Question 23 of 365: Is asking for permission still important?

Question 23 of 365: Is asking for permission still important?

Is it still important to ask for permission when people tell you exactly how they want you to use their work?

Is it still important when your identity is entirely public?

Is it still important when your everyday life can just as easily be a topic at the water cooler as major world events?

Is it still important when the sincerest form of flattery is the embed code?

Asking for permission used to be something that was a common occurrence when you wanted to borrow ideas or resources from one another. It used to be standard operating procedure when you wanted to contact someone that you didn’t know; you had to ask someone who had their contact info to be introduced. In another time, stumbling into the limelight wasn’t a possibility for anyone with a video camera. In that sense, you used to have to ask permission of the distribution systems (public access TV, independent films, etc.) to become infamous for your content.

No longer is any of this the case. Asking for permission has gone way out of style. It is more important to disseminate information, remix work, make contact, and market yourself than it is to take the time to ask for permission. Permission itself is an outmoded construct. Permission implies a singular ownership. Permission requires one person to know things that others cannot without it. Permission is hierarchical. It is anti-flat world. It is against the commons. It is a falsehood in a world where you can “follow” anyone or where life streams aren’t questioned as being too invasive.

Or perhaps, it is all just an implied permission. Perhaps we are to the point where we are just giving each other permission for everything, where we find it is easier to share our work than it is to hide it. Perhaps permission has dissolved into the vast ocean of free content that exists. Perhaps the only people who are still fighting for permission are the ones who are trying to hold on to the remnants of intellectual property that have been usurped by other, more open outfits.

On the other hand, I hope I am not making the case for everything to be in the public domain. I am not communistic in my view of our lack of permission asking. Rather, I believe in attribution. I believe in purchase. I believe in obeying the wishes of content creators. But, I also believe that a society that does not ask for permission is one that forges a trust that should be sacrosanct. If we all understand what it means to build something together and to reach for better ways of learning, creating or working then we can collectively pull everyone out of poverty. We can collectively attain transparency. We can work together to be productive, profitable, and passionate.

If we don’t ask for permission, we must act in everyone’s interest.

We must be a plural society if we are to be this connected. I do not believe that this is too idealistic when we are no longer separated by 6 degrees of separation. When we literally can connect with anyone in the planet by 1 degree, everyone is our neighbor. And, most of the time, you don’t even have to ask your neighbors for help when you are in trouble. Help just comes.


  1. I've been playing with an idea for a little over a week and I want to test drive it here. Is this making us good? What I mean to say is are we better for our transparency, for our connectedness?
    I know my personal answer is yes. Understanding the access to me that living online creates has certainly caused me to make choices that were perhaps more in keeping with restraint or social norms than I would had I been living my life in the privacy of my own life. I think that's the question after the question about the importance of asking permission. If asking for permission isn't important anymore, is implied permission making us better?

    You say, “If we don't ask for permission, we must act in everyone's interest.” I would certainly like for that to be the case. I wonder if it is. I'm a die-hard optimist, and I can admit the evidence of self interest over community interest is densely evident.

    Then I look to the system of purchase and attribution and creators' wishes and wonder if we weren't more conscientious when we were doing more of that. When I didn't feel entitled to the ideas of others, was I more respectful of them? Did I treat them more gingerly? Was I more deliberate in what I built with those ideas because I'd needed to perform the ritual to gain access to those ideas?

    You know I'm about as far into the thick of open access as I can be. Still, I wonder if asking for permission doesn't make us more good.

  2. Your argument almost takes a moral stance on asking for permission.

    I still have some affinity for asking for permission because that is how I
    have grown up. Not asking for permission wasn't really an option. You had to
    ask, because someone else had all of the marbles.

    Your evaluation of whether or not it is making us less good to develop a
    culture without asking for permission is an important question to ask. I
    just don't know that I can answer it while we are still in the adolescence
    of the practice itself. I thought that the Laurence Lessig presentation from
    TedxNYed was really on this point (…). The part
    that resonated with me most was in developing a shared language to talk
    about remixing and ownership, a language that is mostly different than the
    one that we have now.

    I don't think that we need to ask for permission and hold on to that just
    because we feel like we are losing something if we don't. I think we need to
    develop a new language that both asks for permission and implies that it
    exists. I think that once we have that language, the uneasiness about it not
    making us “better” may go away.

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