Category: Networks

Accentuating positive media

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It’s nice to highlight a positive role for media. Here a virtual choir was created through Youtube demonstrating how communications technology can bring people together and amplify empathy. In a world that is often shown to be about divisiveness and hatred, people still find and connect with each other. It’s important to highlight these positive aspects of media so that we can move towards constructive social change.

And if this isn’t feel-good enough, here’s a bonus video:

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New RSA Animate: The Power of Networks

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More good stuff from our favorite mind candy factory, RSA Animates. This one features Manuel Lima (senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing) discussing the evolving paradigm of networks in everyday life. It’s interesting how he explores knowledge metaphors and their important influence on shaping how we organize everything from business to science. How could this apply to media literacy education? In particular I think educators are still stuck in the paradigm of 19th Century hierarchical order, viewing “the media” as an external force at the top dominating everything else. Power–and hegemony for that matter–is more defuse, and so too is people power. Media educators could focus more on how media texts are nodes within networks of meaning, rather than just being self-contained units of atomized information. I find the traditional media literacy approach has an implicit bias that views the mind as a programmable calculator. Alternatively–as the network metaphor alludes to–the mind is really part of an extended network that is not limited to a self-contained brain inside a skull.

The day the Internet told me I’m uncool

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This is how uncool I am: until I read about Klout at, I had no idea what it was. In case you are an Internet loser like me, Klout is a service with a proprietary algorithm that scores how much of a net “influencer” you are (its tagline: “Klout is the Standard for Influence”). Upon my first try, I scored a measly 16, which classified me as a “dabbler.” A 50+ score is for the super savvy, whereas 20 is the average for most users. But when I “liked” one of their partners, WWF, I jumped to 45, making me a “networker.” With such a drastic increase with one Facebook like, I find their scoring methods suspect.

Ultimately I don’t really give a damn about my rank, but at first I have to admit that my initial score left me feeling like one of those kids in the park that no one will play with. Then I got a quick high from my score boost, fulfilling my inner desire to be liked and connected (these are part of the psychological motives that Sherry Turkle writes about in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other). Now that I have been confirmed as an insider (albeit by some kind of software glitch–I’m more likely still a 16), I have to ponder the meaning of this status.

Is it too simplistic for me to say this is just another popularity contest in which the jocks and cheerleaders prevail? Or is it revenge of the geeks? Is this wisdom of the crowds? Or just a measure of the mobs?

The first thing that makes me suspicious of this entire phenomenon is how it defines its particular ecosystem of cool. The only way to generate a score is to connect Klout to predetermined social networks that it dubs worthy. They mostly happen to be corporate platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, LastFM, etc.). There is no way to link my Klout score with my personal blog or presence within independent media communities. Nor does it measure my role within my own communities of practice. It also doesn’t gage my capacity for cultural citizenship. It merely measures how much of these activities have been filtered through the balkanized Web. In this sense, it may just reinforce the branding of social relationships and lead to a kind of digital fascism.

All media systems can be gamed. Klout just allows you to do it for dominant social media platforms. This is both good and bad. If you are a band, writer, activist, musician, etc. it’s good to have a tool that gives feedback for the kind of reach you have. As the graph above indicates, it has a matrix that defines different levels of participation, which allows one to make an action plan for attention.

It’s really hard to get a sense of how quality is measured, however. In fact, it really only shows us quantity. It appears that the algorithm rewards gratuitous and excessive networkers, even those who like to tweet when they are taking a crap. In the end, this just may very well be a refined engine for networked hubris.

How clean is the data cloud?


An excellent report and article detailing the dirty secrets of the cloud.

