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
  • Orientation with OpenStreetmap
    My second day without Google.

    [Original German Blog Post]

    Today again no search engines.

    My day today is a day of travel. Munich-Dusseldorf, then further to Berlin. To get oriented in Dusseldorf I use OpenStreetmap. Where is the difference to Google Maps? OpenStreetmap is a Wiki-project. It is open. I can participate. Of course, Google Maps also offers the option to create and publish your own maps. The interface that Google connects with other applications is fantastically simple. But it makes a difference if I am just able to generate my own layer, as it would be not possible otherwise with proprietary projects of the kind of Google Maps, or if I can work in the very core of the system.

    Similar to Wikipedia, the revision history of the maps’ details is very interesting and records the “extinction” of objects, an arbitrary event that is often seen on Google Maps. When maps get updated, the old versions are no longer available for us. There is no history.

    Apart from the honesty to make visible and keep record of the development and the (hopefully) steady improvement of the maps with every step of revision, it is the discussions, that some contributions provoke, that tell a far more vivid story compared to a simple map, where you could only speculate on the “why” of the existence – or even the lack – of an entry. Google usually does not tell about its motives.

    Georgia without details on Google Maps
    And sometimes it is just bizarre what is left out by Google Maps. The mysterious clouds that stretch over certain buildings – so much more discrete than having the sight pixeled! Or whole countries that vanish away from one day to the other, Georgia for example, nomore showing any information at all since the Georgia War 2008. And of course all details are still available on OpenStreetmaps .

    Wikipedia and its sister projects are not perfect. The arbitrariness and the rude manners of some administrators have been cause for many complaints – and with good cause. But all that is happening is in the open and should – at least in principle – be inviting to participate.

    I wish that more communal administrations would contribute to such projects, would claim their space in there and would thus make available their taxed-financed data for us, like done in e.g. Augsburg. How nice it would be, if the beautiful data offered by the Bavarian state office for the preservation of monuments (Bayerische Landesamt für Denkmalschutz) or the water authority would get an open interface to connect to other data without changing format. For now it is on us to populate OpenStreetmap with historic monuments, districts and the like and make it so available.

    Today once again, I am very satisfied. I once more got the feeling that it was worthwhile to have spend my time with what I have read online. And I got along securely on unknown territory – by foot and by public transport – even without Google.

    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
  • Valueable recommandations
    instead of fruitless rummaging.
    Without Google: Day 1

    [Original German Blog Post]

    Yesterday, I made my mind to abandon all search engines for some time; so I would not hesitate to tell how my using the Internet is changed by that.

    The most important means to get to valuable information, are my networks, Twitter at first. I would not want to get lost in a trivial eulogy on the great Web 2.0. However I have a strong feeling of security to get into all paths on the Internet that I would really want to follow, rolled out for me by my peer-group’s posts.

    For the first time I bothered to watch in detail which links I would get recommended in my Twitter-timeline. Until now I had presumed that I would have clicked more or less at random on the one link or the other. To get a more objective picture I now archived every link that I would see as worth following in a list.

    After looking what links I added came the surprise: I had in deed looked on about half of the Links from my timeline! Hardly there is any Spam. In fact, behind the links there lie almost always articles worth reading, or pictures that at least I would find funny. This efficiency in supplying content I find remarkable.

    Here is the list of links, that I would have judged relevant to follow yesterday evening:

    … and tomorrow it will go on. Also I am looking forward on the parallel report of @dasrhizom!

    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
  • Without Google.

    [Read this post in German]

    “The world is not a ball”. The night is made by the shadow, thrown by the mountain of the north. Changing the perspective like shown here, in the “Christian Topography” by Cosmas Indicopleustes. I would probably not have found that via Google.

    Figure from Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography, Ed. J. W. McCrindle, Calcutta 1897

    The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.
    Roger Bacon

    I have made my mind to start an experiment: I shall not use Google’s search from now on.

    Location and occasion that gave birth to this idea was an extended and lively discussion with Benedikt Köhler, Peter T. Lenhart and Sigrid Schwarz that took place last Friday at Galerie Royal – just suited for the following.

    Why did we end up with this idea?

    There is trigger and a cause for my decision. Last Friday I had – like so many times before – tried to find information on a certain product or brand by googeling. Among the first ten pages of hits, that means the first hundred web-sites that Google took for relevant regarding my search, there was not a single link that was truly connected to my search term. Without exception there were just portals for price comparison, portals for recommendations, or retailers – and a random sample of links checked, made it quickly clear that none of the the companies behind the links would in fact offer the thing I was looking for, at all. “Find Machiavelli cheep at eBay”, “Buy house dust mites at best price at Amazon” – this was the catalyst, but nothing more. I do not want to get into a lament on the bad habit of SEO/SEM-industry, that bilk us of our lifetime, and the spam they send us by their creepy and impertinent tricks, wasting our bandwidth. This is all commonplace.

