LAS VEGAS — Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is ready for the Internet to “grow up.”
It needs to happen, he told the crowd at AT&T’s Developer Summit, if we’re going to harness the power of the web and find creative solutions to today’s problems.
But there are three limitations holding the Internet back from that goal, says the star of films such as Inception and Snowden. The problems the 35-year-old actor identified are three pillars of the online world — “the crowd,” “free culture,” and “socialization.”
“I love the internet,” he said. “We all do. Obviously, the internet has been an incredibly positive thing for the world in so many ways, but I do think there are some things about today’s online culture that limit our abilities to come together and be creative.”
For each limitation, Gordon-Levitt proposed a solution or perhaps an evolution. Instead of crowds, he said, we need communities. Rather than a free culture, the Internet should prioritize fair compensation. And instead of just socializing, we need to be collaborating.
Rather than faceless crowds, he envisions an Internet full of intentional communities. That’s the philosophy of HitRECord, Gordon-Levitt’s online, user-generated production company. HitRECord encourages creatives from all over the world to collaborate on art and media projects.
It’s often referred to as crowdsourced production, but the term makes Gordon-Levitt cringe. It speaks to one of his core problems with the Internet — it diminishes the value of the individual. He prefers the term “community-sourced.”
Gordon-Levitt’s entrepreneurial endeavors were the subject of his AT&T Developer Summit talk but HitRECord isn’t the reason he’s famous. The 35-year-old actor is best known for his leading roles in 10 Things I Hate About You, 500 Days of Summer, Inception, and most recently, Snowden.
Gordon-Levitt acted throughout his childhood, taking a break to attend college. When he tried to get back into Hollywood, he struggled to land roles. That’s when he got the idea for HitRECord, a production company that would allow creatives to make art on their own terms.
HitRECord helps with distribution so artists can get compensated for their work. That speaks to another of Gordon-Levitt’s proposed solutions to the Internet’s limitations.
“I also firmly believe the basic principle, if someone does some work, creates some kind of intellectual property and then that intellectual property is able to generate any kind of revenue, then that creator deserves some of that money,” he said.
The expectation that everything consumed online should come free has crippled the music and journalism industries. This, Gordon-Levitt says, is just the beginning.
“This damage won’t stop with the music and journalism industries,” he said. “As more and more industries become more and more based on digital information, as they inevitably will, those industries will be just as damaged by this notion that intellectual property is supposed to be free.”
Instead, he proposes an Internet that values “fair compensation.” He once again used his company as an example. Any profits generated from a piece are split among the contributors. “We still have not been sued,” he joked.
But Gordon-Levitt didn’t offer up any specifics on how this kind of model could scale across the broader web.
He did offer more specific suggestions for implementing his third solution: Collaborating over socializing. Rather than collecting likes on social media, Gordon-Levitt wants to see the millions of online connections that happen each day used more productively.
He proposed offering up creative challenges, like HitRECord does, so people can contribute their unique skills to projects. He believes this kind of collaboration could address a number of problems facing the world today.
“If people all around the world can come together and do more than just connect, if we can actually collaborate to create things that we couldn’t have made without each other, when I picture that future I start to feel optimistic about where we’re headed,” he said. “And not just because of the capabilities of technology, but because of what technology can make us capable of as human beings.”
AT&T typically brings in big-time talent for its Summit, with actor Kevin Spacey addressing the developers and partners last year. (See story: Kevin Spacey on the changing dynamics of Hollywood, and why the movie industry won’t fall into the same trap as the music business)
This year’s two-day conference and hackathon will conclude with a performance by rock band Blink-182 at the Palms Casino.