Memetic Turn

[Original German Blog Post]

>
“The Hanged” from the Tarot Deck of Charles VI., Paris, early 15th century.

The symbolism of Tarot – similar to that of alchemy – forms a pre-modern memetic system. Tightly knit into other more or less esoteric programs of meaning, like Qabbalah or astrology, its images are at first illustrative – they picture very well, what can be seen on it, at second they bear an arbitrarily assigned symbolic value. The particular with memes as well as with metaphors is there creating a common space of meaning between several human beings, by which these different beings identify with.

“Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialisation and created the individual.”

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which the return us the the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood. Tribalism is the sense of the deep bind of family, the closed society as the norm of community.”
Herbert Marshall McLuhan

“Everything is divisible, thus there cannot be an individual.”

“The meaning of such symbols [of letters] is largely independent from colour: a red or a black “A” mean the same sound. […] Thus the current explosion of colours points to the tending to loose importance of unidimensional codes like the Alphabet.”

“History begins with the invention of writing, not because text keeps the processes, but because it transforms scenes into processes: it creates the historic consciousness.”
Vilém Flusser

ממטית המהפך

Writing and Society are tied together in an immediate way. With text, particularly the newspaper which shall become the first real mass media in the 19th century, people are able to get informed homogeneously over large distances. However, it was of course not before the advent of the railroad and telegraph that this would have been of any importance. These are the fundamentals on which for the first time a truly supra regional economy – the national economy could develop. The local community, the village, at the same time decreases in its aspect of being the common destiny, like already been declared by Tönnies.

“Newspaper is the glue of society”, as exclaimed recently by Helmut Heinen, president of Germany’s Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

But some aspects seam to resonate no longer with this proposition, like Daniel Schulz had also replied to in Der Standard by responding to the newspaper man: “Not the paper, but the images of cats are the glue of society!”

Daniel was not correct, although – I am convinced about that – did mean the right thing. Images of cats are not the glue of society but of communities! Thus they are not only to the least extent the glue of society but even more, what I will explicate in the following, they will even corrode society.

These images of cats – in my own community’s case it is more images of fowl, especially of runner ducks – are very special signs, closely related to metaphors, allegories or emblems. Although not fully in the mind of its inventor, it is now common to call this kind of image-signs memes. The meaning of memes is often hermetic, not to be understood outside the community in which they are shared.

Within memes – which are usually hardly iconic but rarely abstract signs – is often concentrated a complete universe of meaning and relationships, by which the members of a community are connected to it. Memes are common spaces of projection of our unconsciousness: “In the darkness of an exteriority I may find, without recognising it as such, my own interiority or the mental.” (C.G. Jung on the allegories in Alchemy).

Memes thereby take the function that in the pre-modernism the metaphor and especially the allegory would have held:

With metaphors things can be made visible, that could not be told explicitly. “Metaphoric imagery broadens the horizon of the thinkable by shattering the boundaries of mental rationality and thus opens essential spaces of possible articulation for speculative thoughts.” writes Jörg Zimmer. By equalising non-identical terms, it makes manifest the connective attributes; metaphors generate identity between the otherwise differentiated. Metaphors, though, express at first those images in the mind of the speaker (“sender”); the receiver of the metaphor will initially not hold the identical image in his mind, but populate the metaphor with his own associations. In the same way, in which the meaning attributed to the metaphor by its sender becomes similar to the meaning, the receiver puts into it, the metaphor generates identity between different persons; metaphors generate communality.

Memes act contagious. You are infected, if you have once identified yourself with.
***

History of Turns

The Linguistic Turn, like described above, was the consequence of a population growing together and becoming increasingly well educated with high literacy and the technological infrastructure of mass transport and mass communication over large distances. With the Linguistic Turn of modernism the ancient communities get dissolved, societies – nations and states form and newspapers, resp. mass media are the glue of these societies. The metonymy removes the metaphor as leading trope in rhetoric: “Berlin declares war to Paris”.

With the illustrated magazine and in particular with television, the 20th century brings the Iconic Turn – images transmitted by mass media. Going with the merging of the once competing national societies to supranational blocks of NATO, Warsaw Pact or European Community, the visually powerful media deliver an internationally valid repository of images. These technologically mass distributed images are mostly non-metaphoric; they show mainly, what can be seen on it.

