Short Messages – 20 Years of SMS

At instant speeds all reaction and adjustment are inevitable but too late to be relevant.

ἔρρει τὰ κᾶλα. Μίνδαρος ἀπεσσύα. πεινῶντι τὤνδρες. ἀπορίομες τί χρὴ δρᾶν.
Xenophon, Helenika

Twenty years ago today the first SMS was sent. And with the SMS begins the age of short messages, of asynchronous real time communication, and the epoch of laconism. Out of SMS came Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Whatsapp, … currently c. 300,000 SMS are sent per second.

With the SMS we have learned to organize our lives just where we stand or go, without the need to get the Other ‘on the line’. Although the pager had been around before, it is the integration into one device that would not only let us make calls, but would let us text, and soon also make pictures and process our entire communication.

SMS, Short Messaging Service, a string of 140 characters (some providers might allow up to 255 in simple Latin alphabet though). SMS has educated us to be brief. Through it we have developed a new and extremely efficient language, laconic, like we see it in languages of the antiquity.

Laconism has its name from the Lacedaemonians, the Spartans. Xenophon passed on the dispatch quoted above, sent by the Spartan vice admiral during the battle of Kyzikos to his home city. The one-lined dispatch was intercepted by Athenian spies and thus ironically preserved for posterity:

“Ships sunk, Mindaros dead, men hungry, ran out of wits.”

The acute brevity of the expression soon become proverbial for Spartan culture, the reduction to the essential, abstination from all decor, that we now call Spartan.

What do SMS, short messeged news have for us twenty years later? Every new medium can according to McLuhan be analyzed in four aspects to get a clearer picture what the medium does to society and culture:

1. What gets enhanced by the medium?
2. What gets obsolete?
3. What is retrieved that was lost before?
4. What does the development flip into when pushed to the edge?

This Tetrade regarding short messages could look like this:

Efficiency, community, controle
Verse, metaphor, laconism, conversation

/Short messages

Flips into
Memetic communication, shitstorm, Pirate Party, Arab Spring, Big Data, Slow Media
Makes obsolete
Pager, voice mail, correspondance, newspaper, TV news

The Tetrade model by McLuhan: Four aspects how media effect culture and society.

1. Short messages increase efficiency. We share information in brief, highly condensed, and at the same time we are independent of the fact if the other is ready to receive. The continuous exchange fosters community. Not only are we able to organize ourselves within a larger group of people – when we want to meet in a beergarden, we usually no longer give an exact location anymore, we rather organize spontaneously. By ‘I am there and have experienced this and that” we share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences seamlessly and continuously with others. By this, SMS, Twitter, Foursquare etc. also increase control: We can demand from others to inform us, we can even expect it – “Your line was busy” or “You haven’t answered your phone” no longer work as a pretext.

2. The pager was obviously rendered obsolete by SMS. But even if many haven’t gotten this yet, this is also true for the answering machine, voice mail as people nowadays call it: It is a nuisance to listen through recorded voice messages just to extract the little of relevant information they convey, like the number to call back, that we have to take down manually, while short messages usually would allow direct reply.

I am convinced that it was SMS and not the email that pushed the written letter aside. Email is still a text of almost arbitrary length; even if it usually gets delivered much quicker than paper mail, it shares all other disadvantages with it: quickly the inbox is cluttered; before one could go through the time consuming statements of a letter are ingested and digested into a reply, all kinds of things have happened that outdated the content of the letter, lots of other messages, emails or letters have arrived, that also beg for response. Written correspondence, the drivel filling pages is no longer up to date and in recession; it is more than 15 years ago that I wrote my last letter – and this only because the recipient was in his eighties. The successor, the email thread, this we can say with confidence, will hardly bear anything that we would want to call literature.

