Friday, April 25, 2008

Stallman's Ethical Non-treatise

I appreciate the “humanistic” ends of Richard Stallman’s GNU Project, but I think that the GNU Manifesto’s rhetoric is too moralizing and reads like a sophomoric expose on open source ethics. While I can empathize with Stallman’s enthusiasm and (less so) with his messianic urges, I wish he would run his manifesto through an open source program that removed statements like “…if programmers deserve to be rewarded for creating innovative programs, by the same token they deserve to be punished if they restrict the use of these programs” and “’Control over the use of one’s ideas’ really constitutes control over other people’s lives; and it is usually used to make their lives more difficult” (5,6). Why all the unfounded confidence about what is good and what is evil? Why all the normative claims (drawn out in an annoying question-and-answer format)? Not everyone is/should be a stout observer of an embarrassingly watered-down Stallman-Kant ethical paradigm. Why is Stallman calling forth on it to save his a**? There are ways of constructing more convincing arguments, especially for what seems like such a promising idea, without assuming the role of Answer God or making ethical judgments. But perhaps I have just assumed the role of a certain Debbie Downer at this late hour.

Anyway, take care, ya’ll.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

here, at the end of things

I have to say these last readings were pretty dull. As we have (among other things) been discussing all semester, the development of the internet is an incredible thing, particularly because of the way it allows collective action of one form or another. While I'm sure people like Stallman are brilliant in their respective fields, this stuff is dense with outdated jargon and palpable smugness (and why does that one guy keep talking about hacking?), which is annoying even when it's justified. I'll admit that I'm more or less completely ignorant when it comes to programming, so I may have missed the point completely, but all these just seem like examples of the globalizing force of the internet, viewed from the inside of the machine rather than the outside. Programs become obsolete and are replaced by new models, and so on--I believe the idea of software as text is wonderful, and I hope that the internet really will allow people to connect in a kind of cyberpunk fulfillment of the '60s hippie dream, but I don't see it happening just yet. These articles read like pictures of turning cogs--they will become part of the history of the movement, and remain important, but I don't see how they're enlightening or even particularly interesting to anyone except a mechanic.

Yes, anyway, it's been fun.

In Defense of GNU

While I think Richard Stallman is an ass, I do not think he's wrong. I think a number of people are misunderstanding what free software is about. Shane compares free software to free paint, though I would argue that this is a misinterpretation-- paint is both rival and exclusive while the ideas behind/surrounding a painting are not. (In fact, it's worth noting the differences between rival and exclusive goods:
* Non-rival/Exclusive - my consumption does not preclude yours, but you can be prevented from consuming by the producer. e.g. Concert
* Non-exclusive/Rival – cannot prevent you from consuming, but your consumption (in principle) precludes mine e.g. drinking water from a public lake
* Non-rival and non-exclusive: Cannot prevent access (for practical purposes) and consumption of one doesn’t preclude consumption by someone else. e.g. street lighting.)

It's actually interesting that Shane brought up art in the context of open source software because the open source 'ideals' have been brought to the art world where many artists argue for the ability to freely appropriate art to create more art. This GNU-like licensing model has inspired the Creative Commons movement (

Stallman's ideas are quite applicable to many products of our intelligence (not only software and art.) Unlike most people in the class, I think he is right. I open source most of the code that I write for my computer science classes (e.g.: , , as well as the art that I create (e.g.: , )

Stallman has some attitude

In The GNU Manifesto, Stallman writes that “extracting money from users of a program by restricting their use of it is destructive because the restrictions reduce the amount and the ways that the program can be used.” Here, Stallman has unhelpfully reworded the Law of Demand in sensational terms. Of course charging a price for something means that fewer people will use it, but this is how our economy functions. It seems that Stallman is unhappy having to pay for anything, and would prefer to live in a society where everyone works hard for everyone else without quantified incentives. Perhaps with software, it is particularly realistic to expect that we might actually move in this direction. If so, then the GNU Manifesto is really just a practical case of a much larger manifesto against capitalism in general.

The examples of free labor we have discussed so far seem largely to be fundamentally secondary activities. We may labor for YouTube by posting content to their website, but one could not pursue YouTube posting as a full-time job. It seems that producing free software must also remain secondary to the business of proprietary software. If the software industry were entirely open source, I would expect that there would be many fewer professional programmers. And if GNU is destined to remain secondary to proprietary programming, then I don’t see why Stallman must make the relationship between open source and proprietary software sound so antagonistic.

The GNU all seems a little self righteous and impractical. I understand Stallman's 'moral' qualms with charging people for things that can be used for the betterment of society, but to say that a programmer would be selfish to desire reward for his work is just absurd. The truth of the matter is that we live in a capitalist society and that means money and competition are everything. The amount of talented programmers there are right now is because of the fact that programming has become such a successful career. If you cut their paycheck then the amount of people desiring the job will diminish significantly. I think it would be great if advertising and donations could support the necessary staff to keep up with today's demands, I just don't think it is feasible. Another thing that must be considered is the fact that if people want free software it is easy enough to get it. Most softwares only require a serial number and those are not difficult to get a hand on. I agree that the system now is not great, the prices for most software are outrageous. However it is a cycle, the high prices force people to download softwares illegally. Through doing this though they also keep the prices high. So I am not sure what the perfect system is. It would be great if programming was paid through fame and recognition, and that the programmers could all be paid their fair share. In the end their job is extremely important for the world because they do in fact make many jobs way more productive through their softwares. They impact many markets and many lives, so they should be rewarded in some form. I just think Stallman has gone a little too 'free' in his idea, especially for the western world.

Free Beer is Free Beer is Free

I too think that GNU's shift to regarding open-source software as like free speech instead of free air or free beer is disingenuous. When source code becomes both available to read and legal to study, the costs of engineering an analogue — a closed, proprietary copy — drop dramatically. At the heart of the source are the algorithms, which are ideas more than code, and once these are read and distributed, other companies can use them as they see fit. This is one of the main reasons why "free as in free speech" often just ends up meaning free beer. There are hardly any companies which make their profits directly off open-source software; they usually give it away and sell support. Stallmann should get off his high horse.

terranova and social factory

i was interested in the idea of free labor and the social factory that terranova brings up in one of the readings. terranova describes the “social factory” as "a process whereby 'work processes have shifted from the factory to society, thereby setting in motion a truly complex machine.'" this social factory seems to just follow up and continue in the tradition of the way discipline implicates itself into society in Deleuze's postscript on societes of control, and additionally, to the way google turns work into play and play into work and how user-generated content (like on youtube) is produced in the guise of play.


Quite simply, the GNU project really has nothing to do with free speech. Free software and free speech or free air cannot be likened to each other. The claim that limiting the amount of people that can access software limits the ways that it can be used and therefore falls under the domain of free speech is completely ridiculous. Let’s compare this to the act of painting. I think all paint should be free. Charging money for paint limits the amount of people that can use it and therefore the ways in which it can be used. Therefore free paint is free speech. I think anyone can see why this is illogical. Someone may argue that this does not really get to the base of the issue. One could argue that once someone buys the paint he can distribute it however he wants and that this is the true problem with software. The way software can be distributed is limited, but software is different. Unlike bottles of paint, software can be copied. If someone buys paint and then distributes it out, this is not the same as distributing software. For software to be distributed an entire copy of the product must be made. This would be like replicating a bottle of paint (let’s pretend you have some sort of futuristic replicating ray gun) and giving that entire bottle of paint to your friend. Limiting the distribution of software is truly no different than the commodification of any other object that is bought and sold. Charging for software is perfectly reasonable. A group of individuals produces a product and sells it. Software is no different. I find it difficult to view software differently than any other product. Even comparing software to art does not suffice to convince me that it should be free and freely distributable. Sure some people do art for the love of it and do not make any money off of it, but this does not mean that all art should be free. Big time artists can and should sell their work to make money. If you love to do something, whether it is art or programming, the ability to support oneself comfortably doing that thing makes it all the better. If you are producing great art and people are willing to pay for it should you just give it away for free in the name of the love of art? To me this seems silly and the same exact concept can apply to programming. It essentially breaks down to supply and demand.  In addition, the programmer is certainly not the only one who is harmed if software is moved toward the GNU ideal. There is an entire industry surrounding software and its function. If something like GNU were to take over, this entire industry would be destroyed. Countless jobs would be lost. Programming is not the only aspect of software production. Software is a huge industry and attempting to make everything in this industry free is somewhat economically irresponsible. GNU would directly damage our capitalist economy. Truly GNU is repressed communism coming out. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be disguised under some democratic ideal of free speech.