As I report in my forthcoming book:

What the BP case shows is that media decolonization requires decoupling our media from the carbon economy. For those of us who use computers and networks, this will mean a transitional period, since currently our consumption of electronics and energy use are increasingly large sources of C02 emissions. In fact, computer networks now produce more carbon emissions than the airlines industry. A Google server farm will use as much electricity as a city of 250,000 people, so efforts by companies like Google to transition to renewable energy is absolutely necessary. But with the exponential growth of the information economy, we may be drowning in data anyway. For example, some communications scholars argue that data clouds, bloated software, redundant archiving, and media rich data centers are pushing the overall planetary impact of physical data storage to unsustainable levels (“The Internet Begins with Coal” titles one report about network power consumption). They suggest that it will become increasingly necessary to ration data, meaning that people should be sharing copies of media rather than having to access them from multiple clouds. Unfortunately, the current push toward cloud computing by dominant corporate providers Balkanizes the net into data fiefdoms, leading to less compatibility and sharing.

As long as we perpetuate the current fossil fuel regime, the belief that unlimited data is harmless to the biosphere will remain intrinsically bound to the creed that information is weightless and immaterial. This situation, the researchers argue, parallels our treatment of the oceans, which are being pushed to the brink of ecological collapse because people have assumed their capacity for producing food and absorbing pollution is limitless. Not only is linking computer and network usage directly to their impact on the environment a crucial step toward green cultural citizenship, it’s a radical challenge to a status quo predicated on tightly restricted intellectual property. Proprietary control of data is the ultimate tragedy of the commons. Ultimately, only a culture based on a cultural commons that values sharing resources would ensure that the next wave of computing doesn’t result in black clouds in our atmosphere.

Here’s a GreenPeace link to take action.

This is an urgent action item. Stop ACTA now!

If you don’t know about ACTA, learn more here.

Is the Internet killing the planet?

Such is the provocative title of the following info graphic. While I think it provides food for thought, I feel like a stronger argument can be made about the troubling connection between net usage and Co2, in particular as a driver of climate change’s “mindprint” (as an instrument of globalization and consumption). The flipside is that the Internet can undo the greenwashing of media in the same way that Occupy Wall St. has forced a new debate about the economy.

UPDATE: Here’s rundown of current Internet energy usage: Internet Sucks Up 2% of Global Energy, Study Estimates


Earth Day Infographic

Infographic via: Wordstream

Against the machine: Thoughts on Curtis’ machine trilogy

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 1): “Love and Power”

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 2): “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 3): “The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey”

I just finished watching Adam Curtis‘ epic polemic against the danger and abuse of machine metaphors in our society, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” (all three episodes are posted above). I’ve been a fan of his quirky documentaries: “Century of the Self” and “The Power of Nightmares” are a grave attacks against the cult of marketing and mass manipulation. This current effort is more complex and nuanced. He documents the folly of different groups extrapolating computer metaphors in order to explain nature and human society. He shows the tremendous irresponsibility of Western powers who have used ecological “holism” to justify imperial ambitions, and fears that environmental movements and social media advocates run the risk of similar metaphor abuse.

Curtis attacks the idea of holism as anti-individual. I don’t think it’s fair, but because it has often been misplaced, to him any invocation of a holistic view of humans is anathema. I find the critique a little too harsh and generalized, although I appreciate some of his attacks. In particular I like his polemic against biology based on theories of the selfish gene. Curtis correctly points out it is a machine metaphor applied to cell biology. There also is a blistering attack against using computer networks to drive the global economy, which again is justified. Finally, he does a good job of showing that these ideas are often subservient to neocolonial ambitions. Fair enough.

It’s hard to tell what exactly what Curtis wants to do with this project. It seems like he is defending Enlightenment principles of the individual against emerging cultural views of interconnectivity. Curtis offers a choice of one against the other, as opposed to trying to find a balance between the two. Moreover, he critiques quite heavily the liberal project of democracy in Africa without acknowledging its roots in Enlightenment concepts of the individual.

Curtis criticizes ecological models based on systems theory as a false solution for global ecology. In response he seems to argue for political and social change–conscious human interventions to solve problems–but then criticizes the revolutions that arose in Eastern Europe because they self-organized with the aid of computers. He argues that those revolutions failed, and in fact have created situations far worse than before. There is some nostalgia, I believe, for good old fashion ideology.

