As you may have noticed, we haven’t cracked that yet. We’ve talked about an open web. We’ve talked about innovation, and openness, and choice. All of it seems so abstract and far away.

[picture of lego blocks]

The closest I’ve come is using the metaphor of lego. I open with a line like: The world (wide web) is made of lego. And I want to keep it that way. And then I use my 10 year old son Ethan to explain what I mean.

[picture of ethan holding a lego]

My pitch goes something like this:

[text on screen with ethan for most of this]

This is my son Ethan.
He loves to make things with lego.
He also loves the web, a lot.

[screencap of rebecca black / fridays]
[screencap of chad vader / fridays]
[back to ethan and lego]

Ethan’s world is a mashup.
It’s a mashup by design.
Tim Berners Lee wanted the web to work like lego.

[screencap of chad vader / fridays]
[screencap of chad vader, view source]
[back to ethan pic]

The web was designed the be like lego.
I want Ethan to know this.
And I want him to expect it.

[back to just the lego]

There are two critical things here:

[big text = explanation]

1. The explanation: we need a metaphor or a word for everyone everywhere to understand what’s good about the web. Lego has it’s downsides, especially the fact that it’s proprietary. But it does help people understand that the power of the web is that you can take it apart and put it back together, and that you can easily see how something is built. Lego helps people get this.

[big text = expectation]

2. The expectation: if we create the expectation that the world — and the web — are made of lego that all of us can understand and reconfigure, then it will be much more likely that this aspect of the web survives. If future politicians, architects, filmmakers and so on grow up in a digital world made of lego, that will shape they laws they write, the buildings they build and the movies they make. Consciously or not, they will be closer to the cause of creativity and freedom.

[text fades away, just the lego blocks now]

I think we’ll crack the explaining part. Even if lego is not quite right, it gives us all something to riff on.

I’m much more worried about how grow the expectation that the world and the web are made of lego. That we make this feeling mainstream, nearly universal.

[floppy disk picture?]

Eben Moglen recently said: ‘We made the web easy to read, but we did not make it easy to write.’ This is not literally true: it’s easy to write the web, to treat it as lego, to make an app. If you’re a programmer. The problem is that programming remains arcane and in accessible to most people.

Which leads me to the question: how do you take something arcane and inaccessible and make it mainstream?

[picture of a scouting jamboree]

At this juncture, I often point to the scouting movement. And I ask: what was the major social innovation of the scouting movement? One that has been wildly successful to the point that it is a major part of our lives?

[pic from wikipedia of civilian camping in ontario, or scout camping]

The answer: civilian camping.

105 years ago when scouting first began, camping was primarily the domain of land settlers, prospectors and the military. It was an arcane activity done primarily by professionals and the highly adventurous.

Baden Powell used this arcane technique and technology of camping as part of scouting’s efforts to connect urban young people to nature. The result: he helped bring camping into the mainstream of recreation, family life and the economy. And, in doing so, he also helped build the *expectation* that we would have parks, rivers and mountains that are protected for our enjoyment.

[add some stats on camping?]

Imagine if 105 years from now we could say the same for coding: that coding is something that huge numbers of people do for fun and self expression.

If we did that, we would certainly have made great progress towards building the *expectation* of lego-ness into the internet. And, in turn, we would have done a great deal for the cause of creativity + freedom.

[smiling kids in brasil w/ smartphones in hand]

I love the long game. It’s so important here. But let’s set the long game aside for a moment and talk about where we are right at this moment.

As I said earlier, the stakes with the internet today are very very high. The internet has become so central to all aspects of our lives, and quickly the lives of billions more people, that, as goes the internet, goes humanity.

[text slide: as goes the internet, goes humanity]

We are at a juncture where the design decisions we make in the next decades will influence:

  • Privacy
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Commerce
  • Friendship
  • Love

… likely for centuries to come. And many of these decisions are tied directly to our vision of the internet.

[mosaic view source vs. ipad app store human]

We are currently faced with two visions of where the internet should go.

The app store vision: where creativity, innovation and commerce happen on the terms of a handful of technology companies, and where privacy exists or doesn’t at their whim.

The view source vision: where the digital world is made and expanded using lego blocks we can all understand and use, and where privacy is a choice that all of use have at our fingertips.

[ipad disappears on the next slide, ‘creativity + freedom’ comes on screen]

It should be obvious to you which vision I support. The view source vision. The vision that is about creativity and freedom. This is the vision of the internet that I have. This is the vision of society that I have. My guess is that many of you share this vision.


The practical question: what do we need to do right now to ensure that our vision wins, to bake creativity and freedom into the internet and the world? Also, what time horizon should we focus on?

[text: 352 years]

The answer to the time horizon questions is simple: 352 years. But let me get back to that. The question of immediate tactics is harder, but I know we can crack it.

[b2g + meemo + soundcloud pic]

The first thing we need to do is run like hell to build creativity + freedom into to core of internet products that everyone uses every day.

When Moglen said: “We made the web easy to read, but we did not make it easy to write,” he went on to point out that Facebook, Apple and others have taken advantage of this, serving up creativity on their terms.

We need to make the raw lego blocks of the web just as easy to create with as Facebook or iMovie. And, importantly, we need to make them both more powerful and more fun.