The Internet is Serious Business

I was intrigued by the "cheerleader beating" video professor Chun mentioned in class on Wednesday. There are many connections to new and digital media in this one short example, and it reflects on the direction our culture is heading.

Apparently the whole fight was instigated by the victim "trash talking" the other girls – there were six – on myspace. This is a reflection of Danah Boyd’s article on networked publics; the victim was enabled to speak her mind in a public forum on myspace while remaining in the safety of her own room and her relative anonymity online. However, the result goes against my own hypothesis about how these networked publics work; I thought that next to no one really read all of the stuff posted on myspace, and as it turns out, people do. And the feeling of safety is merely an illusion; although trash talking to someone's face could result in an impromptu fight, trash talking online can give people the opportunity to form a group, conspire, and attack without warning.

After the trash talking, the six girls invited the victim to one of their homes with the explicit purpose of beating the crap out of her. More importantly, they videotaped it, planning to upload it to YouTube. In a time where absurdity and illegality will draw the most hits (good, old fashioned entertainment is so passé), they were enabled by new media to spread the word of, well, their brutality and inability to take comments made over the internet with a grain of salt to people all over the world.

But what is the causality here? Are we more violent, or promiscuous, or absurd, because of new media? Or is new media just providing us with an outlet for something that’s always been there? There’s something to be said for the fact that only something ridiculous or obscene will get noticed in the plethora of crap currently on the internet, so people do have incentive to go over the top to get noticed. However, it is just untrue to say that new media is creating the violence in these girls.

We saw this argument over video games not too many years ago (and it is still going on). Are video games making our kids more violent? In my opinion, absolutely not; we’re just giving kids an outlet to express that violence. And although that’s not necessarily a good thing, we can’t blame and shun the technology itself. It’s our deprived nature that causes us to utilize technology in these ways; the technology is just a scapegoat.

A few more points of note: Glenn Beck blames fame and fortune and our "reality culture" filled with role models that break the law. Ironically, he contributes to this drive for fame, no matter what the costs, by talking on the subject for ten minutes and by having a copy of the video playing for at least five of those minutes.

In the words of some 1337 Hax0rz: The internet is serious business.


The Gnu Manifesto seems preoccupied with the need to do this stuff legally, which is interesting and honorable and all that, but to the extent that programmers, when they “must choose between friendship and obeying the law … many decide that friendship is more important. But those who believe in law often do not feel at ease with either choice.” The extent of my experience with programming communities, as well as those that observe this “golden rule” aspect of the obligation to share, I am aware of a massively only-barely underground community of people committed to doing whatever it takes (breaking the law, etc.) to share. Software, music, movies, etc. This gets interesting, though, when these forums eventually become places in which presumably more advanced programmers exploit the system in order to distribute malicious viruses under the guise of the generous sharing of otherwise unobtainably expensive software. This seems to be a recoiling against the bandwagon effect of those outside the ring of programmers and hackers taking advantage of their efforts – reaping what others sow. Stallman seems to have no qualms with the surface level users benefiting from his efforts, but then again, he doesn’t have as much to lose by doing so – while operating within the realm of legality he doesn’t risk prison sentences and exorbitant fines. Those hackers and crackers of commercial software are in a much more dangerous position when they chose to share, and they do not feel willing to be in that position for the sake of people who do nothing in return. In a sense, in lieu of the law amongst networks of law-breaking users, free-market economy crops up in that, while not charging money, the master hackers provide the commodities, and expect other people’s efforts to allow them the use of other programs – in effect, an unofficial barter system. And viruses are the vigilante police system.

(Also, this notion of good system software becoming “free, just like air” enters the user into this technological realm, this virtual reality. System software is essential and organic to this alternate world, and noone can not breathe. But I don't know if I'm going anywhere with this.)


Improv Everywhere

In the concluding lecture, Professor Chun mentioned the phenomenon called flashmobs, a mob of people who apparently gather at random, taking over whatever place they picked. Before Professor Chun mentioned it, I had actually never heard that term but it reminded me of another group called Improv Everywhere which takes the idea of the flashmob to the next level by giving it a purpose. One of Improv Everywhere's latest escapades was to recruit people to go to Grand Central Station in New York and freeze. Now what did this accomplish? What Improv Everywhere says that they try to do is create scenes of chaos and joy in public places. But also, what is interesting is that they tend to record everything that they do, from creating giant human bullseye targets in a park in NYC to having a No Pants Subway Ride, to create a sense of community. They, like the flashmobs, are creating a community from virtual reality (their listservs) and bringing them into real life where by staging these "missions", they can connect the random people who otherwise may never have met each other. But even this connection is very ephemeral because it doesn't really seem to encourage long term friendship or contacts. It creates a shared sense of purpose, a few laughs together, maybe an exchange of names but no real permanent connection. Plus, there isn't even a forum of any sort on their website which would encourage a real connection or something so that one could link together, let's say, a username with a face. It is really a project, managed by a very few, with hundreds of volunteers who are willing to bring the project to fruition even without any credit. In return, those volunteers get the publicity of being recorded doing these "missions"; they are photographed, videotaped, and posted all over the internet along with the rest of the volunteers that happened to be "captured". Maybe in this internet culture, that is all that people ask for. For a chance to do something interesting and have it publicized. To be in the spotlight, even if it is with hundreds of other people. After all, who doesn't want to be a celebrity?

Putting the Work Back in Artwork

Terranova’s discussion of the desire for labor (particularly the detailed, involved labor of programming) as being immanent in the late capitalist digital economy led me to think about one area of the digital world that seems strangely averse to any labor whatsoever. I’ve become frustrated with the works of the artist collective MTAA, and with the “Synthetic Performances” of Eva and Franco Mattes. The act of recreating seminal performance artworks in Second Life, or of turning On Kawara’s “day paintings” into a cheap news source, seems intended to cheekily comment on the curious ways in which digital media give us instant gratification and devalue physical and mental effort. But, at the same time, these works ignore the constructive desire for work that new media engender. Perhaps MTAA’s “One-Year Performance Video” could be seen as a step in that direction, but the fact that the user’s “work” of recreating the one-year performance could be safely minimized and ignored suggests otherwise. Because these recreations are not only plainly derivative, but appropriated in such a way that the involved labor that gave the original work meaning is totally circumvented, they seem little more than pranks. If we also take Manovich’s “Generation Flash” artworks (which are more “cute” than “cutting edge”) into account, there seems little to be hopeful about.

Yesterday, though, I stopped in to hear artist Joseph DeLappe speak to Mark Tribe’s Digital Art class and found an antidote to the depressing weightlessness (if I may) of other digital art I had seen. In what appears to be a direct answer to the Mattes duo, DeLappe, for his Salt Satyagraha Online, created a Gandhi avatar in Second Life and reenacted Gandhi’s historic 240-mile march to the sea. Over 26 days, using a customized treadmill, DeLappe directed the avatar across more of Second Life than any one person has probably ever seen, picking up friends along the way and building the march into a community. In order to do this, DeLappe actually walked those 240 miles himself. Unlike many other digital artworks, the Salt Satyagraha Online isn’t dead on arrival from too much theorizing. DeLappe said he discovered the project’s purpose by doing it, becoming strangely connected to his avatar and enjoying the delayed gratification of experiencing Second Life (in all its strangeness) without flying to get anywhere. He put the “work” back into “artwork” for the online space. He also lost 6 pounds.

I don’t mean to be a Manovich and suggest that this is where digital art is going and everyone must follow Joe DeLappe’s example. But who knows? Something might come of it.

Open Source = Open To Everyone?

Do you use open source software?

How many average users do you know that have some level of programming skill? Given a few lines of source code, would your mother, your friend - even you know what to do with it? (CS concentrators need not reply.) Stallman writes:

"Complete system sources will be available to everyone. As a result, a user who needs changes in the system will always be free to make them himself, or hire any available programmer or company to make them for him. Users will no longer be at the mercy of one programmer or company which owns the sources and is in sole position to make changes."

Are users even likely to even have the desire to make any changes? Right now, the software giants of the world - Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, etc. - are creating programs that, at least seemingly, appear to provide all of the features & services that a user could ever need. But could this change anytime soon?

It's already apparent that more and more users are starting to get sick of software costs. More and more users resort to "software piracy," with cracks and keygens replacing CDs and receipts. The only way that open source software can gain more mainstream popularity is if:

a. Enough people know how to manipulate software so that support is decentralized. Stallman claims that " can hire any available person to fix your problem;" right now, this is simply not the case. In fact, this brings up a greater need:

b. Enough people gain computer proficiency, and knowledge about the open-source model. Right now, it's simply easier for the average consumer to trudge down to their local Wal-Mart, purchase a piece of software, and use it. It would take more widespread knowledge than now to recognize the flaws of commercial software, which brings me to the final point:

c. Open-Source Software must function at the same level as regular software. A great deal of open-source software seems to be in constant beta & bug testing, or their interfaces are unintuitive to regular users. Step-by-step tutorials, almost expected in today's software, often give wayside to internet forums - not exactly the friendliest place for "newbies."