Curtis’ contrarian perspective comes at an interesting time. The Arab awakening, global climate chaos and crashing economies seem to be outgrowths and responses to the Enlightenment project. Are computer networks the engine of change? Or is it that networks have been abused by old thinking and misapplied metaphors? The past colonizes the present. And designs the future.

Curtis casts a wide net, associating Ayn Rand with computer network technology, neoliberal economics, ecology, biology and colonialism. Are these interconnections real? By his own logic, is such a grand conspiracy the result of the kind systems thinking he rails against? I believe much of what Curtis offers is necessary and good for discussion. It certainly slaughters a lot of sacred cows, even though the approach is one of scorched earth. It would be interesting to see Curtis debate Yochai Benkler, who takes an opposite view of networks.

Aesthetically I like the style of his films: the odd mix of kooky ephemeral films juxtaposed to eclectic and often unusual choices in music make his rants a fun romp. One thing is for sure, these documentaries are far from boring.

Some thoughts about the Twitter revolution debate


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The following are notes from a presentation I recently gave during a panel discussion entitled, “Twittering the Revolution: Causes and Prospects of the North African Upheaval” at John Cabot University. These thoughts are largely sketches to fit into a ten-minute frame.

The problem is that everything I have to say comes from the media: media have become very self-referential and often reports on themselves. The important point is that what I say comes from inside a very complex media ecology that combines twitter, Facebook, blogs, Al Jazeera, hybrid print media, live blogs and email. As an indication, most of what follows came from following various discussions via Twitter.

Competing narratives:

1) Digital Utopians with implicit ethnocentrism that it’s West’s technological tools that enabled revolution and a hint of technological determinism, i.e. Tim Conner (writing in incomplete sentences like ad copy):

“Facebook and Twitter are great apps for inciting a riot to start a revolution. We need the next app. The app that lets the People gather together to quickly establish government of the people, by the people, for the people. The app that prevents extremists from taking advantage of a power vacuum. The app that enables quick restoration of the rule of law. And allows folks to quickly get back to work.”

In response David Smith writes:

“If the digital punters out there are to be believed, it is the power of some corporates in California that is setting the Arab world free. It is the venture capitalists, the CEOs, the boardroom visionaries of Palo Alto that are to be thanked for the groundswell we are seeing in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. According to the social-media posse, we must bow our heads and give praise to Mr Mark Zuckerberg and Mr Jack Dorsey for sponsoring the Middle-East revolution.

Yup, Twitter and Facebook. They have both been pronounced as the cornerstones that one builds a revolution on. Got a regime you need to overthrow? Hashtag it, bag it, and throw it on the scrapheap, job done.”

Then there’s the tempered but optimistic view:

Jeff Jarvis (author of What Would Google Do?): “Today, it occurs to me that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be the Gutenberg press of the Middle East, tools like his that enable people to speak, share, and gather. Without those tools, could revolutions occur? Of course, curmudgeons, they could. Without people and their passion, could revolutions occur? Of course not, curmudgeons. But why are these revolutions occurring now? No, curmudgeons, we’ll never be able to answer that question.”

On the other hand, from those who were there:

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, calls it Revolution 2.0 and likens it to Wikipedia where you have no clear structure or leaders and it is done collectively.

2) Digital dystopians and the “debunking cycle” (Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom) who argue a) revolutions happened without Twitter and Facebook, so we can’t attribute social networks as causes (Gladwell: “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”); b) clicktivism is false sense of empowerment with weak ties, and is without deep organizing that builds strong ties; c) social networks are also tools of repression that help authorities crackdown and find who the rebells are (as was the case in Iran).

Reinforcing this view:

* Remember how quickly Wikleaks was shut down by corporations on the Internet.

* Facebook deactivated an Egypt group because it used pseudonyms. Gawker’s Adrian Chen argued that Facebook was timid and cowardly by not actively helping Egyptians protestors.

3) The Third Way. This sees the situation as a “media ecology” that has all these elements. Missing is the role of Al Jazeera, which has spurned a pan-Arab neo-nationalism, and its English version which has inspired those in the West to solidarity. You can’t argue “what if” because it is impossible to speculate what would happen without the current media ecology. For example, Jay Rosen’s “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” polemic argues, “factors are not causes.”