The News-at-Six become the nation’s camp fire and the utopia of solidarity between people far above the narrow space of a community seams to become reality.
For the coarse grid of the political and economical contexts of the second half of the 20th century, these mass media are able to supply an audience of millions daily with the little relevant intelligence, necessary for national cohabition: the wood-cut party policy in the parliaments, the interplay of ones owns nation with other states, the crude news of a constantly growing economy, always held in plain language, comprehensible also for “people with moderate education”. Irony is the figure of the Iconic Turn – often however in form of cynicism.
***

Since the 1980s there are visible signs of corruption on mass media, although at first concealed by the enormous success of private television resp. after the fall of the iron wall by the backlog demand of former Soviet sphere of influence.

At once it was no longer so important to read what would have happened on the international theatre on the previous day. The glue of society began to become brittle. And the Web just came handy for this development. No longer getting informed – but arranging yourself the things you take as necessary. Like the famous German social researcher Renate Köcher had realised in horror from the longitudinal surveys of her Institute for Demoscopy at Allensbach: people do not get informed differently now – strictly speaking they would not let themselves get informed at all! Mass media do not get substituted in their function, it is more that they vanish away. And not physically – people still watch television – but in their effect.

Our social graph, the network of our communal relationships supplies us with the things that we would want to know about. This is the filter that before was formed by the editorial teams of the media. We organise our relationships by the Net, like in former times we as the citizen of the state would get oriented by mass media. “The end of the Grand Narrative” by which post-modernism is often described, means history becoming a collection little stories. This is “Atemporality“, where “literature collapses before our eyes“. Mass media’s standard language gives way to the vernacular dialects of Net culture. “New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.” (McLuhan)

The membership in these new memetic community is not to be compared with the “being born into a community” of pre-modernism. Those are relatively loose structures, partly only temporarily stable and we are rarely exclusively at home in just one of them. These communities are kept together symbolically by Memes.

This Memetic Turn marks the transition into the post-modern age. The dwindling influence of the national structures with at the same time dissolving international political structures leads to also to their medial tools becoming dull.

Thus it becomes clear how the revolutionary movement in Spain is related to the overthrow in Tunisia and Egypt. It is fascinating to see how the seemingly lacking of formulated common goals and any form of constituted organisation swamps the old media, still thinking in terms of society. It is the Hash-Tag that brings people together, the #spanishrevolution-meme as projective space, above which people synchronise on their longing for a different form of living together in a post-social communality, no longer controlled by ineffective party policy.

Further reading:

Modernism is our classical antiquity

>digital<: to finger sth.

[Original German Blog Post]

Arno Schmidt: Zettel’s Traum. The detail shown above read:
(dug from 'dig' & this from
'digital' : to finger sth.

digital (not comparable)
[1] Having to do with digits (fingers or toes); performed with a finger.
[2] Property of representing values as discrete numbers rather than a continuous spectrum.
– digital computer, digital clock
[3] Of or relating to computers or the Computer Age.
(wiktionary.org)

Digitus is Latin for finger or toe. To comprehend the reality means literally to grasp, to catch – the same as in German begreifen – to grasp with your fingers. Of the interesting relation between our hands, the comprehending the world and counting, which form also somehow the base of our digital culture, I was reminded by Arno Schmidt’s bawdy derivation of the word digital.

When Schmidt was composing his first and most voluminous typescript novel “Zettel’s Traum” end of the 1960s, the word digital in German language had exclusively the anatomical meaning, as given under [1] in Wiktionary; I looked this up in several German dictionaries and thesauruses of that time period – nowhere would digital be used in the nowadays predominant way [2] or [3].

In contrary to the English-American sphere. There, digit means a sign for a number after all.
Why do the English count directly with their fingers, while we Germans calculate with the Zahl, from zala, which means a mark, a brand sign? Zahl, Zeichen (sign) and digit, as well as toe and token have the same Indo-European root *deik̑-, but the path of the word into the two languages was different however.
***

A problem of interest to astronomers and theologians likewise, from the late antiquity on, was the determination of Easter in the calenders. The difficulty comes from the seven days of the week, the different lengths of the months and the 365 days of the year not being each other’s multiples. Therefore, the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring varies between March 22nd and April 25th. It was the artistry of the Computus to calculate this date for the future years.

The anglosaxian Benedictine Beda, the Venerable, is the father of our chronology of AD and BC. Like many thinkers following Augustine, Beda assumed that in our world all things would be “ordered in measure and numbers” (Wisdom 11,20 – sed omnia mensura et numero et pondere disposuisti).

To give a calculation for Easter, valid and consistent for the whole world, he had written the henceforth mandatory work on the Computus: De Temporum Ratione, Of the Calculation of the Times.