The end of classic news media through Twitter can be taken literal. I is not just the lack of actuality in newspapers and TV news compared to the real time communication of short messages – it is primarily lack of filters. While newspapers and TV give us always the feeling to learn what we don’t want to know while leaving out what we would regard as really important to us, we are looking for the very people in our timeline who’s statements we find relevant. I don’t want to go into the problem of the filter bubble here, the phenomenon that we are confined in our own patch of reality. I don’t want to elaborate on the question if it would not perhaps be better if we still read the paper – it is just the fact that classic news has been pushed away by asynchronous real time updates.

3. There is a form of verbal expression perfectly suited for the 140 characters of short messages: the verse. Verse is the most important tool for oral tradition. Every sentence is a simple one-liner. Verse by verse one can memorize the myth, the fairy tale, the ballad. A test divided into simple sentences of almost identical length generates by itself its rhythm. With the printed book, verses were pushed to the fringe of literature to become a mere artistic format without practical implications; the persistence of printed literature made it no longer necessary to learn something by heart. SMS brings back the verse, the aphorism, the one-liner. And since poetic language expresses itself in highly condensed ways, by concentrating entire images into metaphors expressed in a few words with multiple layers of meaning, it is no wonder that the language of short messages is often metaphorical. But not only the verse-like form of short messages reminds of oral tradition. SMS, Twitter, etc. are in their core not textual media, but rather conversations, exchange of word and reply, often not just in a dialogue but over a whole group of participants.

4. We are already living through the changes in our culture caused by short messages. We have already written about the memetic turn. Metaphors, pictorial expressions that would make accessible their meaning only to those who can read the picture, generate a high extent of communality. Cat pics are the glue of society. By the immediacy of ‘I can reply right away’ we see messages built up to a literal storm in a positive loop, in particular when it is about indignation. The shitstorm is the trope of the age of short messages.

The culture of the Pirate Party is also closely related to short messages. Highly poetical, now Tweet without hermetical hashtag, highly self-exciting, and for people outside almost looking impolitely brief and direct. Even if there are more than 30,000 members in the Pirate Party now, the core of activists does not inform nor organize themselves via mailing lists or the wiki, but via Twitter; “140 Zeichen muss reichen.”
I am convinced that many of the political uprisings of the last years are closely related to SMS culture. I don’t say that we wouldn’t have seen an Arab Spring without Twitter or Facebook, but short messages have left their mark on these new forms of self-empowerment.

Beside search engines, it is the deluge of short messages which has lead to a new paradigm in IT: Big Data. The volume is just so huge, and so quickly do the new posts come in; and everything has to be processed in real time. Thus the old rules for hardware, operation systems, and databases had to be quickly abandoned. Short messages are conversations given in written form. This makes them readable to machines easily; it is thus not only volume and velocity, also machine learning was kissed to awaken from its deep slumber.

And finally: When real time has become reality, when it is thus no longer about accelerating communication because it has already reached total simultaneity, our goal now has to be to comprehend what is going on. We can now concentrate on what is really important to us, what we find really valuable.
Slow Media is our response, our synthesis of the SMS tetrade.

Twenty years of short messages – a historical epoch of greatest importance for the culture in most parts of the world, but in particular for us here, and for myself very personally.

Vita brevis,
ars longa,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

Collapsing Moments. Failure-driven Debugging of Intuition

by Regine Heidorn, Bit-Boutique®.

[Original German Post]

In our consciousness of the everyday grind we are mostly aware of thoughts, feelings and actions for a moment or a longer timespan like days or weeks. We try to do the Right Thing™ at the Right Time™ to keep us in a flow to reach our goals. Frequent self-reflection on this consciousness enables us to tell if we have managed to do right.

I am using the terms right or good though they are not easily defined without getting in a mess of philosophical ethics and morality. Since I am speaking about intuition and failure in our biographies, I prefer to stay on a more subject-related level. Feel free to fill good and right with your own content. In case you don’t believe in these categories at all or don’t value them somehow: they are not playing a really important role in this post.

Continue reading “Collapsing Moments. Failure-driven Debugging of Intuition”

Another divide.