I’m interested in the reversal of roles of the traditional media model. For us in Europe and the US, Africa is normally the “periphery” and we depend on our own technicians and experts to report back to us. During these events, we became the periphery. News was “crowd sourced”— Al Jazeera depended upon people on the ground with cell phones and Twitter. Live news blogging, like the Guardian UK mixed its reporting with sources from all over the world. Twitter was an amazing way to track what was happening on the ground. Al Jazeera does not exist in isolation of social media. It is a hybrid.

Israel and the neocons could not control the narrative on the ground. This is the biggest change. 85% of Americans said they sympathized with Egyptian revolution. Now there is increased transparency, and those who did biz with dictators are being discredited. Artists like Boyance, Usher and 50 Cent who performed for the Gaddafi clan were called out and embarrassed by their actions. You can be sure people will think twice about enabling dictators.

There is a far more heightened morality in the global public sphere.

Other thoughts:

* Can you believe this slight against US media from the US State Dept.? This is a pole shift. Sec. State Hillary Clinton: “Like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact, viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it is real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news that is not providing information to us, let alone foreigners.”

* Did American media fail because of its celebrity/parachute journalism, so we have the spectacle of Anderson Cooper’s attack or the unfortunate assault on Lara Logan?

* Was Wikileaks the catalyst that the started the whole process? Impossible to answer, but it seemed to have had the effect of the Emperor’s New Clothes fable.

Again, there is too much complexity for simple answers. Fear factor broken. The field of action changed.

“Weapons of mass mobilization”: Social networks and revolution

Al-Jazeer’s Empire on social networks and revolution. Features some excellent talking heads.

Meanwhile, NYU’s Jay Rosen has been a bit of a lightening rod in the debate between the so-called digital Utopians and the pessimists. He rounds up the debates on his blog here. I recommend following him on twitter.

What do I think? Any media that enters into a communication or language community will disturb it. By disturbance I mean an ecological disturbance as in when a new element enters into an ecosystem it becomes a new ecosystem. The fact is, the Internet is part of the system, so we can’t even speculate what the situation would be without it. Obviously it is a mix of both. But I like the point from Mark Poster (thanks Peter!) that the Internet is not a hammer, but a social space. Of course people make revolutions. But empathy is contagious and we can’t be empathetic with that which we do not know. Something is in the air, and certainly media are generating the wind.

Mapping 24 hours in the Twitterverse: A planetary visualization

A Day in the Life of Twitter from Chris McDowall on Vimeo.

Very interesting visualization of Tweets during a 24-hour period. It gives a good sense of the technological divide, but also there’s something wondrous about it. I find it thrilling that my own input is part of the image.

Also, on the video page there’s this nice little intro from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which seems eerily contemporary:

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange,

every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen.

Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white.

Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation.

Your map is about to go nova.

Cool it down. Up your scale.

Each pixel a million megabytes.

At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks

in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks

ringing the old core of Atlanta…

The (anti-)Social Network: My two bytes


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The Social Network or How Heroic Rich White Guys and Their Asian Groupies Colonized Youth Culture…

OK, snarkiness aside, I think The Social Network is a very well-made film. David Fincher is a top notch director, and Aaron Sorkin, if you can get past his machine gun style of dialog and plot devices, are quintessential storytellers of our age, churning ironic cool, short-attention span aesthetics and multilevel storytelling into high art (at least of the technical variety). The Social Network is very much a hybrid of television, film and Internet cultural sensibilities, the kind celebrated by Steven Johnson in Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter.

But beyond the slick and entertaining aspects of the film, various subtexts reinforce myths about the Internet and capitalism that end up being a feel-good story for our system at a time when it is in profound crisis. Ultimately it serves as yet another propaganda device for the reality bubble of the global knowledge economy and its exploitation of youth culture. Unlike Fincher’s Fight Club, this film is a very pro-capitalist, lacking the P2P ethos and grassroots character of the Internet’s popularity, which mostly thrives in the absence of commerce.