There is hope. OpenOffice, a free source alternative to Microsoft Office, has been gaining popularity in the media. It's easy to use, maintains the same functionality as Office, and - most importantly to the average user - it's free. Check it out. Maybe in a few years, a user-friendly open-source operating system will gain widespread popularity. (Seriously, how many people can hear the word "Ubuntu" and keep a straight face?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

it's a wonderful internet.

The last few week's readings have brought me full circle in my attitudes towards new media. I started out this semester with an unquestioned admiration for new media. I believed all the hype about the freedom that the Internet and Web 2.0 would give to us all. Every one of us can share our thoughts with the world for free, we are all equal on the Web, it's an informational revolution, etc...

Throughout this course, we've been forced to investigate and tear apart every illusion that new media technologies put out. I've learned to see beyond the surface freedom of many new media objects to the control systems at work. I started picking up on the themes we discussed almost every time I turned on my computer. Although I still found new media objects to be cool, it wasn't magical anymore. I became a new media cynic.

My wide-eyed wonder at new media began returning with the unit on convergence. The example of Tribal Peace and other truly user-controlled archives brought back my old image of the Internet as a freedom-giving medium. Then came this last unit on Free and Open Source Software. The opportunities for collaboration and creativity on a completely new level reappeared. Biella Coleman writes, “This element of non-discrimination, coupled with the broad nature of FOSS's philosophical foundation, enables the easy adoption of FOSS technologies and facilitates its translatability” (Coleman 5). It seems like the FOSS model may be that device that allows for true new media freedom. Users of all backgrounds, skill sets, and motivations can come together to share their talents and ideas and create fantastic things that challenge and expand our very concept of media.

That, or they'll all just give up and stalk people on Facebook.


Thanks, Professor Chun, Erika, and Josh! It's been fun.

Peace out, MC23.

open sauce

I remember way back in the dot com boom a friend of ours brought home a bottle of 'open sauce' hot sauce from a convention; I didn't know what open source was at the time but supposedly this source from an open source recipe with a community working on it. Pretty cool, or hot, take your pick = )
But does open source hold up for material goods which have replication costs (as opposed to digital goods for which the constant reproduction and evolution costs only man-hours)? I read about a site recently which called itself an open source manufacturing site, in that designs for products would be created, refined, tested, and approved by a community; and the product would be produced by a central entity. From our readings however, it would seem that "open source" defines more than just an openness of the product for collaboration - a ream of clarifications apply like making sure all later incarnations of the product are also "open."
Stallman's talk of a future where everyone does what they love (in his example programming) freely and thus more productively begs the obvious question 'how do people who don't love programming participate in this utopia?' Stallman advocates deriving happiness from creativity over money; because as a programmer he has a way to express his creativity through his trade, but who expresses their creativity working an assembly line? Marx addressed this issue also, talking about a worker becoming alienated - Stallman felt alienated when forced to separate software and programmers proprietarily. Whether open source could solve alienation for material industries is another question

unrealistic of open source software

Open source software/free software are programs those licenses give users the freedom to run the program for any purpose, to study and modify the program, and to redistribute copies of either the original or modified program. GNU is a ideal form of open source software, Stallman has carefully explained all the possible problems and benefits this free software would bring. His manifesto is convincing but idealistic to me. His friendly argument of “many people will program with absolutely no monetary incentive. Programming has an irresistible fascination for some people, usually the people who are best at it, “is what people want to believe in but is not a social fact. Many programmers want to be rewarded for their contribution to the society. As Microsoft Windows owns a significant market share and Microsoft is one of proprietary software proponents, it is really hard to convince people to uninstall the proprietary software which provides security and service. The society nowadays is not ready for open source software to dominate, if so, then all the companies that generate profits through patent would all go bankrupt and people would all lose their jobs. Open source software only works in a world where “nobody will have to work very hard just to make a living. People will be free to devote themselves to activities that are fun, such as programming, after spending the necessary ten hours a eek on required tasks…”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


One thing which has got me thinking this week was the idea brought up by Terranova, which many others have alluded to, that “we are passing from a Cartesian model of thought based on the singular idea of cogito (I think) to a collective or plural cogitamus (we think).” This coupled with the idea of digital networks got me thinking about the political mindset of the country, and the way it seems we are having a larger divide between liberals and conservatives. It seems our country has moved to two great “we think” groups instead of the “I think.” This causes a large problem in the realm of politics when people stop thinking for themselves anymore, democracy devolves into a fight of a halved majority, which is in constant flux, and never allows a minority voice. The idea of the “we” always benefits the majority, and minority groups find it harder and harder to find an adequate voice. This can tie into what Srinivasan was saying about marginalized communities, and also our readings during the week on Networks and power, as one needs to surrender themselves to the system in order to attack it from the inside out. I also fear this “we think” model because of the social implications it can entail when we stop recognizing individuals and just acknowledge group mentality. It seems that people, much like high school politics, will fail to branch out and experience other people and much rather experience the faux-individuals in each of their groups, devolving to a teenage mode of social interaction. What could also result from this fractioning of groups instead of individuals is class warfare, minority vs. majority conflicts, or a heightened risk of violence. I feel we should fear this “utopian” we-think model because of the fractioning that would inevitably occur.


As Coar and Stallman and Raymond all acknowledge, freedom to use other people’s work and source code enables collaboration and thus quick and effective development of programs. Coar writes” Since our purpose is to make evolution easy, we require that modification be made easy.” This suggests a utilitarian edge to the Free Software/Open source that permeates the GNU manifesto and the Open Source definition—-collaboration is important because it helps people benefit from the evolution of these programs.
Its fascinating to me, though, that in FOSS what is dubbed “freedom of speech” is actually freedom to copy, and openly so. Raymond writes, “It is absolutely critical not that the coordinator be able to originate designs of exceptional brilliance, but that he recognize good design ideas from others.” In the desire to achieve total utility and software evolution, FOSS discards originality. The “digital artisans,” working out of voluntary passion for programming, privilege collaboration over individuality, utility over creativity.
If programmers are artists as Cramer suggests, shouldn't they should be given the right to create un-collaboratively if desired? Stallman answers no, writing that “because programs are used rather than read and enjoyed…creates a situation in which a person who enforces a copyright is harming society as a whole both materially and spiritually.” Because programs are functional, he says, programmers shouldn’t have privacy rights to their creations. In my opinion, this is just another example of valuing utility over creativity or originality. Though he dubs this philosophy as free, it seems to me like just another example of Deleuze’s idea that new control tactics are instituted in our society under the guise of freedom and mobility. FOSS takes creative control and originality out of the hands of the individual programmer while replacing it with a freedom (read: obligation) to share and contribute to the goal of utility. As Terranova says, free internet labor is inseparable from the “outernet” late capitalist system—perhaps FOSS is a way to present a capitalist goal of efficiency and utility using a new discourse of collective knowledge and free collaboration.

Stallman and Girl Talk

Some criticisms to Stallman’s GNU Manifesto seem to come straight from another debate over economies of intellectual property which many of us are still slightly traumatized by, the Napster-ization of music distribution. Gem brought this up in her post, and was broader, mentioning free movies, etc. and described how the very free-ness of content that makes music so much easier to enjoy is also destroying the music industry. While these are legitimate concerns, new forms of music creation and mixing seem to support a kind of “Free Music” which would follow in the footsteps of Stallman’s GNU.

Is the suffering of the music industry hard evidence that Stallman’s ideal world of free software is an unattainable utopia? The music industry is groaning for reasons that Stallman would likely uphold as an example of free use. In fact, Stallman would probably have argued that the music companies should be punished for restricting the use of the creation of musicians, though it is debatable whether downloading a song for listening pleasure could be classified as “using” the song in the same way that one would “use” software. In reality, Internet piracy poses a direct threat to the music industry, and challenges the assumption that Stallman makes of programmers, which is that they will continue to create simply for the joy of creating, even if economic incentives are discontinued or diminished. The music industry, reeling in pain, would have us all know that it is a testament to the impossibility of having artists pursue creative careers when they cannot hope to see direct profits. Of course it remains to be seen to some extent whether this cry of anguish is simply that of a failed form of distribution or that of the artists themselves.

