Andy gets it. Why can’t more policymakers? In a comment response to his own blog post concerning proposed US legislation to fiat censorship of many read/write web and social networking websites in US schools and public libraries, Andy Carvin writes:

The big problem here is that they’re trying to ban an entire class of online tools – the very tools that are just beginning to make the Internet an exciting, educationally relevant place. We shouldn’t be blocking tools across the board – we should be restricting inappropriate uses of specific tools, and doing so at a local level, on a case-by-case basis. Imagine if we started restricting access to all CD-ROMs, DVDs, or VCRs because they could be used inappropriately. It’s the behavior that needs to be restricted and disciplined, not all forms of interactivity across the board.

Well said. People are killed in large numbers in car crashes, but we are not seeing an initiative from the “Suburban Caucus” to ban all automobile use– or even ban auto use by teenagers. Why? Because the problem is not inherent to the tool, it is about the way people are using these tools. The choices people are making when using these tools are often problematic, so we should focus our attention on CHOICES not just TOOLS.

And we should stop acting like legislation can save us!!!! It can’t! If we could be saved by legislation and our ills cured through new laws, do you think we’d have any problems anymore? Just look at the deluge of new bureaucratic rules that lawmakers make in statehouses every year?! Make anyone you want President of the United States, and he/she is not going to be able to “save the nation” through any type of legislative agenda. Does good leadership matter? Absolutely. Bad leaders making bad decisions lead to bad outcomes, the reverse is also true. But ultimately, the solutions to the problems we face must come from us, the body politic working together, rather than our elected officials pontificating and legislating from on high– often with very limited understanding of the complex phenomena which they are ardently striving to control.

Can any US legislative body ban all digital social networking in schools and public libraries and stop these technologies from not only becoming more robust and powerful, but also from being utilized by increasing numbers of people– students included? No, they can’t. Even authoritarian China cannot stop our web 2.0 enabled conversations and our voices. They can put people in prison, they can silence individual voices, but they can’t stop the dialog. Because we (collectively) are NOT going to stop talking, sharing, speaking out and acting.

What we are seeing played out here is the battle over creativity and the future of our society– exactly the type of struggle Virginia Postrel wrote about in “The Future And It’s Enemies” back in 1998. I know some of you may be tired of me mentioning that book and linking to it, but it provides an extremely accurate and helpful lens for looking at conflicts and disagreements like this one. And each one of us not only needs to PICK SIDES, because this is indeed a tectonic struggle, but also learn to articulate the reasons for our beliefs and contentions in a continuing effort to engage others in CONVERSATIONS about these topics. F2F conversations provide the most powerful mechanism for change in this struggle, aided and abetted closely by virtual dialogs in the blogosphere.

Thankfully there are voices of reason out there, and I count Andy Carvin as one of those voices. Let’s hope more people will listen to him instead of the yahoos fronting the “Suburban Caucus.”


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