    The cause for my experiment, no longer to search with Google, goes deeper. A search engine takes a word or several words which I put into it and delivers the pages in the Net on which those words can be found – ranked by an algorithm. The search engine is thus the extension of what used to be a book’s index. An index leads me quickly to the things that I already knew. I can retrieve the quotes from a book. However an index does not replace the table of contents, let alone an abstract.

    At first it appears to be a great relief to have information at hands in full text. What really takes place however, is that we just skip our working thoroughly through a topic because we can easily quote and reuse our search results anyway. Instead of risking our own thoughts, we “stand on the shoulders of giants” and these giants appear so overpowering superior that any resistance seems futile. We have so much at our disposition that it feels impossible to contribute anything other then a collage of what already exists. This eclecticism has very well its aesthetic quality. But I personally have an increasingly strong feeling that I do no longer retrieve anything real, and even more, to conceive something, the more I acculturate the technology of search.

    This feeling of worthless waste of time I do not get usually from content that is recommended by my friends on Twitter or Facebook, or that I find on the blogs I regularly read. Often I click on a link in my Twitter timeline without in advance seeing where it will lead to, for it is shortened by bit.ly or similar services and thus I hit the completely new and unexpected, and not rarely, this can go on link by link in directions that I would not have predicted.

    Also what I may find on social information-networks like Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap usually does mean a lot more to me then the algorithmic results of search engines. Not to the least, this is my motivation to contribute myself something I would belief that others might want to find it.

    I do not appreciate total abstinence from the Internet. Fasting does indeed not mean to hunger but to consciously keep within some rules of abstaining from food, and bringing to consciousness what we let go.
    My experiment – no Google, just the Web – shall bring clarity to me very personally, what position search takes for me and how it changes me and my work in the Internet. I will try to report my experiences here.

    Part 2: Valuable recommandations

    The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

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

    Further reading:
    The End of History – for creative professionals.
    On Lent
    Slow Media and borrowed time
    “So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production

  • Slow Coding

    by Regine Heidorn, Bit-Boutique®.

    [Read this post in German]

    The breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.

    Code is poetry – the slogan absorbed by WordPress – stands for one of the many movements of digital poetry coming into existence with the arrival of Zuses computers in the mid 1950s. Artificial texts result from the programmatic exchange of words as for example “Substitute each n-th noun of a text by the n-th following noun of a certain dictionary.“ – one of the experiments of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, Working Group for Potential Literature), formed in 1960 in France, who viewed text as a fabric and fathomed the potential of aesthetics of artificial texts under laboratory conditions.

    Code is poetry – in regard to the production of programming code requirements are compressing to efficient because dense production of text. Characterized by the least possible number of lines of code and characters in preferably clear nomination of either the elements of the underlying programming language and the author-chosen elements like variables and functions. The less characters and lines of code the less typewriting for the code-genesis. The more meaningful the nomination, the less semantically unambiguous, the easier the maintainability of the code. Various discussions about the structure of an ideal programming language gather around those basics.

    The sense of programming is, similar to assembly line production of bulk goods, to split operations into recurring steps. Being the definition of a first criteria for the usage of programming: the operation to be programmed is anticipated as a concept which is the base for estimating expenses. Anticipating too much speed in this stage means running the risk of exploding budgets. That may result in unmanagable projects. Thus revealing another criteria for the usage of programming: the expenses of programming are measured by the defined purpose of a production step or an operation consisting of several such steps. Transformation into programming will be worth the trouble if expenses for the development of a programmed product and the integration into existing operations fall short of the expenses for operations to be substituted.

    This approach is based on the assumption that the expenses of programming could be determined in advance. In fact it‘s only infrequently possible to reuse already existing software or script-libraries without verifying their applicability for the specific project-case. Programming processes contain a variety of basic requirements that are subject to permanent technical change: the chosen programming language itself is subject to change as is our everyday language. Some wellknown script-libraries or frameworks may not be maintained anymore, (new) hardware might be incompatible to some well-established programming-habits, the clients‘ usage of outdated hard- and software might prevent the usage of already established innovations in programming, maybe the hard- and software to be programmed for is already patched specifically and thus may avoid further extension. If in the latter case the documentation is incomprehensible or, worse, doesn‘t even exist, expenses are becoming incalculable. Constantly security vulnerabilities are discovered prohibiting the usage of up to then valid script-snippets. Losses in performance evolving from a certain programming-habit might force to switch to a completely new way of programming for projects being more complex.