Another current phenomenon in music production resonates much more strongly with “free” as it applies to Stallman’s free software. Many artists, such as Girl Talk and DJ’s in general, use existing music as ingredients to create mixes or blends which are clearly newly artistic and expressive but are also clearly reliant on the work of others. These artists, like the idealized programmers in Stallman’s GNU universe, collaborate in a multi-step joint creative act. For these musicians, it seems unfair that they should be prevented from distributing their work as long as it adds significantly to what they work with. More complicated is the question of how these artists procure the songs with which they work. It seems limiting to the artistic potential of music to force them to pay for every song; Stallman would have the process of music creation be an inclusive and collaborative one. But then, maybe simply listening to music represents a collaboration in the creative act, and hence all music listeners should be allowed free access to all music.

Ultimately, there seems to be a fundamental opposition between extending the creative process in a way which makes it easier for all users and facilitates creation of better works, and the establishment of concrete incentives for the completion of quality creation. This contradiction applies to many new media.

To AWOL's post:

But you wrote "we" have iPods, iPhones. So even if in their convergence they are trying to sell something to you by making you feel individual (consider, "think different"), in the end, "we" all have a certain kinship with each other because we all have these same things. And that is comforting to us, because of the fragmentation that Jenkins was describing. We'd like to think that we're all independent beings, but we like that we are part of these massive indy movements selling/suggesting that we are individuals who think different, because that way we can think different together.

i excersise my rights when i buy what i want, because i want to buy

Reading Raymond’s article, I was struck again by the surprisingly close relationship of the the internet’s democratic and capitalistic tendencies.

“Linus was keeping his hacker/users” constantly stimulated and rewarded––” Raymond writes, “stimulated by the prospect of having an ego-satisfying piece of the action, rewarded by the sight of constant (even daily) improvements in their work.” The constant present of the internet allows for constant “reward [at] the sight of … their work,” meaning that the developers/beta testers are lured into consuming internet time because of its constant alteration (I think something along these lines was mentioned by Terranova as well). But the constant present of the internet at the same times allows the constant access and participation of anyone (with the abilities––the internet remains a capitalism-like meritocracy) at anytime, regardless of their physical circumstances (except of course access to a computer).

Throughout the article, Raymond discusses the necessity of “listen(ing) to your customers,” of treating them like your primary resource so that they can become your primary resource. Of course what’s magnificent about this idea is that means that “anyone”, as I described, can really get involved in the process of creation. Its an ego-boost, as Raymond so excellently describes/demonstrates. If the most successful websites, as according to Coleman, are those that require the participation in creation of members of the user/customer base, then certainly it is true for programs as well. The pleasure of the internet, and the digital medium generally, as we’ve been studying, is creating an effect. And the pleasure of the internet is creating your own free path through cyberspace––in other words, being free on the cyber-frontier to explore its vastness as you please, having control over the creation of your own cyber-destiny and cyber-identity. So this idea of involving individuals in the construction of a cyber-realm (Linux) is obviously very appealing.

But then there are red-flag words, like “customer,” “consumer,” “successful” and to an extent, “users” (as in a drug user (I loved that pun)) who are constantly “stimulated and rewarded”. The most loved, most successful websites are simply selling the ability to create them. In the same way, Linux and Fetchmail are selling the ability to create and improve them. Raymond discussed the point at which he found it necessary to appeal to larger markets if he were to make Fetchmail (and himself) successful.

Because of the internet’s vastness, it simplifies to an incredible degree the push for larger markets. And capitalism loves such a vast, accessible market whose products are constantly changing. And so do users, because it makes them feel free and their life feel exciting and productive. And capitalism loves happy, addicted users.

Because of the Net’s democratic accessibility, and it’s democratic ability to allow networking, it means that it can be used by corporations to get more labor without the extra costs of communication and coordination (or even the labor itself) that Brooks warns against. And capitalism loves that. So in short, in the case of the internet, the things that make it democratic, also make it capitalistic.

Are Tomatoes Fruit? (Who Cares)

The link from the Stallman article to the article on the ambiguity of the phrase "intellectual property rights" brings up the inadequacies of all language, that language must group dissimilar things, making them seem completely identical in order to be effective and effecient. Every now and then these mistakes cause trouble logically and confusion amongst listeners and speakers, thought they ought to be examined and pointed out, all groups do this to a point and as long as everyone realizes the dissimilarities between the things being grouped there should be no problem with the phrase intellectual property rights, there only needs to be a clarification in the definition. Think of the group of animals known as bears for example or fruits, is a koala really a bear? A tomato really a fruit? Is the thumb a finger? Though not nearly as consequential, ambiguities in the naming of a group occur depending on the context in which they are used. In some cases it won't matter whether your thumb is a finger or your tomato is a fruit, and in the cases where it does, it doesn't mean we should stop using the word finger or fruit.

Free and Open Source Stigma ?

Thinking about free software and the ways that I use it everyday, I’m surprised (and grateful) that so much of it exists. From Mozilla to gmail and all the websites I have acess to and information from. I realize there is a distinction between this kind of free software, and the open source software we have been reading about, although I’m not exactly sure how to draw the line. In terms of open software projects, like the GIMP and Open/NeoOffice, which are open source versions of Photoshop and Microsoft Office Suite, I realized I have a strange aversion to the free versions. Although they have nearly all, or more, of the features of commercial programs, I still bought Microsoft Office a few weeks after getting a laptop because Open/NeoOffice just.. didn’t feel the same. Now I’m trying to figure out why I care? And wondering, how many people do use the free versions compared to the ones you have to pay for? According to this, NeoOffice is undeniably superior to Microsoft Office. After further investigation online, Gimp is generally regarded (by those who have taken a little time to get past the interface) as perfectly comparable to PS, and especially good because of the 1) freeness and 2) support from people who actually helped write the code and care about their product and the users.

I haven’t been able to find any reliable numbers about how many people are using the FOSS vs commercial versions of either program, does anyone have any idea? Now I’m just really curious, and resigned to give the freebies an equal chance.

Freedom without Control

Imagine everything being free in the digital world. Free software does indeed make it impossible for software sellers to divide and conquer programmers, but does this not lead to exploitation within the realm of programmers. Free software has too much faith within the programmers. Agre makes the point that capture systems leave a gap between efficiency and control. But as some programmers are more knowledgeable there will undoubtedly be someone that comes to power. Control seems to be unavoidable in all systems, considering human nature. Without control freedom would become unappreciated and taking for granted. Thus not only is control unavoidable, but necessary to keep freedom true desirable, appreciated freedom.

Free vs. Open Source

I was having a hard time completley undersatding the difference between Open Source Software and Free Software until I read this, admittedly biased, paper on the GNU website. In this essay, Stallman gives you the impression that Open Source Software complies with merely a part of the Free Software philosophy - in that human readable source code is made available. He says:

The fundamental difference between the two movements is in their values, their ways of looking at the world. For the Open Source movement, the issue of whether software should be open source is a practical question, not an ethical one. As one person put it, “Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.” For the Open Source movement, non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the Free Software movement, non-free software is a social problem and free software is the solution.

The two are linked by their openness, but to Stallman, Open Source and Free are not synonymous. His final anecdote about the software executive that "supports Linux" with non-free software compatible with the platform really nails home his point - the Open Source movement does not grant the users freedom, but only helps and speeds up the development of the project. Free software is more idealistic, while open source software is more pragmatic. Either way, both are more free than these two guys.

Free Software Impact

Would free software have a huge impact on other businesses/companies and professions other than programming? If people could copy, use, and manipulate any and all kinds of software, wouldn’t that hurt music, movie, and game businesses? In the GNU Manifesto, Stallman seems only interested in the programmer's future. Wouldn’t free software also mean free music, movies, and games? The music business is already suffering because people are downloading illegal music files. With free software, people wouldn’t need to buy CDs or buy songs on iTunes, hurting the music business even more.

I also don’t completely understand how source code and free software can be seen as speech, which shouldn’t be limited. These two things make more sense to me as writing, which can be plagiarized. Same with free software as a form of art and expression - can’t art, like poetry, be in someways “plagiarized?”

Brave GNU World

Stallman's GNU Manifesto seems to have some very mixed feelings about the role of the free market in the theoretical "free as air" GNU exchange system. Since a major part of the manifesto contains a litany of questions which essentially challenge his "socialist" ideal with liberal economics ("Don't people have a right to control how their creativity is used," "Shouldn't a programmer be able to ask for a reward for his creativity", etc.) I would expect to find his answers consistent. But I am reading contradictions on two levels.