Right the first chapter deals with “Calculation and Language of the Fingers”. Beda introduces counting and shows, how the denumberable, via counting with the fingers, leads to an alphabet of digits; it becomes digitised. “De Computo vel loquela digitorum” – Computing with Digits.

Even though many developments of mechanical calculation from Schickard to Leibnitz – and finally Zuse – took place in Germany, it were Charles Babbage and Ada Byron, who put a Digit Counting Apparatus in the mill of their Analytical Engine. Since then, the word digital appears more and more often in context with calculating machines in England and the US. Since the 1930s (and up to today), digital is used to name the coding of signals by discrete values and numbers in opposite to analogue.
***

The digital world – counted with your fingers, abstract, decomposed into data computed under logical rules. In opposite to that is apparently the reality, comprehendalbe in an analogue way.
There: Plato – here: Aristotele … etc. etc.

“How I Killed Pluto” by Mike Brown

Original German Blog Post]

“Good science is a careful and deliberate process. […] The discovery itself contains little of scientific interest. Almost all of the science […] comes from studying the object in detail after discovery.”
Mike Brown

Astronomy’s objects – planets, stars, galaxies – may in fact race through the universe at unimaginable speed – watched from earth however their movements seam often rather unhurried. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it was immediately added as ninth member to the hitherto existing eight planets, even though it was only half of our earth’s moon’s size. Therewith the solar system appeared to be somehow complete; while one object was to be predicted through Neptune’s orbit to be found beyond the eigths planet, giving thus reason for the search for the ninth planet, there where no hints for more planets.

The “tenth planet”, Eris, its discovery in 2005 making Mike Brown to one of the most famous astronomers in the world, is double the size of Pluto, with an even stronger elliptical orbit. By random, Eris was positioned rather far outside in the 1930ies; two hundred years earlier or later – and it would probably have been discovered before Pluto or at least simultaneously. Then, there would have been suddenly not one of those Trans-Neptune-Objects, but two. Wouldn’t those small boulders, in their far distance, and with their stretched orbits have been classified as planets at all, but just be counted as asteroids?

The question of time’s role in sciences, timing, the season on the one hand, patience on the other, is the actual topic of “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming”. By reporting his private life in an amusing way, by letting us witness more than ten years of his biography, the initiation of his marriage, the birth of his daughter, her first years in life, it becomes in a subtle way apparent, how slowly and laboriously the scientific work, taking place in parallel gets protracted. Similar to the celestial bodies, that he observes, the project described by Mike Brown moves along, more in decades than in years. Infinite patience while watching the sky at night and while evaluating the images in day time. The same routine for years, interrupted by the nights of the full moon.

The second aspect of time – timing, the right season – gives extreme suspense to the book. While Brown is preparing the publication of three Trans-Pluto-Objects, a team of Spanish astronomers flashes ahead by publishing their own discovery of right one of these celestial bodies. Brown, at first taking it for mere chance, shoots of his two remaining objects right the same week, steeling the show of Spanish group, for one of these two would be Eris, of remarkable size and extraordinary distance. But then, bit by bit, it becomes visible that there were inconsistencies with the Spanish publication, and even if the case was never solved finally, it looks like Brown became victim of some “espionage” among colleagues.

What ever might have been the case – the internal and external struggle about ethics in science, about the right way of publication, about the importance of review and the necessary privacy, make this book in particular worth reading. Brown thus gives enough space to the reader, to make their own mind, even if he gives a very personal point of view regarding the Spanish astronomers of course.

And in the end, a truly epic show-down takes place, when within the IAU, the International Astronomical Union, a downright fight starts, what should finally be called a planet – just the eight, up to Neptune, or every of a unknown multitude of objects up to the most remote rim of the solar system. This is not about science, but about language, and most of all, about the power of terms and names.
Wittgenstein would have had his fun.

Mike Brown: “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming”
New York (Spiegel & Grau) 2010, approx. 19,80 EUR
ISBN 978-0-385-53108-5

Further reading:
Scientific American – My first 30 years

The Idiot – a topical figure again?


ἰδιώτης,idiōtēs I) N. 1) the individual man, private citizen in oposite to the state, att.Pr.; b) the common, ignoble man 2) a) the ignorant, layman in oposite to the trained person, e.g. in oposite to a physician b) someone ignorant to poetry, a prosaic person. […]

Totski muttered to himself: “He may be an idiot, but he knows that flattery is the best road to success here.”
Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Open systems don’t always win.
Steve Jobs.