[Original German Blog Post]

A chasm runs through our society (if we would stay with this 19th century term anyway). The Digital Divide is usually attributed to the problems of “digital illiteracy”, the fact that a portion of the world’s population is kept outside the Internet by poverty or stubbornness.

In truth, however, and I am convinced about that, the fault of the digital divide is cutting on a much more elementary level though our so called occidental culture. And I take this reactionist term as fully adequate, as Oswald Spengler would have done, because we are talking about nothing less then the complete upheaval of the order that we took for granted at least during the last 200 years. Why would I write such lofty stuff? Because it fits!

Fifteen years ago, I had read a witty article in Wired: : Net-Heads vs. Bell-Heads. Bell-Heads is derived from the Bell Telephone Company, the world’s first telco and direct predecessor of AT&T. Over a hundred years, the Bell-Heads had been the architects of the global (tele-)communication. From the Bell Labs in New Jersey many of the most important inventions of the IT-age originated, not least the transistor. The Bell-Heads had been the heros and prophets of the connected world.

The end of the Bell-age bears legendary traits in the meantime: how John Draper in 1972, with a whistle from some cereal-promotion would have seized the whole US telephone system. When the decentralized net-logic of TCP/IP was more and more established, it became clear to the mentors of Net culture: centralized, bureaucratic systems like that of the telcos would in the long run be inferior to the distributed chaos of the Net. The Net-heads, the evangelists of an anti-hierarchic communications architecture became the apocalypticists revelating the dusk of the old telephone world.


The Net without fixed hierarchy, with mere local organisation is the metaphor for a new model of society. The degree of freedom from force, of freedom of speech and the sheer unlimited possibilities of personal evolvement and creativity that we could experience since the 90ies in the Internet, has shown to us, how we also could live. The communications network became an Utopia. Reality outside the Net however looked different: 9/11, “War against Terror”, banking crisis, economic slavery, refugees that our own border patrol would drown in the Mediterranean, and the fight for “intellectual property” – just to chant a short part of last decade’s litany. Thus it is no wonder, that the Net would sometimes take downright messianic shape in our view, the place where everything shall be better. Today however I do not want to dive into deconstructing these – as always – questionable promises of salvation.

Suddenly there is disturbance in the world. People stand up and go down into the streets. But it is not ideologies, neither party platforms or union speeches that set people into turmoil. The occasion for insurgency is not the same for all events. From the Maghreb to Spain and to the US, there are definitively different coercions, against which the people rise.

What unites the demonstrators from Tahrir Square to Wallstreet, is the disire for self-determination and self-organisation. And the model is the culture in the Net.

Thierry Lhote had twittered: “like in may 68 in France a whole generation is learning meme manufacturing for their next Media VP job #occupywallstreet”; and what might read cynical at first sight, turns out to a remarkable observation. In the same way as 50 years ago, a generation has grown up, for whom a consensus about the values of the “old world” can no longer be reached. Thereby the dived cuts right through the middle of the old political wings. Right, left, green – all these groups are dominated by a generation that stays foreign to the Net culture emotionally and intellectually, even, if they do not position themselves openly hostile. And when the Net-heads try to get involved with the old structures, this does only work as far as nothing gets changed and the Old is accepted unconditionally. This was demonstrated in a tragic-comically way recently, when a case of Twitter-censorship shook the German green party.

The rise of the Pirate Party is often compared to the rise of the green party in the late 70ies. And much of this comparison fits. Some enemies of then remained the same: nuclear energy or monopolistic corporations. Some parts are even strikingly parallel. What the Notstandsgesetze, the “Emergency Laws” would have meant for our parents (this role would have played the draft for the US), for us today it is Internet surveillance, three-strikes-out, bail-out, and FRONTEX. The meme #ozapftis (the uncovering of the government malware) is the Watergate of our generation.