The first is the more superficial: while he relegates "creativity" in general to free and open distribution, he does not allow the "handholders" to take part in this system. The software itself, of course, "must be" free; the task of programming should not be associated with the software developers, but should be released into the realm of public domain; advertising will self-perpetuate without the need to pay for anything like an "advertising division." In this system, as Professor Chun pointed out in lecture, the circulation and development of GNU software seems almost Marxist. The workers are the same people who use the fruits of their labor. So it's a little bizarre to come across the "handholders," whom Stallman relegates to the position of concurrent but separate free-market trade. He writes, "The service companies will compete in quality and price; users will not be tied to any particular one." This is the anti-socialist model: a system in which the market takes care of itself.

The second in a little more nuanced: within the "socialist" or "Marxist" system of GNU-trading, there seems to be an inherent reliance on the principles of free trade. He writes that "many people will program with absolutely no monetary incentive," reinforcing the parallel to Marx. These programmers, he writes, program for the pleasure of creating new software, or new changes to software. They are intrinsically connected to their work, producing the technology that they will later use. Yet that system only applies to the programmers- an arguably elite group. It's a bizarre twist on Marxism, in that rather than allowing the proletariat (take his underpaid "sales clerk," for example) to reconnect with his labor, this system allows the more elite class of more highly paid programmers (his assessment, not mine) to do so. If the distribution of wealth begins to balance out, the revolution will have occurred from above, and not below.

Maybe it's ineffectual to talk about the technological "revolution" in terms of 19th century philosophy. Perhaps that's reverse-anachronistic or obsolete, and it would be better not to use the terms of manual industrial labor when today, the elite are those who know how to work (the programmers), and the proletariat are those who don't know how, or don't have to.

networked communities and the collective Internet mind

"In the absence of states or markets to mediate social bonds, network communities are instead formed through he mutual obligations created by gifts of time and ideas." (Terranova 36) 

The specter of networked communities however above the rest of Terranova's article, with some interesting implications. In the next sections titled Collective Minds, Terranova cites Pierre Levy's theory that because of the Internet, we are moving the from Cartesian singular "I think" to the plural "we think." 

This argument goes nicely with Jenkin's idea of a convergence culture, but still I find this an interesting hypothesis to put forth in a post structuralist society, when theorists like Jameson and Appardurai are telling us how fragmented, isolated, and schizophrenic today's society is. Look at Apple's whole advertisement campaign! Every product they make is prefaced by an "I." We have iPods and iPhones, not wePods, and wePhones. 

Anyway, back to networked communities. The other thing that caught my eye was a statement Terranova made about the implications of this flourishing productivity. 

"It is undermined for various commentators by the minoritarian, gendered and race character of the internet population." (42) 

I think this is right on the mark. What are the consequences of this phenomenon? Basically what Terranova is saying is that all Internet users are not created equal. 

As Srinivasan observes in his essays about ethnic new media spaces, all of us bring out histories, biases, habitudes, and beliefs to the table. And because this is true, I think the next question that someone needs to look into is exactly who is contributing to this collective Internet mind and how their backgrounds are shaping this networked communities, which are becoming increasingly important in the world today.  

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blogging as an Open Source Community

Eric Raymond’s article discusses the perks of the Linux community as an open-source triumph. His description of Linux programmers seems remarkably similar to a description of dedicated Bloggers, like ourselves. A blogger must release early and often, even if the topic is not fully developed or else he or she loses readers. The best Bloggers are the ones who read and take in their user comments, altering and revising their blogs to those responses. Such appreciation of usership is key to assuring good readership. As a filmmaker should never speak down to his or her audience, a blogger can never speak down or disregard readership, especially because of instantaneous feedback. The best blogs are developed around ideas and topics that are compelling to the blogger. This personal passion drives the blog to be interesting and intriguing, often pushing the limits of a blog, like a good Linux programmer.  In the world of blogs, there are many opinions and views on the same topic, but it is the blogs with multiple contributors and commenting readers that are the Linux, bazaar model.  Terranova makes a similar point in her essay: “the best Web site, the best way to stay visible and thriving on the Web, is to turn your site into a space that is not only accessed, but somehow built bye its users” (49). Our blog, since it is a collaborative effort, is an example of such productive open-source communities. 

Friday, April 18, 2008

IP-Relay Systems Paper

IP-Relay Systems - Marisa Loo, Zachary Smith, and Dylan Treleven

Telecommunications relay services allow users to make calls from computers or other assistive telephone devices to standard telephones via an operator. There are several forms of relay services, but here we will focus on Internet Protocol Relay (IP-Relay) systems, as they are the currently the most common. Intended merely as a mode of private communication between users, internet relay services have, however, opened a window of vulnerability into both the public and private spheres. Through their inherent features and the laws which govern their use, IP-Relay systems demonstrate loopholes in government surveillance, limitations toward systems of power and discipline in which they might be used, and the deterioration of their potential for operation in real-time.

Relay services were established in the 1970s with the purpose of aiding those who are Deaf, hard of hearing, speech disabled, or Deaf and blind to make calls to the hearing. The first primitive machines were bulky and expensive and generally only accessible to the few who could afford them. The most common current manifestations of this technology, IP-Relay systems, use an internet window interface with two text boxes. The first user enters text into one of the boxes and a third party human operator connects to the second user and vocally interprets the first user's written text to the second. The second user then speaks to the operator who, in turn, types out the second user's words in the second text box for the first user to read. These services have also been subsidized by the government in the United States (the second country after Sweden to do so) and are now free and accessible to the general public.

This technological progression from a direct link between two users to a mediated link with a third-party operator highlights a correlation between new technology and a breach of private space. According to Keenan, “the erosion of the security of the private sphere figured by the opening of the window forces us to reconsider the space and time…in terms that can no longer be content to accept the restrictions imposed by the thought of publicity as presence.”[1] Greater accessibility has therefore created, through the presence of the operator, just such a window between public and private spaces of the users involved. This accessibility also allows the service to be used, and taken advantage of, by anyone with an internet connection.

Both relay service companies and members of the Deaf community accept this breach of private space as a kind of necessary evil. The mechanics of the relay service as well as the operator must function with the principle of transparency in order to make the call as "normal" as possible. A standard phone call does not require any sort of verification of the user and it is believed that there need not be any sort of verification for relay service calls either.

According to an MSNBC article[2], relay operators report that eighty to ninety percent of the phone calls relayed are scams or prank calls, with very little of the calls being made by legitimate users. Many of the calls are pranks, with the purpose of seeing how much of a message an operator will relay before they determine that the service is being abused. More significantly though, many overseas thieves use IP-Relay services to easily con U.S. merchants under the guise of being deaf.

This flagrant exploitation of IP-Relay services presents a noteworthy loophole in the surveillance systems of our society. Although we are not controlled by a constant panoptic presence, our government depends upon a degree of surveillence in order to establish a sense of order, power, and discipline. This shortcoming in the relay service also opens a window of vulnerability, allowing thieves to take advantage of the general public. When defining windows, Keenan actually uses thieves and open windows in the same sentence, as in "a thief…in at a window climbs.”[3]

The ability of anyone to make calls via IP-Relay can result in certain breakdowns of power and discipline. Without the exercise of power and surveillance that is relevant in Foucault's Panopticon, there is no "automatic functioning of power” despite the transparency of the operator.[4]

Legitimate users of relay services, to the same extent as everyone else, should be afforded the right to private conversation. The possible consequences of allowing such easy abuse of these systems, however, seem to question the cost of an individual's right to privacy, both in terms of its financial cost to tax-payers and even of national security.

The window opened between the public and private may only be the result of a transitional phase in the development of telecommunications relay services. Earlier relay devices offered a direct connection between users, while text-to-voice and voice-to-text technologies, as they become more accurate and efficient, will likely replace the operator in current systems while retaining wide accessibility. At present then, the operator seems to be a necessary, though temporary, drawback to relay systems technologies.

As well as being the key feature of IP-Relay systems in relation to the public/private paradigm, the function of the operator also creates a delay in relayed messages that calls into question the notion of the operation of IP-Relay systems in real-time. With instant messaging services the illusion of real-time usually correlates directly with each user's internet connection speed. With IP-Relay services, it is the speed and attentiveness of the operator that effects the feeling of communication in real-time.

In the Visual Crash, Paul Virilio states that real-time " less an analogical re-presentation than a pure and simple numerical pre-sentation of the places, objects, or persons in question. Such direct live coverage does away with interpreter and commentator to bring the interlocutors together face-to-face."[5] According to Virilio then, with the delay in the operator's relay of a message, sometimes as long as a minute, and with the indirect channel of communication created simply by the presence of the operator, IP-Relay systems do not work in real-time.

