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

“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
  • 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
  • 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 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