Dear Igor Barinov,

The status for the following app has changed to Removed From Sale.
App Name: WikiLeaks App

Techcrunch, 21.12.2010

The iPad as a particular device is not necessarily the future of computing. But as an ideology, I think it just might be.
Steven Frank, http://stevenf.com

An idiōtēs in the Greek Polis was a man, who did not separate the public from the private – in most cases for economic necessity, like the merchants or for social restraint, because he or she would be denied political action, as was the case for slaves or women.

Plato in his Republic describes what he finds pathetic about this: An Idiotes only cares about his own Oikos – his own fire in the hearth and not about the society, the Polis. However, even a rich Idotes can only survive by the society’s mercy. Only, because he can be confident on the society to always be on his side, he can take for granted, not to simply get murdered by his domestics. He would be totally helpless without the public, that he contemns by his Idioty.
***

Net-Politics is on everyone’s lips these days. This word, so you may think further, might imply, that there is something like a Polis, a public, in the Internet.

We have been writing several times here, that a political public can only unfold, if their rules can be negotiated free of purpose. As long as the net is in fact completely controlled by private economy, a liberal, political discussion, driven by values, is hardly possible. Companies control content over CDN, backbone, DNS, ISP, and recently even by means of the operating systems of the terminal devices; the argument for censorship is hardly ever something political or ethical; like the Wikileaks-App, deleted by Apple, just the Standard Terms and Conditions are brought in.

The situation with Social Networks an platforms is similar. Twitter could block my profile at any time with regard to the STCs, Youtube might delete videos just with regard of alleged infractions. And net neutrality – i.e. treating all data packages in the same way – so only as good as the fair chance for all Websites, to get found over search.

All the more interesting, I take the observation, how devotional whole legions of Net activists make of themselves lackeys to the telecom industry, to Google, Facebook and especially to Apple – and confound the partial openness of these with the public.

The shifting of information power from content producers, authors, film makers, musicians and their publishers and copyrights collectives towards the content platforms, the social networks and search engines is probably the irreversible consequence of a much deeper cultural change. Therefore the answer on the question how (and if at all) a political public, a society nevertheless will aliment the economic needs of people in creative professions, is crucial for the future shape of culture and creativity. I think, the Pirate Party’s demanding to “regard as natural” and “explicitly support” non-commercial copying and use of works, while at the same time make authors “more independent of existing structures of power” is utopian. Right now, only Telcos benefit from content free to copy, by better utilising their bandwidth – and of course the platform operators, who generate traffic through this and thus provide better advertising vehicles. And even though I earn my money also with advertising, I would see it as rather poor, if that would be all that can sustain.

Xenophon thus used the Idiot already in the fourth century BC in some metaphorical meaning: an idiot is inartistic person, ignorant to poetry.

Read more:
The Illusion of the Free Internet
Everything is Turned into Highway
Censorship?!

“Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”

[Original German Blog Post]

(1) “A Vernacular is like a crumbled street version of a classic language. Like Italian is a vernacular language and Latin is a classic language. What does actual vernacular online video sound like, that’s native to the Internet and speaks vernacular Internet ease? I’ll just read you the categories of an unnamed [Online Video Network] here: ‘LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy’. Those are actual terms, coined on the Internet. Now, you could think, to be classy, you would like to expunge that vernacular, and instead of them saying ‘LOL’ they should say something like ‘commedy’, instead of ‘OMG’ something like ‘experimental’. – Allright. That’s not how it works. It is a little hard to understand this, but the actual path to classiness is to upgrade the vernacular. You have to get through LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy and somehow come out the other side. You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival. (My transcript)

(2) classic 1610s, from Fr. classique (17c.), from L. classicus “relating to the (highest) classes of the Roman people,” hence, “superior,” from classis (see class). Originally in English “of the first class;” meaning “belonging to standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity” is attested from 1620s. Classics is 1711, and is the earliest form of the word to be used as a noun.
Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary

(3) “Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”
Roger M. Buergel’s mantra as curator of Documenta 12

“The idea to put together an international Exhibition on the art of the 20th century in Germany is so obvious, that there seems hardly any need for explanation.”, thus gives Werner Haftmann as introduction into the catalogue on the first Documenta 1955 in Kassel. Evidently the makers of this first mass-art-show were exactly clear about what would make the art of their century. After my tour around the Documenta 12, however I was clear about this being the last Documenta for me to visit. While the curators of the three preceding exhibitions would have tried, to draw a picture of today’s art – and would fail, everyone in his own way, 2007’s exhibition had abandoned to define something like “classical art of our time”. What could give the impression of negligence or of idleness of the mind of the curator, I would today take as a symptom for upheaval in visual arts, which will be shaken in a similar way like media, music industry, and all the other so called creative arts.