    All those conditions make up for one basic requirement of a programmer: re-reading. Rereading of own programming code for up-to-dateness and compatibility. Rereading the code of others in order to patch it with own extensions. Rereading of programming languages in order to check for the parts needed to realise individual project objectives. Rereading the code to check the criteria for security and compatibility. That‘s why programmers live in constant consciousness that their code on the date being delivered certainly is state-of-the-art but nonetheless already outdated.

    “Re-reading, an activity totally against commercial and ideological habits of our society, calling us to ‘throw away‘ history as soon as consumed (…) so that we have to pass on to another story, buying a new book … re-reading is suggested here to begin, because it solely prevents the text from repetition (the ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere).“ (translation into English by Regine Heidorn)

    Roland Barthes states in 1981.

    Rereading is preventing code from repeating his history: reproduction of incompatibilities and security vulnerabilities. Cementing intricate programming and incomprehensible nomination resulting from not reflecting the use of already existing code. Adopting useless functions for the actual project that might become incalculable reasons for misfunctions. Transporting routines that might not have any function at all because they were solely coded to meet specific requirements of the previous project.

    “The ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere“ – this is exactly what‘s happening eg to webdesigners who learned their HTML at the beginning of the 1990s and didn‘t change their habits of code-production. The result are websites based on outdated code and being incompatible to innovations such as mobile internet usage. Superfluous to tell that rereading requires time, same applies for checking the requirements for programming to establish realistic project-budget and schedule.

    Code is poetry – on the contrary to prose poetry is dense – few words transport compressed meanings. Meanings also subject to change in programming languages and occasionally producing trivial redundancies. “For the master craftsperson, great code and great poetry are lean and trim, with no excess of words or other unnecessary elements.“ states Matt Ward in Smashing Magazine. Programming is a creative process demanding concentration. Slow coding thus is not a sophisticated postulate of aesthetic polemics but a semantic redundancy, a pleonasm. Which as a rhetoric figure is of ongoing importance because the breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.

    “So literature collapses before our eyes” –
    Non-Commodity Production

    Enhances
    private authorship, the competitive goal-oriented individual
    Retrieves
    tribal elitism, charmed circle, cf. the “neck verse”

    Medium:
    Print

    Reverses
    With flip from manuscript into mass production via print comes the corporate reading public and the historical sense
    Obsolesces
    slang, dialects and group identity, separates composition and performance, divorces eye and ear

    McLuhan’s tetrad-model: four aspects of the effect of media on culture and society. This example Print and the second one Xerox are quoted from “The Global Village” by McLuhan and Powers, Oxford University Press 1989.

    The idea of copyright – the right to retain publication of one’s own words – is much younger than other forms of intellectual property laws. Patents to protect the economic exploitation of technological invention, for example, have been granted by the city’s sovereign since the times of ancient Greece. But not sooner than in the 18th century the perceived value added to a society and its economy by the written word would justify a legal concept to aliment writers. The first copyright law clearly formulates this goal in its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned“, also called the Statue of Anne.

    Yesterday, Bruce Sterling cried out his concern about the future of literature in three Tweets:

    “*Economic calamity that hammered music hits literature. The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.
    So literature collapses before our eyes, while the same fate awaits politics, law, medicine, manufacturing… finance and real estate…
    Diplomacy, the military… we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.” (1,2,3)

    The catch-all political party, trade unions, music industry, newspapers, advertising and even the production of art and literature – all are effected by this changing culture to the core. I think we can identify two main drivers for this change if we consider what the function of these mass-cultural phenomena had been in the past.

    Enhances
    speed of printing process
    Retrieves
    oral tradition, the committee

    Medium:
    Xerox
    (could be “digital print as well”)
    Reverses
    everybody a publisher
    Obsolesces
    assemly-line book

    The first I would call retribalisation (following the term used by McLuhan).
    The concept of society was defined in opposite to community by Hermann Thönnies in his famous foundation of sociology “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” in 1887. A community is tied together by something held in common – normally the fate shared by living in the same village. People living in a community know each other in person and information is distributed mostly by word of mouth. Thus oral culture and a common set of allegories give the ground for communication. The mass-alphabetisation brought the mass-society. The man of the crowd was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in his famous short story of this title in 1840. The actor of this modern, industrialised society is no longer a person, it is the individual. The characteristics of an individual can thus be derived from objectives that can be observed from outside. In the modern society of the industrial age, nearly everything you had to know to measure someone would have been their job. The goods that people would exchange became commodities. Mass media – which I shall use as an umbrella for all these topics lined up above – homogenise a society by reaching out to everyone simultaneously. Since the 1950, this has changed dramatically. Social strata or milieu would no longer account for consumption habits. Two individuals of the same socio-demographic profile might have completely different styles of living, preferences in music or consumer brands. What brings people together is no longer social position but to have something in common – the return of the community, but no longer defined by common destiny but much weaker, by some common interest that is highly dependent to the momentary mood and situation in which people find themselves. The Web is the perfect means to organise, inform and entertain such loosely knit communities globally.

