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Do You Code-Switch? Yet Another Reason to Go Some Rights Reserved


People who study race, gender, and anthropology sometimes talk about “code-switching“: the way a person who straddles different cultures (poor and rich, minority and majority, north and south) learns to toggle between the lingo and mannerisms of each to survive, or in some cases, thrive.

One of the several “ah ha!” moments of Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s amazing keynote at the American Association of Law Libraries conference was Siva’s celebration of the fact that us “information warriors” (his term, borrowed from the Pentagon) — librarians, teachers, lawyers, programmers, musicians, filmmakers, preachers, propagandists, bloggers — are learning to code-switch across our respective disciplines as never before. And that it’s precisely this vocational Spanglish that will help us build, one day, a coherent information policy.

That insight alone was enough to make Siva’s talk more than worthwhile. But better still was Siva’s implication that each audience member had to ask ourselves how we should code-switch in our everyday info lives. Which instantly made me think of the tricorne hat all Creative Commoners don when they publish their work with our copyright licenses: lawyer-, human-, and machine-readable . . . code.


I wish I could take credit for Creative Commons’ built-in code-switching. But like most things it was Lessig‘s idea. Which makes me wonder: Just how many meanings will the title of his first book turn out to have?

My humble little epiphany is probably obvious to most of you. Which is just that much cooler, isn’t it? That’s hope right there.

(Here’s some related reading, from the days when, I now realize, I first began to code-switch. However awkwardly.)

UPDATE: I just spoke to an anthropologist friend who feared that I’d mistakenly thought that “code” in the phrases human-, lawyer-, and machine-readable “code” meant the same thing as it does in the context of regular old code-switching. Yikes; I didn’t mean that. I meant it as a metaphor, based on a verbal coincidence, and I guess I didn’t explain it well. My point, if I had one, was that in the very act of marking a work with the three layers of literal code, a Commoner encourages the more figurative kind of code-switching between lawyers, coders, and artists. Anyway . . . this horse is now well-flogged.

Posted 15 July 2004