The Null Device

The New Swedish Century?

The Independent had an article this week on how Stockholm has become a centre of web technologies and social software, from the likes of Skype and Spotify to more ethically ambiguous ones like The Pirate Bay, and why this is the case:
Rick Falkvinge is the leader of Sweden's most plugged-in political group, The Pirate Party. "In the rest of Europe," he says, "the internet roll-out was done by telecommunications companies, who had an incentive to delay it for as long as possible because it shattered their existing business model. When you put disruptive technology into everyone's hands, it changes public perceptions of what you can, and should, do with it."
Technology must be in the Swedish genes; in 1900, Stockholm had more telephones than London or Berlin. When Crown Princess Victoria announced her engagement last week, she did so via a video on the royal website. The weekend's biggest film opening was an adaptation of novelist Stieg Larsson's thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The heroine of the title is a young computer hacker with a flexible attitude to the law.
Sweden has long been held up as a model of social democracy. So is there something in the mindset that predisposes the Swedes to the provision of free, communal culture online? "There's a law [Allemansratten] that I think is unique to Sweden, about common spaces," says Andersson. "You can go out camping in nature anywhere in Sweden without asking the landowner's permission. That sort of attitude predominates here."
Which is not entirely true; England has the ancient "right to roam", which is still valid everywhere that's not owned by Madonna. However, Britain has more of the Anglocapitalist model of culture, predicated on intellectual property licensing and marketing, than the collectivist, Jante-compliant variety in Scandinavia. Were three Londoners to start a BitTorrent tracker in the UK, they'd be extradited to the United States (whose intellectual property, after all, it is) faster than you could say "Gary McKinnon".

On a tangent, here is an article from Spin magazine last year (sadly, presented only as JavaScript-viewable image maps, and not copiable, which is probably why you haven't seen it blogged much) about how Sweden became a musical powerhouse. It does have a lot to do with government investment, both in terms of teaching musicianship in schools and encouraging children to develop musically and in subsidising overseas tours by Swedish bands. And they're now setting their attention on "beating the Americans to China".

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