Modernism – modern art, like it has evolved during the last three centuries – is classical antiquity, exactly like Roger Buergel says. Like the scholastic adherence to the antiquity had governed thought and creativity in modern occidental culture for a long time, the modern-contemporary terms and categories are still seen as the measure for “classical” quality. Review and analysis of contemporary art either lead to anaemic formalism, like in the latest issue of Kunstforum, or end up in total randomness, just like the last Documenta.

Helpless we look around: isn’t there something to step in place of the old and venerable? A new generation? A new direction? Bruce Sterling gives the answer in his nearly hour-long closing-speech at the Vimeo Conference. The new is already there, and thus as vernacular, popular dialect, cant, in short: standing outside the classical culture. The new can be found in the vernacular culture of the Net.

You might argue, that this insight is neither new nor very inventive; the Internet rolling up culture out-and-out is told in whole annuals of Wired and thousands of hours of TED-conference. But Sterling says something different from that: To recognise the new, we have to be able to speak about it. The (professionial) terminology of cultural sciences and the critics is still the Lingua Franca of Modernism. At the same time, the vernacular of the Net-culture is not much more as a jargon yet.

The Shape of future art (as long as we still want to use this word, compromised by the “adoration of the genius” and by the bourgeois production process) could look like Urban Art or Generative Art – Favela Chic, to speak in Sterling’s words – or the eclecticism, peculiar to Net culture, the Bricolage, the Collage, Punk – Sterling’s Gothic High Castle.

This vernacular culture is distinct from classical contemporary culture particularly by its conditions of production. The classical author, artists or composer is remunerated by judicially sanctioned transfer systems like HFA, MCPS, SESAC – or he is directly employed by the state, as a university professor, member of the state orchestra or editor in the public broadcasting system. In opposite to that we find the much lamented “for-free-culture” of blogs, online video, the remixes and covers, and the so called “citizen journalism”, and so forth and so forth. And even if it might occur obvious to some, to just transpose the way of production of the classical culture onto the vernacular creativity of the Net, however this effort is doomed: the categories of the old world gain no longer traction; the people do not want to speak Latin anymore, because Italian now gives them the most fluent ability for expression.

Enhances
“Stand on the shoulders of Giants”
Accessibility of knowledge
Retrieves
everybody a publisher
oral tradition
dilettante / amateur

Non-Commodity-
writing

(Decay of Copyright)

Reverses
Bricolage (Ecclecticism)
Generative Art
New definition of Public Space
Obsolesces
Assembly-line book
mass-marketing for books
book-fairs

In the table on the left I tried to interpret this development with Herbert Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad:

As this change’s consequence we will, however, see only few more big novels, only rarely someone will take the risk to produce an expensive, full-length movie, or to practise a symphonic work of Musica Viva with an orchestra. What we experience is the comeback of the dilettante, in the best sense, of the enthusiast; “Everybody a publisher” means: Non-Commodity-Production of Culture.

Read more:
“So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production
The End of History – for creative professionals.

The Illusion of the Free Internet

[Original German Blog Post]

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — PayPal Inc., the payment processor owned by EBay Inc., cut access today to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.org for violating its acceptable use policy.

(www.businessweek.com)

Earlier this year, I wanted to order a book at an Indian publisher. When trying to pay via the PayPal-link on the publisher’s homepage, I was shown a message, that PayPal would no longer allow money transfers with India. Just that. Without stating any reason.

In the discussion about Google Streetview, one argument has especially stricken me: people, not wanting to contribute their homes to Google’s database, face the accusation, they would promote “censorship”, or would even be “against the freedom of the Internet” – and likewise harsh criticism.

The truth is: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Ebay are economic enterprises. The way, Amazon and Ebay deal with Wikileaks show, which kind of free these companies really represent: free as in free beer – and it has little in common with freedom, that many convenient services of these companies are apparently for free.

If the publications of Wikileaks should be protected or damned, is not the question, discussed here. Ethical or political arguments are not discussed by Amazon and Ebay at all. They solely refer to their terms and conditions, which Wikileaks might have broken objectively.

If we leave the Internet to the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and Ebays, we degrade the Internet zu some machinery for manipulation and marketing. Every society – even every community – should take care to not completely economise their most important contents and interfaces. Regulations like the Fixed Book Price Agreement or the broadcasting legislation have originated from this idea – and they have been successful in the “old” media world over decades. Now it’s about bringing forward the freedom of the media politically and ethically and not merely driven by economy.

