For the first time in my life, I am a full-time writer. Effective today, I’m no longer an employee — effective today, I’m a full-time, freelance word-maker. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was 12 years old, and now it’s a reality. Whew. Scary.
It’s an amazing feeling.
It was a hard decision to make. For the past four years, I’ve been in the employ of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has repeatedly kept the online world safe for you and me — that has preserved our fundamental liberties in the new digital world. Whether it’s fighting warrantless wiretaps, the criminalization of hundreds of millions of file-sharers, or greedy encroachments on the public domain, EFF is there, winning substantial and critical victories.
Working for EFF has been an education. Watching the sausage of law get ground up and stuffed into its casings is something that changes you — changes the way you think about the world and its secret workings.
So the hardest part of this decision wasn’t the worry about financial insecurity: it was the difficulty of saying goodbye to the most meaningful, rewarding and challenging job I’ve ever had. It was saying goodbye to the best, smartest, most committed and most effective activists I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, in a lifetime of activism.
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make a binary decision. I’m delighted to announce that EFF has named me a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an honor I share with attorney James Tyre. As a Fellow, I’m still within the scope of EFF’s attorney-client confidentiality and hence able to contribute on active cases.
EFF has a problem: we work on issues before anyone knows that they matter. In 2002, we were at the inaugural meeting on the Broadcast Flag, and we spent the next two years explaining to everyone we could find what this stuff was and why it mattered. We published on the risks of Trusted Computing before anyone had a clue that this isn’t just a security technology: it’s a system for gutting competition in the market and user choice and privacy by subjecting computers to control by remote parties. We’re at the Broadcast Treaty meetings at the UN, trying to get the big IT companies to understand that if its provisions come to pass, they’ll need permission from the entertainment companies to launch new services like Google Video and new devices like the Video iPod. We’ve been sounding the alarm over the Analog Hole, over paperless electronic voting machines, over DRM, since the earliest days.
EFF are canaries in the coal-mine, the first responders of cyberspace, building coalitions and briefing lawmakers, users and companies on the risks coming down the pipe. This is a critical job: if the resistance to these issues only mobilized once their risks had percolated out to the wide world, it would be too late. You need to start work on these issues as they are born, not when they are about to mature.
But the problem is that this makes EFF into an organization whose core issues are hard to explain to the mass audience, or even to the mass audience of geeks (witness the number of online posts that mangle our issues). Everyone wants to describe the Broadcast Flag as a system for stopping you from recording video, but that’s just not true, and if you go around saying it, lawmakers will think you’re full of it. The Broadcast Flag’s danger is much deeper and subtler: it puts the features of electronics and computers under the veto of entertainment companies, who intend to use this veto to block any features that disrupt their business models. That’s a lot scarier — but it’s also more abstract and wordier. Saying that the issue isn’t recording, but freedom to build better recorders is true, and it’s also hard to make understood.
I’ve been privileged to participate in a years-long effort on the part of EFF to make these issues more accessible without sacrificing accuracy. It’s working. Our membership rolls have swollen, our staff has too. Geeks and civilians around the world have opened their wallets and have contributed signatures, code, and advocacy. You can, too: donations to EFF are tax-deductible, and there are many other ways to contribute — see here
So what am I going to be doing now that I don’t have a day-job? Well for starters, I’m going to be getting a full night’s sleep every night. I’m going to stop travelling three weeks a month. I’m going to join the gym and get the hundred and a half household chores I’ve neglected while working three full-time jobs for the past two years done. I’m going to get a checkup and have my teeth x-rayed. All that overdue stuff I’ve put off and put off and put off.
Most importantly, though: I’m going to write. More blog posts, and longer ones. I have three novellas in the pipe. I’m tripling the pace of work on Themepunks, my fourth novel, and plan to have it in the can by early spring. I’m going to do a fix-up novel with Charlie Stross, completing our “Huw” stories (Jury Service and Appeals Court) and publishing them between covers. My podcast is going thrice weekly. I’ve got articles in production for a bunch of magazines and websites.
I’m not giving up on travel altogether. I’m still going to be speaking at various companies and conventions and seminars on technology, authorship and copyright, but a lot less of that. I’ll be spending most of April in Australia, New Zealand and Japan at various speaking gigs and conventions like ConJure, the national Aussie SF con in Brisbane; I’m a guest of honor at Boskone in Boston in February; I’ll be at the LIFT conference in Geneva in January and a Red Hat con in Nashville in June. But for all that, I’m going to be spending approximately 1000 percent more time sitting in one place, concentrating on one task. I can’t wait.
I’m also going to be working on numerous civil liberties causes. I’m proud to serve on the Boards of Directors for two great charities, the Participatory Culture Foundation, creators of the indie Internet TV platform DTV and the MetaBrainz Foundation, which oversees development of the MusicBrainz system for distributing free, rich metadata about music.
There’s also some big plans for a long, nonfiction DRM-book/research project lurking around here. With any luck I’ll be able to announce more about that in late January or early February.
This is the most exciting day of my life — the day I quit my day-job. Thanks to everyone who made this possible, all the readers and bloggers and friends and editors and agents. I’ll do my best not to screw it up!