Damals, als wg. Sachen wie #Bundestrojaner noch Bürger auf die Straßen gegangen wären.
Those were the times when citizens would have gone into the streets on occasions like that

might @videopunk lament – but I am convinced that this is exactly what happens.

Further reading:
Disrupt politics!
Memetic Turn

Public relations after the memetic turn

I don’t like the term PR 2.0. It suggests an improved version of something that has been around a long time. Some bugs have been removed, some new features have been added. But all in all, it’s still public relations as we know it. I think this is not the case.

Why? Because we went through something that can be called the “memetic turn” or “memetic revolution”. The concept of course refers to Richard Dawkins memetic theory in his “Selfish Gene”. Basically, memes are bits of information (images, metaphors, jokes), that are spreading through a network. Originally, Dawkinsian memes are encoded in genetic material, but here I will not refer to the evolution of behavior or species, but to the evolution of media. In a nutshell: Memetic communication is destroying society – mass society to be precise. This is because the meaning of memes seldom can be decoded by everyone, but is only available to members of one distinctive community. Think of a picture of a LOLcat “I iz eating your GTD folder”) in comparison to a headline such as “USA declares war on Germany”. The first is memetic, the second isn’t.

Usually we think media evolution interdependent with social evolution. Mass society created mass media and so on. But it is exactly the other way around. When we look at the origin of the nation state, media such as national newspapers, national traditions, national novelists came first. With Benedict Anderson, we can argue that national newspapers created the first nations.

At the beginning of the 21. century, we can clearly see the demise of the national newspaper, national Television or national politics (e.g. the Volksparteien in Germany). At the same time, there is a distinctly non-national medium on the rise: the Internet. In the beginning, we framed this medium in terms of the ascent of the global age and the first iconic representations of the Web always has been the globe.

But the more we look at the Web, the more we discover that it is no global medium, but a tribal one. Ideas travel through the various social graphs not the way global mass media would do, but their path resembles the way information was distributed in the various accounts of classic ethnologists. A large part of online communication is memetic – using strong icons for communications, that can only be deciphered by relatively small tribes, and no longer considered newsworthy for the general public.

And finally, I come to the role of public relations. The bad news is that one of the first casualities of the memetic revolution has been the general public. This is a quirky situation for an industry that has been mostly about telling stories to the general public or to journalists (that in turn translated the stories for the general public).

The good news for public relations is, that after understanding the implications of the memetic turn, there are not fewer but more opportunities to tell your stories. A lot more. But the skills are changing. Public relations is no longer about writing press releases that are attractive to the general public or some vague sociodemographic audiences (e.g. “Entscheider”).

The work of a PR professional resembles more and more traveling shamans wandering from tribe to tribe and delivering their highly special and individualized services to different communities.

The skills include:

– getting to know the relevant tribal audiences and identifying the locations and communal boundaries of the tribes with the help of tools such as social media monitoring

– learning their dialects, rituals, social structure by participant observation at community gatherings online as well as offline (netnography)

– translating the story to be told for the lifeworld of the community

At the moment, the first memetic PR shamans are already mingling with their relevant communities. They are mostly self-taught practitioners, but I am very optimistic, that the skills will be sooner or later be part of the regular curriculum for public relations professionals.

As matter of fact, the memetic turn can also be understood as an appeal to practitioners to return to the forgotten task and original promise of public relations: Go and create relations! Today, one should add: And let them be sustainable relations.

Disrupt Politics!

[Original German Blog Post]

“You will never be happy with strangers,
They would not understand you as we,
So remember the Jarama Valley
And the old men who wait patiently.”
Alex McDade

“Er sagte, es krache im Oberbau, und es krache im Unterbau. Da müsse sich sogleich alles verändern.”
(“He said, it cracked in the superstructure, and it cracked in the base. Thus everything would have to change at once.”)
(Bloch über Benjamin)

Communities persist by their members taking tasks within the community, fulfilling duties and profiting from the communally achieved successes. In the state’s society, the citizens delegate parts of their tasks and duties to the state’s administration. Over the last two hundred years, the citizens of the so called western world had handed over more and more even of some of their very intimate responsibilities to the state – care for the sick and elderly, birth and death, social security, education of children and much more.

