My growing research interest is in the family life of the knowledge class, the class that makes its living from the control of knowledge. Google is a central knowledge class tool. Google, the company, is also a model of knowledge class culture. It has found a way to make money – gigantic vaults of money – out of distributing other people's knowledge. Google was recently rated the best place to work in America. It is the current epitome of nerd culture.
Google bought YouTube, and with it bought a copyright suit for all the TV shows that its many users upload and download without paying the producers of the TV shows. Shows like Viacom's "The Daily Show" – which led Viacom to file the biggest copyright suit ever. According to Clive Thompson's interesting article in New York magazine, Viacom and Google will probably settle for a pile of money, after rattling intellectual sabers about copyright freedom.
The interesting part of the conflict for me is the core Google idea that all information should be available to anyone – they just sort it. Yet my first reaction tells me that I fall in the middle between corporate culture and knowledge class culture. It seems obvious to me that if Viacom pays a bundle to make TV shows, then millions of people see the show without paying Viacom or even watching its advertiser's ads, then Viacom will not have enough money to make new shows in the future. This is an argument I had with Napster-using students before the courts drove a stake through the old piratey Napster's heart.
In the end, these two corporations will settle it the good corporate way: with money. In the larger cultural struggle between the knowledge class and the corporate class, though, I think the rising knowledge class needs to develop a more sophisticated theory of knowledge production. The Google/Napster/teen pirate theory is all about consumption: the corporations have already made the knowledge, and already made their profit from it, so now it belongs to the people, man. An exclusive focus on consumption, without any thought to production, is a perennial failing of the soft-headed left. Now, though, the knowledge class is in a real position of power, and therefore of responsibility. The distributors of knowledge have to be concerned about how knowledge will be produced tomorrow. This concern is both high-minded and self-interested, driven by both the love of truth and their interest in having something to distribute tomorrow.
I don't have the answer yet, but it helps to have the right question: what should the knowledge class theory of knowledge production be?