[sopa girl pic]

The second thing we need to do is defend ourselves. On so many fronts, we are winning. The web is winning. Creativity + freedom are winning.

The predictable result: those who believe they have something to loose if creativity + freedom win have gone on the attack. They attack with SOPA and ACTA. With national firewalls. With arcane yet nasty copyright laws. With quite clear intent, these people want to break the internet. Or, at least, to ensure that our vision of the internet does not survive.

The punk rock kid in me says that policy and politics are a tactic of last resort, possibly futile. But the realist in me knows that we must stand up and fight where people propose to pass laws that will break the internet. And, I can say, Mozilla will stand up against such things even more strongly than it has in the past. We cannot and will not let people destory what we have all built together.

[pic of kids learning to code]

The third thing we need to do now help 100s of millions more people tap the full creativity + freedom, and to pull this into their every day lives.

As a tag line: I believe we need to make coding as mainstream as camping.

This is why I so often point to the scouting movement as an example: it is possible to transform the arcane and the professional into something that huge numbers of people want to learn and do. And, into something that connects people to something deeper.

Practically, this means making it easier and sexier to use code in every day creativity. In fashion. In filmmaking. In school. In journalism. In hip hop. Everywhere.

Which is not about making everyone a coder or engineer, but rather about bringing the power, the freedom and the creativity that coders and engineers experience in the digital world to everyone who has an idea, a dream, something to say.

[text: 352 years]

So those are some practical ideas for how we fuse creativity + freedom into our world:

  1. create internet products that work like lego
  2. defend the internet from people who want to break it
  3. build a generation of people who speak code as fluently as they speak words and numbers

But, what about that time horizon? As I said, I like to take the long view on things like this. Which is one of the reasons 352 feels like a good number.

[picture of the royal society mace]

A couple of months ago I was staring at this mace.

It’s the mace that Charles II gave to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge when they first set up shop 352 years ago.

I was at the Royal Society to talk about their recent report on computer science education in UK secondary schools. On top of our main conversation, I was struck by the idealism of the people I was meeting with.

These were people who believe deeply in the ideals of science, in the royal society motto of ‘take nobody’s word for it’, and who get up everyday to advance this cause.

[etching of early scientists running an experiment]

What’s amazing is that this is an organization that has stood for this ideal for over 350 years. And, they have been quite successful — along with many others — in spreading the idea we call science. And making it last. And they did so primarily by showing what we possible using the ethos and techniques they believed in.

A big part of the Royal Society’s early history was friends gathering to do experiments together and to observe the results. These were basically meetups for fringe philosophers, radicals. But with these meetups and eventually a cadre of thought leaders called fellows, the ideas spread.

[picture of the royal society building today]

The point here is not to give the royal society all the credit for the success of science. That would be silly. But rather I want to show how planting a few small seeds with friends can build institutions that can keep a cause alive for a very very long time. In this case, 352 years.

[an etching of a network diagram, or something that looks like this]

Which brings me to what I really want to begin — or, more correctly, I think we have already begun — to build today. I build product, and fight bad policy and light up a movement of people who will teach other to code.

But more than anything I want us to create an an ethos of creativity + freedom that people will still treasure and defend 352 years from this day. I think we can do that.

§ 6 Responses to Want feedback: PDF movement talk

  • Doug Belshaw says:

    Mark, I’ve seen you present bits of this in various contexts and it comes across really well. 🙂

    My only reservation is the (implied) setting up of Mozilla vs. iPad? I’d be at pains to show that, if there’s a spectrum, the iPad (and the lack of ‘view source’) is at one end and there’s lots of gradations.

  • […] Executive Director Mark Surman shares an outline draft of his talk at the Personal Democracy Forum on his blog. Open Web equals Punk Rock! Give him your feedback. (Commonspace) Share […]

  • Malcolm says:

    This is awesome. I’m not even sure where to start for feedback, but hang on, I’ll find something actionable.

    I really like the comparison with punk-rock. I think that will get a lot of laughs, and it’s also a really good point. There’s a tendency among teenagers to try and do things by themselves, and it makes a great analogy with how we’d like to see the web.

    Oh — Regarding everyone learning to code. I support this. Many people do. Some don’t. Note, particularly, Jeff Atwood’s post: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/05/please-dont-learn-to-code.html

    My thoughts on how to integrate this, especially with your camping analogy is that you can point out that there is still an important role for groundskeepers, park rangers, scout leaders, and others with a more strongly developed interest. These are the professional software developers. However, the goal of this project (as I understand it) is that people will gain an appreciate for the internet and for mashupability, much as they did a century ago for the outdoors. The lego-y web is our new frontier, and though not everybody will be pushing at its limits, all should feel comfortable exploring in it.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the finished version of this talk!

  • Taryn Fox says:

    This is awesome and inspiring.

    I find myself wondering just how big of a “thing” camping is as a hobby. But if it helped make things like national park systems, that’s definitely a way that it’s benefitted everyone and influenced the larger culture. Which seems like another thing to shoot for, even if not many people take up programming as a hobby or vocation.

  • […] Surman (@msurman), the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, shared a draft of his PDF talk prior to the conference. He offered his thoughts on “movement making,” connecting […]

  • […] Surman (@msurman), the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, shared a draft of his PDF talk prior to the conference. He offered his thoughts on “movement making,” connecting […]

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