How these delegated tasks would to be carried out, is defined by the process of representative decision-making of the parliamentary democracy. Elected representatives are mandated to take care over the span of several years. To fulfil these tasks, skilled persons have to be paid for and provided with their working means. And that those specialists would use their assigned means just about as planned in the society’s decision-making, an administration is needed on top.

Facebook is regularly compared to a nation that, regarding its population, would rank third in the world, after China and India. What makes Social Networks (and first of all Facebook) so nation-like?

In Social Networks, people affiliate with each other to communities, communicate and exchange. In most cases the exchange is rather personal; even when thousands of Arab women gather at the Persil Abaya Shapoo Facebook page, under the roof of their favourite detergent, it is at first sight all about the small things of every day’s business.

But not always things would stay to the small and private. Egypt, Tunisia, Libia, Spain, or the demolishing of Stuttgart’s main station – during the last months, huge groups of people came together, at first, to share their views, but then to form a common will – the common representation of no longer willing to accept the state of things, and finally to get organised and to jointly protest. And because the Networks it was always transparent, in how far others would join the movement, the protesters can be sure not suddenly be left out in the rain.

The protests’ content is always the getting back of responsibility and influence, that have – depending on the society’s shape rather or rather not be given up voluntarily. This calling “We are the people” is thus not without problems. Just because it is many that gather and articulate around some issue does not yet mean that a majority would share this opinion. Often the majority’s will is totally unclear, like with the Stuttgart main station. And even if it can be taken for granted that in deed a majority of those concerned would support the protest, important corrective features of democracy like protection of minorities and other, indisputable rules are lacking, that in our understanding of statehood should not be subject of change even by majorities of votes.

Politics will less and less work by delegation. The election terms appear to us completely inapropriate in length – but shorter terms would likely just lead to permanent campaigning and not to better representation of the will. Party platforms appear to us as irrelevant and inadequate, as the shallow content of mass media news. By the new communities and the preassure they can build through Social Networks, political decision-making is shaken. However it is not the case, that just a new variety would step alongside the established channels of representative democracy, just as Internet usage would not be additional or substituting to newspapers or other traditional media of the society.

Initiatives trying to somehow get “Net Politics” into parliamentary processes are necessarily longing to short to really stop the distortions. The speed, flexibility and intransigence that is demanded by the protesting people (attributed by mass media sometimes as angry citizens), are hardly to be balanced with whip, delegates’ conferences or presidential councils, without which a parliamentary-democratic system cannot be organised. As a stand-alone movement that is formed for realising a model for the entire society, like e.g. the Green Party in the eighties, the rather loose and spontaneous communities of interest are neither really suitable.

It will happen; for party politics, the newspaper’s fate is imminent. It will not help to tinker with politics 2.0 like with the symptoms of some illness. Openness in mind, admitting that even a system could fail that has been for centuries, should give us free sight of the alternative, that may lie before us. Only giving many options a try and allowing errors will bring us into the position to transpose what we treasure in the old world into the new. This change does not happen by itself, not due to nature’s law. Especially the technological infrastructure that enables the new, is shaped. If we care about how politics in future should look like, we have to take things into our own hands, not at last on the technological development and shaping of the new communal systems, like e.g. the culture in the Social Networks.

On Techcrunch, Semil Shah, regarding the uprising in North Africa, had reflected, to interpret the revolution as a new Social Media product. If therefore – like he says – start-ups would be needed, that would transform some political function into Social Media, I cannot really see. I think the infrastructure of existing Social Networks, Smartphones, video and photo networks would probably already be sufficient. In one thing, however, I totally agree:

Politics – there is no greater market to disrupt.

Read more:
Memetic Turn

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.

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,

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

“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.

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


(Decay of Copyright)

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

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.