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Everything is a Remix

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There’s a classic South Park episode (titled “Simpsons Already Did It”) in which Butters tries to come up with an original plan, only to find that everything he tries has already been done by the Simpsons at some point. At the end of the episode, he has to come to terms with the fact that everything has been done by someone at some point, so there’s no use in trying to be 100% original.

So goes the message of Everything is a Remix, one of the most interesting, thought-provoking videos I’ve seen in a long time. The video not only makes the assertion that every new thing is just a “remix” of not-so-new ideas, but provides example after example to prove this. The automobile, the lightbulb, and the printing press, among other things, are all shown to be, basically, remixes of ideas that already exist.

In fact, it’s enough to put into question the very idea of “invention”, something I’ve wondered about in the past: can you really say that anything is “invented”, coming into existence like a child out of the womb, when each new idea simply builds on the foundation that came before it? It’s a problem I ran into in the past when trying to find out what the first video game ever was. Examples of what might be considered the “first video game” date back to 1942, but do those even count? It’s hard to say, since the concept of a video game didn’t exist until later. It didn’t come into existence all at once – it evolved over time.

And I think “evolved” is a better word for how new things arise than “remixed”, though I understand why the latter was chosen. I suppose not every remix is an evolution; it’s just the ones that are that get famous. But in any case, the fact that copying is such a vital part of innovation has some pretty interesting implications for copyright law. I have to wonder how long the current state of copyright law will last, in an era when copying is often as simple as Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V.

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