Boycotts may help to reach out to companies – and in our abstinence from beloved services, they show us how dependent we may have in fact become. But in the end, the only help is, getting alternatives ourself.

Read more:
Virtual Broadcasting
Censonrship?!
Without Google

“Everything is turned into a highway”

(three weeks without Google)

[Original German Blog Post]

“The building of new ELECTRONIC SUPERHIGHWAYS will be an even bigger enterprise [compared to building the Interstate Network]. Suppose we connect New York and Los Angeles with multi-layer of broadband communication networks, such as domestic satellites, wave guides, bunches of co-axial cables, and later the fiber-optics laser beam. […] The effect would be more numerous [as the side effects of the moon landing]” Nam June Paik (quoted from Wulf Herzogenrath (Ed.): “Nam June Paik. Werke 1946-1976”, Köln 1976.)

At the Venice Biennial, Nam June Paik as German contribution 1993 showed The Electronic Superhighway ‘Venice → Ulan Bator’. Paik had in a study for the Rockefeller Foundation as soon as 1974 presented a concept of a data highway, that Bill Clinton would pick up for his campaign twenty years later.

“How many slums will we bulldoze to build the Information Superhighway?” Kivistik said. […] “How many on-ramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway.?”
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

The Internet as data highway – Daten-Autobahn; from the beginning this metaphor was smiled at contemptibly. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl rings in our ears and Al Gore is is unbearable self-righteousness.

Just as Randy Waterhouse, the protagonist of Neal Stephenson’s great novel Crypotnomicon gets outraged on the sociologist Dr. Kivistik – apparently completely untouched by technology – spoiling his beautiful Internet by drawing the parallel of an “Information Superhighway” to its end.

“I know that you’re not qualified to have an opinion about technical issues.” Waterhouse barks helplessly back; the sociologist – in his opinion lacking technological insights – should just not be able to give a qualified statement on the Internet!

But the picture of the highway is very well not that inappropriate for the Internet – however not so much, because data speeds along some backbones. It is rather that to build Highways you hat to plane away whole landscapes, and former remote spots suddenly become suburbs of the metropoles.

“The American way of life: […] What America has to offer: comfort, the best gadgets in the world, ready for use,[…]wherever they go, everything is turned into a highway with the world as a wall of billboards on either side […]

Max Frisch puts in the mouth of his misanthrope Homo Faber. The highway as picture for waste land, the monotonous, flanked by advertising. The planing and homogenisation of once varied regions: for this analogy of highway and Internet there is likely much sympathy amongst the book sellers!

And while regions connected to the highway get homogenised into one big periphery, the remaining land moves suddenly far away. People without a car loose their connection – in the very sense of the word.

Not being active online, does not at all mean the Internet would not intrude many parts of the life. Biometric ID-cards, electronic tax declarations, video surveillance with webcams, and dialog marketing. Streetview or Yasni – everyone gets forcefully connected, and to opt out is only possible for those who generally participate in the game – however most of these data bases would not even offer “blurring”: In the electric world, there are no remote places.

The tendency to plane down, to grade, to misappropriate on the one hand, and marginalise on the other which comes with the Information Highway, has to get opposed by a framework that gives everybody the same chance to use the Net and at the same time preserves the multitude of opinions, and counteracts homogenisation by “affirmative action” on minorities.

In the meantime I have not been using search engines for three weeks. I am not strict with that – one week, or three, or for ever – this is likely the same. I have to date not reached a point at which it would be hard to get perfectly oriented in the Internet, and in the real world without Google.

In Google’s system, I see the Information Superhighway – for the better and the worse- come to perfection. Everything gets in reach, everything can become visible and accessible. Everything gets planed into a hit-list, changing the world into the wall of billboards as in Max Frisch’s quote above.

The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

  • Everything is turned into a highway
  • Digital Litercy
  • Censorship
  • Orientation with Openstreetmap
  • Valuable recommandations

    and the beginning of the experiment:

  • Without Google
  • Qohelet: Time and Happiness

    [Original German Blog Post]

    Turn! Turn! Turn!
    To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
    A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
    A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
    A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
    A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
    a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
    A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
    A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
    A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

    What is the essence of our life? It is the moment that we live to see. In it we find our expectations of the future as well as our memories of what has passed. Thus our life flows moment after moment through our consciousness. Everything that we experience has its moment in time – and by nature our life span is limited:
    “Live is just too short, to mess about with bad things.” is one basic idea of this Slow-Media-Blog.

