November 2008 Archives

My Famous Academic

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"Famous" is funny word in an academic context. Are you famous because your theories changed the views of entire field of study? Are you famous because your students all became highly influential in the field? Are you famous because you often cross the line into the territory of journalism and get asked by CNN or NPR to comment on social issues in your field, and therefore a lot of people outside your field now know your name and see you as an authority? If the last one is true, it seems like a good time to try to be a famous economist. Winning a Noble Prize probably helps here, too.

With all that in mind, I chose Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford and founder of the Center for Internet and Society, which is focused on law and public policy as it relates to emerging technology. He is the author of several books like Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Creativity (2004) (available h here for free from the author), Code v2, and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2006), and his most recent, Remix (2008). The most consistent theme that I am aware of in his work is his position that digital technology has made greater levels of creativity possible but our current copyright laws are a bit broken with regard to digital technology in a way that is profoundly bad for our culture. He played a key part in Creative Commons licensing as a development of an alternative to current copyright. And he has done many other important things that you can read about on his blog, which you can find here .

 He has authored more than 60 articles in law journals, and has published over 90 essays in places like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. He is also a regular columnist for Wired Magazine, which is probably the closest thing that one could find in the popular press that represents the kind of issues we look at in IST. My point with such a list is simply that his words and ideas are out there in both the academic and popular press.

In the current age of the Internet and multimedia, perhaps the current best measure of fame is YouTube and my very rough estimate is that there are around 90 videos featuring him, including this one from his recent visit to Penn State:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHBSNNYbyvg

So he's really out there with his ideas. He is well known for his ideas, and well known for his unique presentation style, where single words often appear in an impressive synchronization with his speaking. In my estimation, he has had a great impact on policy and culture and is fighting the good fight for the good of society and the democratization of the power of technology. I could live with that kind of "famous".

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