(Soon to be changed through enclosure, however, no thanks in part to this kind of propaganda. In fact, you may want to check out Tim Wu’s The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, and his excellent WSJ editorial about media monopolies: “In the Grip of the New Monopolists: Do away with Google? Break up Facebook? We can’t imagine life without them—and that’s the problem.”)

First, there is the genre trope of the loan genius–Zuckerberg and his freewheeling alter-ego Sean Parker (founder of Napster and brilliantly played by Justin Timberlake)– who, despite the film’s title, are depicted as anti-social jerks in search of blow jobs, fame and big bucks. There’s little cultural context in terms of the financing behind Internet start-ups, nor does it explain the popularity of social networks beyond being a tool to get laid. Though the film accurately points out that cool can’t be marketed, it fails to explain why a 26 year-old can be worth $25 billion. Really, this needs to enter into the film, somehow.

An uncritical view into how an astronomically valued company that makes little money can only feed into the larger ideology that enables banks and the government to print worthless money while we as a people are reduced to pawns of finance and capital. The film never asks what it is that is being monetized by the Facebook economy, a very significant and important ethical question. At this point–not that anyone cares–Foucault is rolling in his grave. I don’t know if he could have imagined such wholesale voluntarism to surveillance and privacy mining. (Disclaimer: I have a Facebook account, so I’m guilty as charged.)

There is a snippet and comment about how Napster took down the record industry, which passes with little debate. Was it a bit of code that did it? What about people’s pre-existing social habits, or the dinosaur-like behavior of traditional media companies? And there is the famous scene from the movie in which Zuckerberg refuses to give his attention to a stuffy establishment lawyer, which reinforces the rebel-without-a-cause image of Internet entrepreneurs and capitalism’s need to constantly reinvent itself all-the-while keeping the basic system of monetary control intact.

The film’s ultimate subtext is that social network entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. Think about it. Instead of playing in a garage band, you and your friends band together to code a tool that will eventually get signed by the arbitrators of the new culture industry in Silicon Valley. Even the way Facebook spread was like a touring band–it expanded its base by encircling and entering into markets one campus at a time (in particular those schools that are at the core of the information economy). Rather than it be traditional record companies, here it is the buttoned down venture capitalists who thrive on personality cults to drive their new wares and the stock market as its engine of commerce. That it is driven by a sex crazed youth culture makes it that much juicier. As Sorkin said, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling…. What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?”

I admit I didn’t know much about Zuckerberg’s story before seeing the film, so upon checking out his Wikipedia page, I was surprised by the following quote: “For me and my colleagues, the most important thing is that we create an open information flow for people. Having media corporations owned by conglomerates is just not an attractive idea to me.” And, “The thing I really care about is the mission, making the world open.” The Wikipedia page paints Zuckerberg as a hacker. If this is really the case (it seems to be at least partially true), then this would have been a far more interesting subtext than the rock star one used in the film. Granted, there are hints of Zuckerberg’s hacker ethos, but no sense of history that puts hacking at the center of the story of the Internet’s growth, as opposed to venture capital. Either way, at the end of the day, the history of culture and capitalism is portrayed once again as something done by smart, rich white guys accompanied by their Asian groupies.

FYI, there is a great soundtrack from Trent Rezner, who, true to his DIY roots, offers several of the songs for free on his Website.

Filter bubbles: less global media in globalized media world

Media activists and forward thinker Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of Global Voices, raps on “imaginary cosmopolitanism,” “wisdom of the flock,” and “human curators.” He shows that despite the global nature of networks, most of us still remain within cultural bubbles and there remains little crossover between users of different cultural environments. The solution? We need more DJing.

World Cup and the anthropological object at play

Two different visions for the World Cup

Living in Italy it’s hard to ignore the World Cup. Everyday at the local market people want to know my opinion about the England-USA match-up on June 6. That’s fine by me. I’ve got the bug too.

What I find fascinating is how a single ball can so inspire the collective imagination, which is brilliantly captured in the above Nike ad (the first embedded video). Taking a page from Lost, the ad flashes sideways into alternate realities based on the results of the play. Aesthetically the ad captures the global zeitgeist of the World Cup’s fever dream.

