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The Future Begins Thru You

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Every now and then comes something that is a perfect expression of what the Internet is about.

The latest, if you haven't already heard, comes via Kutiman, an Israeli Web impresario who mashed and mixed video clips of amateur YouTube musicians to create a near-flawless overture to the Twittering masses.

ThruYOU, his resulting record (if you can call it that), has taken the Web by storm, garnering more than a million YouTube views in the seven days since its release.

That's impressive when you consider its humble beginnings. Kutiman sent an e-mail about the project to just 20 friends. They told their friends about it and ThruYOU took on a life of its own, spreading like a netroots brushfire via Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and blogs.

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But the ThruYOU sensation is more than a momentary blip on social media's radar.

After seeing ThruYOU yesterday, Larry Lessig, the author of "Remix," the bible of the free-culture generation, wrote: "Watch this, and you'll understand everything and more than what I try to explain in my book."

Jon Newton of P2P.net added that ThruYOU is "absolutely, 100% guaranteed to inspire artists around the world to produce art which has never been seen before, and never could have been seen without the Internet."

All Bets Are Off

Kutiman, who also goes by the name Ophir Kutiel, has captured the Zeitgeist of the moment -- a time when our rapidly evolving Internet culture is toppling old regimes and handing over control of popular information to people like you, me, Kutiman and his YouTube orchestra.

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What ThruYOU tells us is that all bets are off. The DNA of our media system has mutated so completely that it's only a matter of time before our society changes as well.

In fact, that change is already happening.

In politics, economics, arts and culture, an era of privileged access is giving way to something that's much more decentralized, participatory and personal.

We no longer passively consume media, we actively participate in it. This often means creating content, in whatever form and from whatever sources -- what author Jonathan Zittrain calls "generativity."

We no longer limit our political involvement to television ads and the polling booth. This means organizing via Facebook, "Googling" candidates to learn more, joining text-messaging lists and creating Twitter hash tags to stay ahead of our issues.

No More 'Mass Media'

This development cuts across our social landscape, enhancing core democratic values, and empowering more people (although not all).

Like the many singers and musicians that make ThruYOU a work of tremendous grace, it prioritizes alternative voices over mainstream pap.

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It's Sir Tim Berners-Lee's end-to-end principle in action.

Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web with the understanding that the freedom to connect to anyone, anywhere was the Internet's First Amendment. This openness, known to many as Net Neutrality, leaves ultimate control over your online experience with you, the user.

Taming the Dinosaurs

Users of the Internet may take Net Neutrality for granted. But this could change if the dinosaurs of old media (namely, phone, cable, recording and film companies) are successful in taming new media that threaten their twentieth-century fiefdoms.

They've talked about filtering content for perceived violations of copyright and have been caught blocking access to popular Web applications that put control over video more firmly in users' hands. They have deployed their lobbyists, lawyers and PR flacks to paint Net Neutrality as cumbersome regulation that will destroy their plans to enhance your Web experience -- as if they knew what that was.

Congress will have the opportunity this year to stop old media's latest plans to remake our Internet in their image. Net Neutrality has the support of several key members, the White House and the incoming FCC leadership; it's only a matter of time before legislation makes it to the floor.

These are hopeful signs for Kutiman and the next genius who seizes upon the Internet to take us all to a new level.