A measure of error also accompanies the operator's relay of messages as well as the delay at which it occurs. Some services, such that provided by Sprint Nextel, allow the typing user to insert "emoticons" into his or her message to direct the operator's tone of voice. If carried out at all however, this part of the service varies widely depending upon the operator. While the "instant" actions and reactions allowed by instant messaging can imply a fairly strong sense of emotion and various subtleties of meaning, the delay in IP relayed messages significantly mutes these. In general, these messages are distorted or have lost some of their initially intended meaning.

In regards to IP-Relay’s initial purpose, the system fulfills its goals of communication among the deaf community. However, the presence of the operator in an IP-Relay conversation complicates the entire system. The private is leaked into the pubic, errors are made, and operations cannot function in real-time. The state of telecommunications relay technologies, though it is likely temporary, therefore serves to illustrate an expansion of the public sphere into the private in return for greater convenience and access to communication technologies for those who legitimately utilize them as well as those who wish to exploit them.

[1] Keenan, Thomas. “Windows of Vulnerability.” 1993. The Phantom Public Sphere. Page 135.
[2] Myers, Lisa and Sandler, Tim. “Thieves Exploit Phone System for the Deaf.” 5 December 2006. NBC News.
[3] Keenan, Thomas. “Windows of Vulnerability.” 1993. The Phantom Public Sphere. Page 125.
[4] Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” 1979. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Page 201.
[5] Virilio, Paul. “The Visual Crash.” 2002. CTRL [Space]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Page 111.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


So, we know you were all waiting, all of you present in the 2pm section presentations... We teased you with our content, alluded to this "website" full of "anonymous art" and now, it's finally here*:

hope you enjoy!

*ArtistsAnonymous is not responsible for the inaccessibility of its content due to virtual, informational, or visual or other crashes of any kind.

Shoulder Pads, Punk Rock, and an 80's Pastiche

Here's the link to our project for assignment 3, please use it and comment on it as participation is a key part of the media object!:

-Allie, Sean, and Adrik 

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is Plurality Really All That Modern?

In Ang’s essay, the Realm of Uncertainty, she seems to believe that the ability to get a message across clearly has been greatly reduced within recent history. “…the hegemony of such clear and transparent conceptions of communication has been severely eroded in the past few decades.” I wonder if this clarity ever truly existed. Even Shakespeare wrote his plays knowing that a large portion of his audience would not understand them. His plays were written with the concept of plurality in mind. Sword fights and other exciting events were written into the plays to entertain the less educated members of the crowd. It is very clear that the plays operate on numerous levels for the numerous different interpretations and levels of understanding that each audience member would have. This is not to say that pluralism has not been further developed, expanded, and accepted in modern culture. This is nearly undeniable. Our modern society is certainly more accepting of different points of view or at least of the idea that they do exist and must exist. This phenomenon can be seen in modern theories and trends such as political liberalism, which hinges on the idea that any reasonable view should be presented and evaluated in society. Arguments have arisen about what exactly constitutes “reasonable” and whether or not this is merely a self-serving and dogmatic set of principles. Nonetheless an attempt at embracing pluralism is apparent. In the past it is more likely that different views and different interpretations of meaning would be dismissed in favor in one accepted meaning or view, but this does not imply that other views and interpretations did not exist. Words can never achieve their purpose perfectly. It is certain that plurality has existed since the dawn of language. Misunderstanding and difference of perspective are nothing particularly new or modern. Every text has multiple readings. Every person has an individual perspective. Every word has multiple connotations and usages. Plurality permeates all, past and present.

technological convergence

Sorry this post is so late.

I'm going to focus on the Jenkins article. I found it interesting to think about the ideas of cultural convergence and technological convergence. He talks about technological convergence and what he calls The Black Box Fallacy: how many people claim that "all media content is going to flow through a single black box into our living rooms." (14) He says that there never will be a single black box like this and that there are increasing numbers of black boxes: people carry around tons of different devices that they use for many different functions and to channel different media. I think I see his point but I don't agree with it completely. It seems to me that we are getting closer to a single black box in some ways. Obviously there are all these different technologies out there but I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of many of them combining and combining until there is one (or at least less than there are now). Jenkins uses his living room as an example of the ever increasing variety of black boxes: "There are my VCR, my digital cable box, my DVD player, my digital recorder, my sound system, and my two game systems, not to mention a huge mound of videotapes, DVDs and CDs, game cartridges and controllers, sitting a top, laying alongside, toppling over the edge of my television system." (15) He says American homes will see more and more of these devices. I think it's going the other direction. Many of these technologies are already being combined, such as game systems that also play DVDs and have internet access. Additionally, some of the older technologies he names, such as videotapes and CDs, are being phased out. He also uses the example of seeing MIT students with their various portable black boxes: "their laptops, their cells, their ipods, their Game Boys, their BlackBerrys...." (15) Again, these devices seem to already be combining into newer technologies like the iphone. I think the article is definitely interesting and I thought it was good that he distinguishes technological convergence from cultural convergence in such a clear way, but I don't think he has to say one is happening and the other is not. I think they're both happening to some extent.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Convergence, Agency

In "Indigenous, ethnic and cultural articulations of new media," Srinivasan quotes Virilio to exemplify the dangers of “global real time” in disorienting and disturbing local times and geographies: “…Globalization and virtualization are inaugurating a global time that prefigures a new form of tyranny” (Srinivasan 498). The way to save community sustenance and enhance social capital for Srinivasan is to generate positive “social uses of information systems… through the sharing of information resources and creation of common spaces for socializing” (499). These common spaces “can be used to achieve locally and culturally specific visions” (Srinivasan 499) in an overall framework of “new interpretations and alternative paradigms” (Srinivasan 499). Appropriation of technologies is crucial for cultural/community preservation (he sites the Inuit as an example); likewise, convergence of technologies can be, according to Srinivasan, utilized as a vector for positive change. As I read the article, I kept ruminating on the status of convergence in Srinivasan, which seems to me to be almost socio-utopist, and the status of convergence and its appropriation in Jenkins, which is rather murky and entangled with corporate strategies: “…Media transition [is] marked by tactical decisions and unintended consequences, mixed signals and competing interests, and most of all, unclear directions and unpredictable outcomes” (11). Jenkins admits that “there is no vantage point that takes me above the fray” (12) but for Srinivasan this doesn’t seem to be an issue; the latter purports that convergence can increasingly be appropriated for the preservation of the local and the culturally sacred and that in spite of “disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy” (Appadurai 1) or Virilio’s warnings, convergence will save the day in some kind of new, heightened social paradigm.

I feel that what is at stake here is the locus of agency in the use of converging technologies-- Srinivasan assumes that marginalized communities can, are, and should be using them progressively, while Jenkins focuses on the totalizing experience of pop culture violently transmitted on multiple media platforms. There is a disparity in how convergence is utilized (producing various ideological disputes about it); there is also the problem of who has more agency in appropriating it to transmit information. I guess my (really broad) questions are: if convergence is inevitable, will its intensity force some to be swallowed up by pop culture and others by their niche communities? Or, will there be a transformation in how we perceive information so that a more intense, multi-sensory experience will not threaten to be ideologically invasive? Or, will there be an amalgamation of different cultures with high consumer participation, as Jenkins suggests in the beginning of his article ("...old and new media collide... grassroots and corporate media intersect" [2])? Will convergence spread misinformation? And of course: how will politics respond to all of this?


I feel like there is a need for all upcoming media objects to do everything now. An iPod can't just play music anymore, it has to have video and pictures. Facebook and MySpace are competing to have more features. Phones do nearly everything possible. I just want to know where this leaves specialized products anymore. The goal for businesses is to have every function, and no one wants things anymore that don't have every single available feature.

This is ultimately what convergence is all about. Everything becoming one. But whether does that leave diversity? Won't it come to a point where no one needs cameras anymore because their phone can do a better job? Will we be able to tell the difference? Won't businesses have to produce everything in order to compete in this market? I just feel that convergence is fighting specialization, and I don't know how I feel about everything becoming one thing.

On Ang

My post will be on "Audiences and Global Culture" because I feel it was the most difficult reading and I have the most open questions with it.

While I struggled for a long time with this article, Ang describes an elegant framework for understanding the uncertainty of the 'capitalist postmodernity' that we live in. This sentence itself is quite loaded-- what exactly is capitalist postmodernity? I may be wrong, but it seems to be a really convoluted way of saying 'globalization'. Anyway, Ang shows that what is at stake is understanding who has power. She argues that we must move away from thinking about traditional communication models where there exists a 'closed feedback loop', free of external influences, and towards a model where there are essentially unbounded external variables. Thus it makes more sense to talk not about the mistakes made during perfect communication, but rather the successful communications in a (what might as well be) a sea of noise. It is inverting the typical communications model to talk about what actually gets communicated rather than what doesn't. This makes sense in the 'capitalist postmodernity' because there is so much noise and so much information that so few communications make it compared to the number that fail. So far, this is all quite theoretical, but Ang gives the example of the 'passive people meter' and how it will fail because it "is based on the implicit assumption that there is such a thing as an 'audience' as a finite totality..." (p173).