    There is a book in the bible that that deals in general and at the same time in a practical way with this essence and the meaning of the limited life time: Qohelet (in Hebrew קֹהֶלֶת‎, chairman, thus Ecclesiastes in Greek, Preacher in the King James Version and Teacher in the New International Version). Qohelet is among the most interesting contemplations on the essence of time – as the season, as limit to our facilities and particularly on the paradox of the steady flow, that creates the illusion of progressing, of causes and effects, that emerges from the sequence of the events in our imagination. From these conditions of time – limitation, steady flow, pretended progress – Qohelet develops his ethics and is set next to the other time-philosophers of his time – Heraclitus and Parmenides. In our context, we look especially to the question of good life with the right time.

    To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Eccl 3,1). And this says that also the joys and the beautiful things of life have their very hour that will not come again, when it has passed – and it’s a pity, for we shall never have enough of these (The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Eccl 1,8):

    Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry; (Eccl 8,15). Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Eccl 9,7-10)

    ***

    .הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל
    Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. (Pred 1,2)

    Our efforts may not really change the world – but very well we ourselves get changed by our labour. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. (Eccl 10,9). So our pursuit becomes not futile – it changes merily the meaning of our actions in relation to the results. The quest for completion, for the final result as a goal, is meaningless; no item, also no intangible item like scientific knowledge or the creation of a work of art will redeem us, as long as we think, “If we had just achieved this or that, then we made it!”. Despite this bourgeois hope, life does not consist of fulfilment but of action, of labour and toil, of eating and drinking, of loosing and keeping, and so on. Only as long as we live, we can live to see: For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. (Eccl 9,4) So happiness does not mean fulfillment, it is not the purpose of life but being happy is a means to a good life: Simcha, שִׂמְחָה‎, the happy-being is in this concept of jewish philosophy – like with the Hassidic teacher Rabbi Nachman of Breslov the precondition of morally good life: “Mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid” – it is the great commandment to always be happy.

    And this is the core proposition of Qohelet: That our life is too short, to not seek for the beauty in it, for in just the consciousness thereof we are different from the animals: For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast; (Eccl 3, 19) And how dieth the wise man ? as the fool. (Eccl 2,16)
    This however requires peace and quiet:

    Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty. (Eccl 5,2)

    Digital Literacy
    My fourth day without Google.

    [Original German Blog Post]

    “Ask any kid what Facebook is for and he’ll tell you it’s there to help him make friends. […] He has no idea the real purpose of the software, and the people coding it, is to monetize his relationships. He isn’t even aware of those people, the program, or their purpose. […]
    The kids I celebrated in my early books as “digital natives” capable of seeing through all efforts of big media and marketing have actually proven *less* capable of discerning the integrity of the sources they read and the intentions of the programs they use.”

    Douglas Rushkoff

    Vilém Flusser would have called Google a contraption of the kind that is functionally very simple but structurally highly complex. About such contraptions, Flusser had always warned us: to control these is nearly impossible – too much specialist knowledge from different disciplines would be necessary; to get controlled by them by contrast would be very easy: they are useful to us and easily accessible for everyone – even without expertise.

    What is true for using the Internet in general should be important to us for Google in particular. In September, according to Comscore, short of fifty million Germans had accessed Google, which is approximately 90% of Germany’s online population; every single one of these fifty million visitors hit Google’s pages forty times in average. And while most of the users would answer the question on the reason of existence of Google similarly correlated with the benefit for themselves, it becomes obvious, latest with the publication of the quarterly numbers, that Google is in the meanwhile probably the most efficient advertising channel among all media – at least regarding performance.

    People behind SEO and SEM have learned to understand Google in that very sense. And to make it thus clear of what kind these search-experts are there is a nice pictorial classification in two wings:
    the Black-Hats – the villains from the western, that systematically exploit the weaknesses of the search-algorithms, that are unavoidable with systems that complex, and the White-Hats, how in IT-business such security experts that are the “good” hackers, that should help to stabilise systems with their knowledge are called.

    For us users, it does not matter in the end, if we are drawn to some page we would not want to visit by a dark Black Hat, or if a White Hat, an employee of a “respectable search agency” had optimised the search so we would get results we also would not want to get. However the ambiguity of the sound of these terms in the English language is nice: Blackhead and Whitehead are both just acne. That means, also the SEO-Pros, that do perhaps see themselves as the heroes with the white hat, are immediately associated with the nuisance of skin impurities.