Speaking of balls…

Using the soccer ball as a point of discussion, a section of Piere Levy’s Becoming Virtual explores the “anthropological object,” which highlights the possibility for using the World Cup’s gameplay as a visualization for a larger project: global ecology.

Building on French philosopher Michel Serres‘ work on “quasi-objects,” Levy draws on the image of a soccer match to concretize how collective intelligence can emerge around the movement of an “anthropological object,” the otherwise unspectacular soccer ball. There are different levels of engagement: the stadium and its spectators, who cannot directly act on the ball, but most certainly can charge the energetic field of the gamespace (as the general debate about the vuvuzelas testifies). On the field, there are the players, of course, who directly engage the ball. Then there are those of us with our nervous systems extending into the gamespace via the cameras that capture the action and transmit it through cyberspace, satellite and broadcast.

With the scene set we can see that though the ball is itself an artifact in its own right, once it goes into play it becomes a point of relations, propelling collective intelligence into action. No single player can pick up the ball and puncture it or run away with it. The ball becomes a tool for which we can think with and respond to in relation to other people. In play it is collectively conceived, a fulcrum for a billion people to relate to and with each other.

Now, imagine if that kind of collective action revolved around the most important ball of all: Earth.

Certainly the commercial, creative and civic energies that go into the World Cup are not currently directed towards our blue ball in space. Yet, as Levy wholeheartedly wants to do with this particular thought exercise, we can humanize/eco-ize the virtuality experiment that we as a global society are engaged in. He suggests that cyberspace can be such an object to think with, one that offers the pedagogical potential for engaging us in building intelligent communities. Obviously at this current moment the BPs of the world are firmly entrenched in the political, military and financial matrix of global power, but they are not poised for the necessary intelligent response to what the ecosphere, and humanity, is calling for. The Greenpeace ad (the second embedded video) is a step in this direction.

Of course, unlike a soccer ball, we don’t need to kick Earth around any more. In Levy’s words:

“Technology virtualizes action and organic functions. Yet the tool, the artifact, are not merely efficient things. Technological objects are passed from hand to hand, body to body, like a baton in a relay. They create shared uses, become vectors of knowledge, messengers of collective memory, catalysts of cooperation.” (p.165)

Education wants to be free

The Mitochondrial Vertigo blog is one of the few places I’ve found that is focusing attention on the scary takedown of In case you missed out, was a grassroots file sharing site for academics (formal and informal), so blokes like myself could post PDFs of important chapters for our students to read (and to share with others) without going through the hassle of copyright clearance, which is increasingly a huge DRM finger up the arse. Not surprisingly, it’s megatextbook publisher McMillian/McGraw-Hill–the Monsanto of academics–who took a page from the music industry to shut down this Temporary Autonomous Zone of exchange. Ironically, every bit of technology and science that enables Macmillan/McGraw-Hill to be a scholastic monopoly was probably developed in open learning environments. No doubt Macmillan/McGraw-Hill would like to run the educational Web like its own plantation, despite the free and open access labor at the foundation of its distribution platform.

(Hear Clay Shirky rhapsodize on the Internet’s “cognitive surplus,” the kind of thing that provided for free thinking folks like us.)

Anyhow, there is a larger drama at play, which is about the war of e-readers and who has the right to read what and under what conditions. As Mitochondrial Vertigo argues, we should pay attention to the battle between Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, both of which I find to be rather scary devices when it come to books and copyright. This is part of a bigger war over the future of the Net, which every concerned citizen should get caught up on by reading Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (you can download the book for free here).

Here’s a choice quote from Mitochondrial Vertigo:

“The minds of the future lie within the Kindle v iPad wars, the habits of our thinking, our cups of coffee, and our licking of the page turning. The nice thing about technology, it always does MORE, it lets not only the cat, but its fleas and its dreams out of the bag. As Macmillan attacks file sharing in order to secure as much leverage as it can in its battle with Kindle and Amazon, the frayed hem edge of our complexity is showing. We must also reflect upon the fact that ‘We demand more content, faster (cheaper)!’ is what is behind many of our complaints when file-sharing is restricted, a demand worth inspecting.”