Ang had so few concrete examples of her lofty ideas, and this crucial one didn't quite sit right with me. I agree that it is quite difficult to actually measure an entire audience -- in fact, given our current technology, it is probably impossible, but I don't agree with the statement that an audience doesn't exist as a finite totality. Sure, there are incredible complications which must be taken into consideration when understanding an audience, but how can it be infinite? It seems that so much of her argument rests on the idea that the audience is an infinite, or at least an unbounded group. Additionally, are the systems that she is describing simply chaotic because we don't yet have the technology to properly model them? Will we ever have the technology? Lastly, as a mathematician I have to take argument with her statement that "in the postmodern episteme 'there is no fixed site of truth, no absolute presence; there are just multiple representations, an infinite number of rewritings." It seems to me that this applies to mathematics as well, as mathematics exists within our episteme. Does she argue that math is not a truth, or am I not understanding her?

This article was really hard to get through, I'm probably just mistaken.

Global Web Intelligence --> Global Intelligence

Goertzel's concept of the "Global Webmind" is nothing new. The speed with which information crosses the globe has markedly expanded over the past ten years - not surprising. Every ethernet cable is a dendrite, every modem an axon... but is it really just the web?

Going back a bit, Appadurai talks about many issues of cultures crossing & heterogenization - "Japanization... for Koreans, Indianization for Sri Lankans, Vietnamization for Cambodians..." Do you really think that this is happening through just the web? The "imagined communities" he talks about are more than just that - they truly are a unifying force.

How many countries have heard of American Idol? The Eurovision song contest? How many have rushed to the support of those victimized by natural disasters? Where in the world won't people recognize a Coke bottle? Television, print media, music - these all play a part as well.

Different areas of the world, different imagined communities, different cultures, different subsets of information. The brain has a similar pattern of information retention - within the gyri & sulci lie many discrete packets of information, accessible at the slightest electrical impulse. There are also many types of nerves, many types of axons... not every cable is a DSL line.

A Global Mind may not be far away - but right before it hits, we'll all know.
I thought ben's comment on the idea of camp as resistance was really interesting. But I was wondering if it isn't problematic to say so unanimously that 'camp itself has become mainstream.' I think it's true that, like Ien Ang notes, that "it would be mistaken to see the acting out of difference unambiguously as an act of resistance," but that it's important to reserve the place of camp's ambiguity, its important uncertainty, instead of necessarily implying a point of transformation where camp stopped being camp and became mainstream camp. You could also say that camp was never really so much a subversion of dominant idealogies, as it was a reinforcement of them, if you consider resistance as complicit in capitalist postmodernity, a necessary and built-in, "programmed feature of capitalist culture."

Dealing with convergence

Jenkins writes in his introduction, "Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others. Each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives." (3-4) Is this basically the same idea as Jameson's cognitive mapping, in that people place themselves within their own minds? And if, as Ithiel de Sola Pool noted, convergence has elements of both fragmentation and consolidation, does it help or hinder peoples' ability to "find themselves"?

Also, though Jenkins notes that convergence is a process and not an endpoint, he seems to treat it, in the introduction at least, as the latter. He seems to say that it's something that happens every few years. But as many futurists are telling us and a little observation can show us as well, the rate of technological change and other forms of change is increasing, and progress is exponential (leading to the Coming Singularity). With that in mind, if people are having such a hard time dealing with convergence now, how will we deal with it as things happen faster and faster?

World Wide Brain Defect

Ben Goertzel's "World Wide Brain" alternates between reeking of singularity theory and reminding me of technological determinism, and simply making me think of Google.

There's no date on Goertzel's piece, though it proves its obsolescence with invitations for one to "[view] the whole WWW as a network of applets, able to be interconnected in various ways," (a common way of thinking by now) in order to see that "the WWW itself is an outstanding AI supercomputer," (3). I think most people would stop short of that last point. He warns us that "the neuron-and-synapse metaphor need not be taken too literally," but expects us to go along with his own convoluted metaphor of magicians who recognize, alter, and create patterns which can themselves be seen as magicians...and these magicians are analogous to the "abstract patterns" that make up thought in the mind.

From here, it sounds like Goertzel cherry-picks his way through physics, mathematics, and psychology to find marketably useful connections to his WW-Brain theory. He begins to hint at singularity on page 7, where he discusses "force of consciousness" and the idea of selves. I was surprised not to find a reference to Ray Kurzweil, though I guess this is from before his prime. He is not shy about singularity--he looks forward to a time when "the boundary between ourselves and our creation will be crossed," (10).

As Goertzel eases off the strict brain metaphor, his analysis of the future structure of the Web as it would construct a WebMind reminded me a lot of Google and its system of measuring relevance and providing "smart" accurate search results. A few people have suggested that Google's keeping track of the way webpages link to each other resembles the way our brains link concepts and memories. He appropriately and presciently points out that the "structure must not be static, like a Yaho category tree, but dynamic" (like Google's index) (10).

One glaring vulnerability in Goertzel's fantasy is in his conception of a "global Web operating system," which he sees as an infallible step toward the Web's evolution toward intelligence (again, singularity). Although the Web "is not under anyone's control," (8), it is totally open to power outage, sabotage, and quick disabling. Amazon and many of its customers can tell you what happens when such a high-profile pseudoneural network goes down. Even without such catastrophic crashes, accessibility on the web is not so open that any magician can really affect any other magician it likes. Wouldn't chmod permissions, among myriad other restrictions, keep a real, rhizomatic neural network from forming?

In other news, check out this brain growing on a tree.

Camp It Up

Ien Ang’s “In the realm of uncertainty: the global village and capitalist postmodernity” eviscerates “liberal pluralist” notions that the infinite possibilities presented by semiotic decoding represent a kind of freedom. Divergence, she suggests, has become just another market strategy.

In processing this, I began to think about the idea of “camp.” It’s been a long time since I’ve read Sontag’s text on this issue, so I can’t claim to be some kind of camp scholar, but this concept has always seemed to me to be a kind of resistance. Camp, as I would define it, is the ironic appreciation of failed art, the “so bad, it’s good” paradox. On its surface, camp (sometimes conflated with “kitsch”) seems to subvert dominant ideologies in its fetishization of media that fall outside the mainstream of acceptability, and was therefore adopted as a kind of subtle cultural activism, particular by marginalized queer groups.

As Ang would doubtless point out, camp itself has become mainstream. Think of William Shatner camping himself in all of those commercials for, or the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which makes camp homey and domestic, rather than radical and vicious. Meanwhile, the queer culture that advocated camp has dried up and assimilated. The acceptance (generally) of gay identity is certainly a positive thing, but camp itself no longer references the culture that produced it.


Goertzel so forcefully pushes his idea as inevitable fact that it sounded almost like a movie. So I made a movie poster. His ideas are credible, and, in fact, his comparison of web pages to neurons is fairly persuasive (one could even substitute computer users for forms of neurons, i.e., an event occurs on the web causing numerous users to react in a certain way, much like and neuron firing). His method of discussion, though, sounds more like science fiction and consists of examples made to fit the theory rather than the other way around.

Fractal background image from

The Convergence dude is pretty cool

I like the part in the Jenkins where he talks about getting people to buy Grandpa a console, especially in the context of the Srinivasan and Goertzel. Srinivasan sounds like the kind of guy who will keep bothering Grandpa about using consoles that will just get stored in the garage unopened, and Grandpa will lie to him about it because he always liked the boy. Goertzel, now, spends all his money on overclocking his supercomputer or something and will have forgotten to call Grandpa for the last few years by the time he's informed that the old man is on his deathbed, but that's all right because they were never really able to connect in the first place, they're just about different things.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that Jenkins seems to be friendliest to the individual viewpoint, or maybe I'm just saying that because I agree with him. Srinivasan and Goertzel are each frantically trying to pile stuff together, and I guess each of them has a reason, but neither is really what's going on. Ang cuts to the heart of the matter, which is that we really have no idea what the hell is going on. Like, none whatsoever. Of course, if we invert my argument Srinivasan and Goertzel are both trying to make themselves useful and actually get something done, while Jenkins and Ang are staying out of the water and arguing about politics, although neither has voted since 1988.