    “When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them.

    Digital tools are not like rakes, steam engines, or even automobiles that we can drive with little understanding of how they work. Digital technology doesn’t merely convey our bodies, but ourselves.

    At the very least we must come to recognize the biases – the tendencies- of the technologies we are using.”

    Douglas Rushkoff goes on.

    Digital Literacy does not only consist of knowing the where and how to retrieve relevant information; it is not just about being able to judge a source’s quality or to take care in spreading personal data. Digital literacy means at the very first to distinguish which interests effect the Internet, which intentions lie beneath the offering of certain services, and too comprehend the technological base thereunder.

    And in the same way, as we not only learn to hear but also to speak, not only to read but also to write, digital literacy does not get complete before we become not only passive users but take active action. We should all have the capability to do SEO – at least in a basic form. We should utilize the functionality of those contraptions for our means, in the same way the search-engine-optimisation people do, and to take just as good as we can, our share out of these structures.

    Or how Benedikt Köhler remarks: “Machines exist to serve us. There is something to learn from culture of the Hacker for media makers: not to submit to the machines, neither reject, but to take advantage of the machines, to even downright exploit them!”

    At this moment I am sitting at Schwechat. It is a wonderful autumn day, and today again, as yesterday, it was hardly difficult to keep away from search engines. All links that I would have needed, e.g. to prepare this journey, I found on Wikipedia or was recommended to by my friends.

    Read more:
    “The Army of Technological Slaves.”

    The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

  • Everything is turned into a highway
  • Digital Literacy
  • Censorship
  • Orientation with Openstreetmap
  • Valuable recommandations

    and the beginning of the experiment:

  • Without Google
  • Cenorship?!
    My third day without Google.

    [Original German Blog Post]

    Leave aside the fact that Google was happy to censor results for China until its servers were hacked. The fact is, Google still censors search results in other countries at the request of their governments. […] Censoring results for years, shifting course for entirely unrelated reasons, and then vilifying competitors who don’t jump on the bandwagon. (Though, of course, completely Google’s prerogative.) But it’s particularly hypocritical when Google is still happily censoring its search and YouTube products for other countries.
    http://www.businessinsider.com

    Today’s post on my using the Net without search engines I wrote in Berlin. Accordingly it is burdened with
    the pompous solemness of a federal capital.

    The indifferent position of Google, Microsoft and other media conglomerates – up to being willingly supportive to regimes of injustice – should earn our harshest criticism. Reports like Google giving in with the French authorities leave also a feeling of helplessness. What happens if such a core part of our communication infrastructure can be bound by mere administrative acts?

    Obviously something is missing: to respect online media as more and more relevant platforms of the formation of our political and social opinion; to grant online media the constitutional and administrative rank, that they should get for long by their relevance.

    With censorship we usually associate violent suppression of critical opinions or positions that deviate from the mainstream. The expatriation of Ovid, the church’s index, the bourgeois-authoritarian censorship in Metternich’s Deutscher Bund – to the murderous systems of totalitarian censorship in the twentieth century: at first sight there are few reasons why it should be allowed to states to limit free speech and the access thereto.

    However, taking a more subtle perspective there are very well some points why we do have the right to argue with Google. Defamation, breaking laws, hate speech, all this is banned from media with good reason. And with good cause there is the Press Council and the option to go to court. We should not let us getting persuaded, that our asking for keeping to democratic rights would be breaching the dyke (what a metaphor!) for censorship and would take us the legitimation to promote globally our understanding of freedom of opinion.

    To regard the Internet as today’s broadcasting, as the Bavarian prime minister has demanded in his key note to this year’s Medientage München Conference, I consider completely justified. The Internet not just takes the role that broadcasting used to hold, it even today does much more in distributing opinion, information and entertainment than the publishers or broadcasters would ever have.

    So it is even more important to take care for plurality, for a multitude of offerings amongst which also the publicly funded, cultural, and journalistic freedom should be found.

    Although I am living my third day without search engines, I am not that naïve to believe my own Google-fasting to be more than a temporally limited abstinence: I do not want to abandon search engines permanently or totally. I wished that out Europe’s societies’ centre would form a liberal civil rights movement, articulating atractive alternatives of the kind of Wikipedia or OpenStreetmap in the Net.

    The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

  • Everything is turned into a highway
  • Digital Litercy
  • Censorship
  • Orientation with Openstreetmap
  • Valuable recommandations

    and the beginning of the experiment:

  • Without Google