    The second was sketched by Bruce Sterling earlier: atemporality as he calls it; the end of the great narrative, end of progress, or even end of history. The consequences for creative artists that he sees are dire: the choice of re-arranging findings from the past, eclecticism or “the Gothic castle” as he calls this artistic approach, Punk, the bricolage. Or alternatively generative creation, aggregating small contributions of a large group of people; favela chic in Sterling’s words.

    Both developments had been foresighted by some thinkers right after WWII. Most prominent are Herbert Marshall McLuhan and independently from him Vilém Flusser. Both see the decline of written word in favour of the rise of a new oral culture, globally organised in tribe-like structures, tied together by a common set of allegories. The breakup of copyright is the direct consequence to this.

    The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.‘ If we use the tetradic set of questions, shown above, on copyright we could get a glimpse on how copyright (and its projected fading away) may affect the publication process:

    1. What does the medium enhance?
    2. What does the medium make obsolete?
    3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
    4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

    Copyright enhances private authorship and leads to a ‘bourgeois’ creative who is paid for his word. The dilettante, the aristocratic amateur enthusiast are rendered obsolete. The professional writer however shares some aspects with the scriptor, the cleric scholar who was funded by the monastery to perform his art. Regarding the forth tetradic questions: by the ecstasies of claiming ownership on intellectual property as seen in the plethora of cease-and-desists fired into the crowed by some corporations to claim their intellectual property rights against bloggers, or the “three-strikes-out”-initiative into which the European Commission was driven by the publishing industry’s lobbyists, the copyright, originally made to foster broad accessibility of knowledge, makes this knowledge less accessible again and creates elites, that still want (or are able) to afford to buy the publications. – Just to make it clear: I personally am opposed against the notion of regarding everything in the Net for free; but to see the consequences of this cultural development, we have to take a neutral angle. – I am convinced that the decay of the royalty-system for authors based on copyright is even accelerated by this effort to defend it.

    Some hope might be found in long-tail distribution-systems like iTunes or Amazon which cut out the publisher and in theory directly connect the producers with their clients. But I think, that we already see the margin left for authors as well as the number of possible sales are to be expected to stay rather small. And at the same time, there is so much that can be obtained completely for free in the Internet, that to buy something becomes even less attractive. “The dark side of the free and open” is the decline of the classic publication economy, as Geert Lovink remarks. This leads to the end of handling publications as a commodity. How to make a living from non-commodity-production, from giving your work away for free? On the other hand: how many authors, musicians, composers etc. have been able to make their living by their arts in the past!

    Nevertheless: walking down McLuhan’s tetrad, we can expect to get back into a culture of more or less sophisticated dilettantism as seen in most parts of the blogosphere. Small contributions, often highly specialised, often collaged and Punk-style, like Bruce Sterling describes in his post. But on the other hand, we see the return of the scriptorium. Corporate publishing, PR, corporate or brand storytelling; authors, writing to support their consultancy-work and other freelance businesses I would also take into this category. Both live-forms of the future-author, the dilettante and the scribe do no longer support the individual “artist-creator” who can be attributed as the sole author of his work and thus gets paid by royalties.

    We will see publications and creations of art, perfectly adopted to the preferences and needs of very small communities; new publications emerging fast, drawn to existence by monitoring, google alerts and inspiration to write something through tweets, just noted by chance.

    A possible form of organising these micro-publications is a content network, doing for content, what an ad network does for ads. Bringing all together, corporate publishing, advertising and the user’s still existing desire to get entertained and inspired, might even lead to some monetary compensation for the participating authors.

    A second path could lead into creating a new area of public space in the Internet, funded by tax-like fees as to be seen in Europe’s public broadcasting landscape. This public space should be curated in a way, ensuring to maintain cultural productions of high class.

    All told, I truly acclaim to Bruce Sterlings speculation: “we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.”

    Further reading:
    Memetic Turn
    Modernism is our Classical Antiquity
    The End of History – for Creative Professionals
    Virtual Broadcasting