This letter went out to several lists on January 10, 2014. I’m publishing it here (a) in case there are still three or four people on the Internet who have not seen it yet, and (b) to provide a linkable version and an archive.
Friends, Colleagues, People of the Internet,
F2C: Freedom to Connect won’t happen in 2014.
Why? Short answer: if I can’t say, “This will be excellent!”
then I don’t want to do it.
I produced F2C in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and
2013. Each of these conferences featured great speakers and
timely ideas to further the Internet, democracy and humanity.
Looking back, there were stand-out speeches by Aaron Swartz,
Glenn Greenwald, Yochai Benkler, Vint Cerf, Susan Crawford,
Terry Huval, James Salter, Donna Edwards, Eben Moglen, Larry
Lessig and many others. After each annual edition of F2C I
was not only proud of producing the event, I was also glad I
went to it.
But despite my efforts, most of the right people —
Washington DC’s movers and shakers — were not there. I took
F2C’s mission seriously, to bring underrepresented Internet
issues into the Washington DC policy discussion.
Dissappointly, very few FCC, NTIA or Congressional staffers,
and even fewer appointed and elected officials, appeared.
Invited VIPs usually came, spoke, split. The actual F2C
attendees turned out to be the same underrepresented people I
wanted the DC policy establishment to hear. As Professor
Moglen observed in 2012, “I see it’s ‘us’ here.”
As we’re seeing today (the Snowden documents are but one
example), you can make information available by the petabyte,
you can distill it until the conclusions are obvious, but it
takes decades and billions, not data-driven analysis, to
deflect Washington DC’s policy machine. Our democracy is
under attack. Life on Earth is in peril. F2C wouldn’t make a
damn bit of difference in Washington DC right now.
Another factor: many of my A-List speakers weren’t available
this year. Heart-breakingly, Aaron Swartz couldn’t be there.
Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jake Applebaum and Edward
Snowden wouldn’t come. Jeremy Hammond, Kim Dotcom and
Svartholm “Anakata” Warg can’t. Others, giants like Yochai
Benkler and Bruce Schneier, are too busy doing time-critical,
essential work to let F2C interrupt their schedule. The
“A-list” for F2C 2014 was looking thin — see “excellent”
I briefly explored passing the F2C torch to the people most
likely to build the future of the Internet, a younger cadre
of coders, hackers, makers and doers. Quickly I realized that
this community is not my community, and it is perfectly
capable of doing its own amazingly awesome conferences.
Also, there are many, many, many, many compelling convenings
around F2C’s issues. For on-line rights, the Chaos
Communications Conference (#30C3) last month was amazing;
make sure to watch the videos! Do not miss RightsCon in March
in San Francisco, or Personal Democracy Forum in June in NYC;
I am going to both. Keep an eye out for Computers, Freedom
and Privacy and the National Conference on Media Reform; both
are excellent. For more official telecom policy events,
there’s “State of the Net” in January and TPRC in September.
For municipal networking, Scott DeGarmo’s Broadband
Communities Conferences are superb. NATOA also provides
essential municipal network leadership events. For
understanding tech ecosystems, nothing beats an O’Reilly
conference (and there are many). For hands-on action there’s
MozillaFest, the various Maker Faires and thousands of Bar
Camps. Finally, SXSW in March in Austin TX is in a class by
itself. With all these great events (and many more of their
calibre), F2C’s unique value in 2014 was not obvious to me.
The sponsors of F2C — the Media Democracy Fund, the Open
Technology Institute, Google, Thoughtworks, ISOC, Ting, The
Sunlight Foundation and probably others — were all willing
to support F2C in 2014. I am humbled by their material vote
of confidence in F2C. I am sorry I won’t be able to use their
generous support. I hope they’ll be receptive if/when I sense
that the time for F2C has come again.
The Internet provides an unprecedented platform, if we can
keep it. Those who treat it as a communications network are
missing its point. Its four decades have been an embodiment
of human freedom, even as it has enabled the surveillance
state. Despite the depredations of the greedy and powerful,
despite their attacks on our humanity — or maybe even
because of them — the Internet’s essence remains worthy of
our all; I will continue to give mine.
Tomorrow, January 11, is the first anniversary of Aaron
Swartz’s death. My blog, at http://isen.com/blog has been
silent for almost a year. Tomorrow it will resume.
Thank you for your continued interest in F2C: Freedom to
Connect. For now, see you on line!