On this last point (demanding more faster and cheaper), it may be the case we want all our information/entertainment to be free and that has depended on a trade-off to allow ad creep into the vestibules of our lives. The alternative, DRM, makes pimping my eyeballs the better deal. Selling out screenspace to advertising is most certainly a Faustian pact, and it’s naive to assume that everything should be free just because we want it to be that way. On the other hand, as an old school punk, I feel like a barter economy keeps our culture honest. I’m never going to make money on my books anyways. What’s important is performance–what Radiohead and other rock bands have finally figured out as they watched their corporate overlords sue fans to recoup discretionary cocaine funds.

The money thing will have to be worked out, one way or another. Meanwhile, as long as I can show up and teach, and at the end of the day go home to eat a fresh meal and sleep in a warm bed, I’m happy. But for that we need public education–another seemingly lost cause these days. Quite honestly, my own profession is collapsing like all others, and it’s hard for me to foresee who will pay for education when growing food will increasingly become a priority. As a brown thumb, I wonder if being an intellectual will be relevant in the future. I can only hope.

Empathic media

Call it TED meets Story of Stuff.

The above clip contradicts a bit my previous missive about the Net. Indeed, this clip represents all that is good about the Internet: it combines sharable oral communication with visual storytelling and the intellectual rigor of print. In this most excellent visualization of Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’s adds to its excellent series of Web-illustrated talks (follow this link to see other like-minded illustrated talks). Yummy.

Open vs. closed text


Steven Johnson does a good job of simplifying complex theory. Here he makes a nice connection between biological and text ecosystems: The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book:

“Ecologists talk about the ‘productivity’ of an ecosystem, which is a measure of how effectively the ecosystem converts the energy and nutrients coming into the system into biological growth. A productive ecosystem, like a rainforest, sustains more life per unit of energy than an unproductive ecosystem, like a desert. We need a comparable yardstick for information systems, a measure of a system’s ability to extract value from a given unit of information. Call it, in this example: textual productivity. By creating fluid networks of words, by creating those digital-age commonplaces, we increase the textual productivity of the system…. The overall increase in textual productivity may be the single most important fact about the Web’s growth over the past fifteen years.”

He then goes onto demonstrate how on the iPad you cannot copy or paste text, even from texts that are in the public domain!

“… we have two potential futures ahead of us, where digital text is concerned, or that the future is going to involve a battle between two contradictory impulses. We can try to put a protective layer of glass [over] the words, or we can embrace the idea that we are all better off when words are allowed to network with each other. What’s the point of going to all this trouble to build machines capable of displaying digital text if we can’t exploit the basic interactivity of that text? People don’t want to read on a screen just for the thrill of it; even with the iPad’s beautiful display, reading on paper is still a higher-resolution experience, and much easier on the eyes. Yes, the iPad makes it easier to carry around a dozen books and magazines, but that’s not the only promise of the technology. The promise also lies in doing things with the words, forging new links of association, remixing them. We have all the tools at our disposal to create commonplace books that would astound Locke and Jefferson. And yet we are, deliberately, trying to crawl back into the glass box.”

He concludes by stating that, “The reason the web works as wonderfully as it does is because the medium leads us, sometimes against our will, into common places, not glass boxes. It’s our job—as journalists, as educators, as publishers, as software developers, and maybe most importantly, as readers—to keep those connections alive.”

If you enjoyed reading about Johnson’s argument here, then you are seeing his point in action. In a closed system, it would be far more difficult to share his words, and we would be worse for it.

Searching for a (novel) climate solution

How’s this for media ecology: Ecosia is a green search engine that restores rain forests. Watch the above video to see how. According to them, if 1% of Internet users search on Ecosia, an area of rainforest the size of Switzerland will be saved every year. On the surface this seems like a preposterous solution (that is, pretend that something more drastic is not necessary). Yet, why not? I’ll give it a try.

For more background, read this.