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LIVE from the NYPL Blog

Moderator's Notes: A Few Thoughts on Remix Culture (LIVE from the NYPL)

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Steven Johnson will be moderating next week's LIVE from the NYPL event, "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy" — Thursday, February 26 at 7pm at the Celeste Bartos Forum at The New York Public Library

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The great thing about next Thursday's NYPL event on remix culture is the fact that the topic is at once incredibly timely, and yet at the same time it has deep historical roots. It's timely for the obvious reasons. We're going to be talking with the artist Shepard Fairey, whose work has explored the possibilities of remixing images and ideas, and pushed the boundaries of where exactly art is supposed to happen. I think many would agree that Shepard's Obama "Hope" image--which embodies so many of the values that we associate with the remix culture--became the defining image of 2008. And of course we're going to be talking with Larry Lessig as well, whose new book Remix is really the definitive study of both the legal and cultural issues at stake in this new paradigm. But I think the topic is timely in a broader sense as well -- not just that it's in the headlines and on the new non-fiction table at the bookstore. It's also timely because we seem to be at a turning point in the public discussion about the flow of ideas; that after years of emphasizing closed systems, proprietary data, and secrecy, there is a new sense that innovation and creativity and understanding are often undermined when we lock up ideas or artistic expression, when we put up walls and barricades instead of making new connections.

In a real sense, this faith in the power of open information networks -- where art and science are encouraged to mix and re-combine in all sorts of surprising ways -- is a core part of our intellectual roots as Americans. I've spent the last year or two tracing those roots in writing my latest book, The Invention of Air, which tells the story of the friendship between the British scientist and polymath Joseph Priestley, and Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson. What's so striking reading through all their correspondence is how committed they were to the open flow of information, and to the importance of allowing ideas and innovations to move across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. The Enlightenment happened in large part because the systems that we now use to police and regulate the flow of ideas simply hadn't been invented yet. I actually start the book with a quote from Jefferson that I first came across as an epigraph in another of Larry Lessig's books, The Future Of Ideas. It's a perfect introduction to the worldview that we'll be exploring next week:

"That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation." (source)

I look forward to mixing it up at the NYPL on Thursday!

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Are you sure the world is

Are you sure the world is ready for uncensored information/idea flow, how do you explain the terrorist, child porns, extremist ventilating their idea. Not all ideas are to be given wings to fly. What do you have to say to that? FemiStevens.

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