I grew up on the cusp of the digital age. My foray into the vast world of computers included reading DOS for Dummies and everything. I was a user of the old school BBS boards and by the time the internets rolled around and the possibilities stretched out endless before us, people of my generation jumped in like it’s going out of style. We banged our heads against the early search engines, gleefully sent each other any semi-interesting sites, found (or founded) online communities and started blogs. Slowly sites figured out new revenue generating models and formerly paid sites like encyclopedias and major newspapers went free. The digital content exploded and information sharing came into its own. Except for it really didn’t.
Living in Canada I am often exceedingly frustrated at how much online content is not available here simply because of some arbitrary geographic restriction and outdated modes of thinking on parts of both the content providers and our very own governmental regulations. From TV shows to music files to the latest Olympic coverage I am often confronted by the screen-of-death error message that tells me I’m in the wrong part of the world to be able to watch whatever it is I was looking for. And that just pisses me off to no end. Take the latest Olympic coverage – last night I missed some event or another because I have a life occasionally and can’t be glued to the TV all day, so I optimistically thought I’d catch it online. Except for that didn’t work. Cause you see the International Olympics Committee has some sort of asshat restrictions on who is allowed rights to broadcast online in each country, so if I’m not mistaken it’s NBC in the states and CTV here. Except for CTV’s video page has all sorts of asinine clips available like someone’s workout routine and lame interviews and such, but not very many videos of the actual events where those athletes do whatever it is they do to merit an interview. I mean does anyone really go on their site to watch them light the cauldron or the opening essay, both of which are prominently featured on their sparsely populated video page? I sure don’t. I go to see actual coverage of actual events both past and present except for the content is not there. I’m sure NBC’s site has what I’m looking for (US sites in general seem to be much more on the ball about digital content), but due to asshat Canadian restrictions they can’t stream them here. See the pattern?
So in this supposedly free digital age of endless information there are oh so very many instances where people around the world are excluded from the conversation and participation by their very own governments and third party agencies that should not be allowed to have any say in who watches what when and where. It smacks of paternalism and results in mass frustration and leads users to either find the content illegally or fume silently. Perhaps once upon a time this may have made sense as many shows aired in the US much earlier than other countries and restricting online content until after the show aired was only prudent, but in this day and age of the modern media environment it seems like a throwback to the ridiculous protectionist policies that permeated earlier decades. The Olympic events already happened after all.
In my frustration I know I’m barely scratching the surface of the battle for digital freedom. Google’s skirmish with China shone a bit of a spotlight on the issue, and right now the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is being negotiated between the US, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan cloaked in secret negotiations and shady repercussions ranging from border searches to ISP providing information about suspected copyright infringers without a warrant. If you want to read some real scary discourse check out these posts by Michael Geist – the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce Law at the U of Ottawa, and this brief by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Perhaps it’s just my small-government (yeah I know, I live in the wrong country) and free market sensibilities but the fact that these policies are hammered out behind closed doors and seem to cater to corporations irk me if not outright scare me. The fact that anyone feels like they have the right to dictate when and where I can watch or listen to digital content strikes me as absurd. And the fact that CTV can’t get their site to join the 21 century is just pathetic. I know that despite all the rhetoric we don’t live in anything approaching personal freedom but it sucks to be disillusioned this badly about the digital frontier.