So yeah, that's how you mix metaphors. I do like the Convergence essay the best, because it seems the most useful, and it gets to the point quickly (Srinivisan takes as long as possible to say everything) and doesn't get ahead of itself (you can almost see Goertzel leaning too far forward, correcting himself, almost falling over backwards, and basically stumbling around). You can only progress through the convergence when it converges upon you--for example, I don't see Srinivisan's efforts making much of a difference in the end, and I don't know if Goertzel (or I) will actually live to see a global supermind. Technology does curve upwards exponentially, but we're so close to the asymptote that we think we've already touched it, and it doesn't really work that way. I'd better stop being vague and misusing terminology though (is that what an asymptote is?), I guess I'm done.

Geoff Ryman's Air

In Srinivasan's article "Return to Babel: Emergent diversity, digital resources, and local knowledge", Srinivasan mentions the use of the internet to connect people of the diaspora and reconnect them with their history and culture even without an actual place to connect to. This reminded me a lot of Geoff Ryman's novel "Air: Or, Have Not Have". In this novel, the protagonist tries to get a rural town to catch up with technology before the world-wide release of new information technology called Air which is automatically connected to everyone's brain. The technology is in the air itself, like having the internet in one's brain all the time. It automatically connects to everyone. The problem is getting accustomed to such technology when one has not been exposed to even the internet. Therefore the results of a trial test of Air are devastating, resulting in a death in the village. The protagonist then makes it her mission to bring her village back up to date with the rest of the world. One way she does this is by selling homemade goods on the internet, connecting the rest of the world with the authentic, culturally important craftswork that her area is known for. Another way is recording history through the internet, getting the word out to even people who are not connected to that area and do not have that history but by learning about it, will help those in need. Srinivasan actually mentions this several times in his articles with the studies on bringing people on the Native American reservations together through technology, using technology to bring back the past and bring back culture.

On Remote Obsolescence

Professor Chun stated that the primary question of the week was: “does global new media make everything the same, or does it (can it) foster difference?” This directly relates to (among everything else,) this question about the validity of Ramesh’s notions of technology as an opportunity for cultures to self-represent in the face of concerns like that presented by Alice’s question to Ramesh on Skype, which I paraphrase and expand to the following:
In an effort to combat an impositional outside appraisal and designation of a culture through the format of cooperative, participatory archiving process, is there a potentially out of place, subjective privileging of westernized standards of archival history and documentary records? Can it not be seen as technological imperialism? I know Ramesh responded by saying that technology transcended Western culture and has the potential to empower all users equally, but continually neglected is the fact that it costs money to own a computer and maintain an internet connection and have hard drives and servers and networks. That said, I am aware of much philanthropic work devoted to wiring the masses.

On a recent stop in a hippy-dippy restaurant in some unofficial town/artist-collective amongst Native American reservations in the desert of New Mexico, my grandpa (a playwright, actor, director, and producer) thought of starting a touring production so as to bring the theater to these small, likely interested communities (cultural imperialism?) In search of contact information he asked for a phone number, stating “I don’t suppose you folks get much email access around these parts,” to which the friendly waitress replied, “we get free broadband wi-fi all over,” thankyouverymuch.

Is this the mark of the homogenization of even the most obscure, untouched subcultures and geographically removed groups? Well, no. They can access the breaking news about starlet car wrecks as I can, but they’re still in the realm of the US. And how drastically do you think these previously un-wired folks’ exposure to commercialization and ads exploded? Whether this is beneficial or not, it’s fitting because they live within the territory of a capitalist system, (though I suppose I don’t officially know how Reservations operate within/apart from the US government.) All of these arguments and dialogues going on are directly relevant to people within our technological arm's reach, but how about those even more disconnected from our present condition.

There still exist cultures that occupy territories too treacherous to suit access by plane, car, or even helicopter, and must be accessed by foot. They speak languages acknowledged as existent by only a few linguistic experts (and bible translators.) They may somehow know who Rambo is, but they don’t know a thing about Eliot Spitzer, UGG boots or iPhones, and are arguably extremely far from adopting personal computers as a replacement for oral history. And to the extent that oral history can be considered a primary media for these cultures, it's hard to imagine it becoming obsolete.

Maybe it’s better that way? Global immediacy (access to media, etc.) may hold the potential for sameness, but probably doesn’t necessitate it. It can foster difference, too, but probably no better than it already exists.

A WebMind® is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Goertzel, circa "World Wide Brain":

"The design and implementation details of WebMind are obviously complex, and I will avoid most of them here. A prototype WebMind will be available for public viewing on my Website in mid-1997."

Goertzel, circa 2001:

"My former AI project, Webmind, ended with the dissolution of Webmind Inc. in early April 2, 2001. The legal process of bankruptcy is not done yet."
The company, vanished. The only existing online demonstration of their technology is now a spam-site for investing information. Like so many AI companies, WebMind's fabulous promises never came close to being realized.

What is there to learn from Goertzel's hubris? Should we view him as a modern proto-Prometheus, trying to bring the fire of strong AI to humankind, years ahead of the computational power that will be needed to make it happen? Or should we see him as a cautionary tale, a message that demonstrates the kind of misguided thinking that we should never base our ideas on.

As much as I'd like to give techno-utopians the benefit of the doubt, so much time and energy, so many billions of dollars and hopes and dreams, have already been wasted on them. I guess that people who need to be on the cutting edge will always push, whether there's anything solid in front of them, or not.

keeping it old school

In his Introduction to Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins shares this quote from George Gilder: “The computer industry is converging with the television industry in the same sense that the automobile converged with the horse” (Jenkins 5). Gilder, in other words, is arguing that computers and all the media that have come with them will render old media obsolete and lead to the latter's destruction. Jenkins, however, goes on in his article to refute Gilder's view and show the potential for new media and old media to combine in exciting ways that don't necessarily result in either disappearing from society.

Despite Jenkins' convincing argument, Gilder's pessimism about the fate of traditional media got me thinking about what it would mean for old media to become completely obsolete. It's honestly hard for me to imagine such a completely digitized society. There are some aspects of our media culture today that simply don't translate to digital form in my mind. I believe that there is a limit to what we will accept in a digital form as readily as in its traditional form.

There are two examples that spring to mind: newspapers and the readings for this class. Despite the fact that nearly every news agency now simultaneously publishes online any article that appears in print, newspapers have not gone extinct. Sure, readership is down, but if the exact same content (often with additional features) is available online, why aren't readers canceling their subscriptions in droves? Along the same lines, almost every reading for this course is available on MyCourses, so why do most students go to the trouble and expense of printing out the readings?

I believe it is because our generation has developed two modes of reading: short-term and long-term. For short-term reading (surfing quickly from site to site to gather information, checking on the latest March Madness scores, etc) we turn to the Internet first, if it's available. But when we want or need to settle down and spend a long time examining one source, we need physicality. Scrolling through pages and pages of text is hard. When I try, I find myself losing interest or getting distracted by one of the other windows flashing at me on the taskbar. Of course, this may just be a weakness of our generation. Perhaps future computer users will be just as comfortable laying on a hammock on the beach reading Moby Dick off their laptop as they would be with a physical copy of the book.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Henry Jenkins uses several examples of converging media - broadcast and grassroots with Burt and Osama; voice, film and text with cell phones; games, film, communication with consoles - but some rebuffing of this convergence is significant.

Jenkins says he was "told by company after mobile company that they don't make single-function phones anymore. Nobody wants them;" I would argue plenty of people do - Jenkins did, I did last time I looked for a phone - but cell phone companies can't make any margin in the highly commoditized cell phone market unless they throw plenty of features into the device whether they make sense or not. Of course a cell phone is an example of technological convergence and Jenkins' primary argument was about increasing cultural convergence... Is talking to the same person via email, cell phone, instant message, and xbox live a cultural convergence even though they are performed on separate technologies?

The quote Jenkins uses from /i/Technologies of Freedom/i/ - "A single physical means [...] may carry services that in the past were provided in separate ways. Conversely, a service that was provided in the past by any one medium [...] can now be provided in several different physical ways. So the one-to-one relationship that used to exist between a medium and its use is eroding." - implies that yes, the use of separate technologies for the same service is convergent.

The use of separate technologies in this culturally convergent way supports Jenkins' claim that "convergence is a process, not an endpoint. There will be no single black box that controls the flow of media into our homes," because the differing interfaces of different technologies call for use in different contexts and one can't fully replace the other even if their uses overlap. One can make a phone call through their cell phone or computer, but the portability and flexibility of the phone makes it better suited most of the time - equally one can watch a movie on their cell phone or computer, but the screen size, capacity, and broadband connectivity of the computer make it better suited. Technologically divergent by application, culturally convergent by use.