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07 December 2010

Final project for course titled “Thinking what we are doing”

This post is the outcome of an impromptu decision to do some online coursework. The assignment is the final project for Dale Carrico's course Thinking What We Are Doing. The reading list for the course is here. The instructions for this assignment are here.




25. commons

The public, and the need to deal with it.

But whatever the mix, and whichever factor was most significant, the consequence of this strategy was to leave open the field for innovation in telecommunications. AT&T did not control how its wires would be used, because the government restricted that control. By restricting that control, the government in effect created a commons on AT&T’s wires. (Lessig, 2001, p. 45)

48. digital divide

The fact that connectivity is privilege.

I am not as optimistic about the present or the future of Cyberspace as a free and democratic space as is Barlow. We, the homesteaders here in Cyberspace, are at the mercy of the code, at the mercy of the hardware and software, at the mercy of the sys admins and wizards. Economic factors around the world affect our ability to access information; race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and all of the other factors that often interefere with f2f communication also interfere with cyber-communication. (Walker, in reply to Barlow)

51. elite

The de facto powerful. Not to be confused with the so-called intellectual elite.

If the technologically advanced countries can secure property rights over resources that only advanced technology will reach, goes the argument, then patent rights over the genome are a kind of second colonial expansion. (Boyle, …Genome…, p. 5)

95. precarity

Being on the receiving end of a risk shift.

Data-entry workers, shop clerks, and the warehouse staff at will face the same problems as ever: depressed wages, battles over benefits, barriers to unionization, and inadequate political representation in a Congress whose resemblance to the House of Lords is for them a matter of economic class more than of anachronism. Their situations will be the less stable for the “creative destruction” of firms and industries that Kelly celebrates. Tribalism will do them little good, as is generally true of lesser tribes. (Purdy)

104. publication

Publish or perish.

One wonders what Macaulay would have thought about the attempt by Margaret Mitchell’s estate to prevent the publication of The Wind Done Gone. (Boyle, The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain, p. 56)

105. public good

The public is good.

The maximalists favor expansive intellectual property rights. They tend to view exemptions and privileges on the part of users or future creators as a tax on rights holders and have sympathy for thinly disguised ‘sweat of the brow’ claims. They exhibit a kind of economic bipolar disorder: being deeply pessimistic about market functioning around potential public goods problems in the absence of intellectual property rights, and yet strikingly, even manically, optimistic about our ability to avoid transaction costs and strategic behavior “anti-commons effects” that might be caused by the presence of intellectual property rights. (Boyle, …Genome…, p. 9)

112. rivalrousness

Sometimes life really is a zero-sum game.

In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish. (Barlow)

124. spontaneous order

Spontaneity gives way to order.

Wiener works up to the fantasy by pointing out that there are many organizations whose parts are themselves small organizations. Hobbes’s Leviathan is a Man-State made up of men; a Portuguese man-of-war is made up of polyps that mirror it in miniature; a man is an organism made of cells that in some respects also function like organisms. This line of thought leads him to ask how these “bodies politic” function. “Obviously, the secret is in the intercommunication of its members” (p. 156 [Cybernetics]). The flow of information is thus introduced as a principle explaining how organization occurs across multiple hierarchical levels. To illustrate, he instances the “sexually attractive substances” that various species secrete to insure that the sexes will be brought together (p. 156). For example, the pheromones that guide insect reproduction are general and omnidirectional, acting in this respect like hormones secreted within the body. The analogy suggests that external hormones organize internal hormones, so that a human organism becomes, in effect, a sort of permeable membrane through which hormonal information flows. At this point we encounter his first demurral. “I do not care to pronounce an opinion on this matter,” he announces rather pretentiously after introducing it, preferring to “leave it as an interesting idea” (p. 157). (Hayles)

125. stakeholder

The principal.

A reformed state that operates within a context of multistakeholdership and which is no longer subsumed to corporate interests, but act as a fair arbiter between the Commons, the market and the gift economy. (Bauwens)

131. "Tragedy of the Commons"

Yet another exercise in fundamentalist apologetics.

It is worth noting, however, that while earlier scholarship extolled enclosure’s beneficial effects, some more recent empirical work has indicated that it had few, if any, effects in increasing agricultural production. The tragedies predicted in articles such as Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons did not occur. In fact, the commons frequently may have been well-run, though the restraints on its depletion and the incentives for investment in it may have been “softer” than the hard-edged norms of private property. (Boyle, …Enclosure…, p. 36)

3. access

Rightsestrictions management.

One of the most salient lessons from the copyright wars of the last few years is that if express permission is required before one can post a collection of anything on the Internet, one will be unable to do it. (Litman, p. 14)

4. accountability

A cheap substitute for transparency.

How about an intellectual property ombudsman to represent the interests of the public and the public domain? (Boyle, …Genome…, p. 18)

5. agency


We must…take responsibility for every task undertaken by a machine and double check every conclusion offered by an algorithm, just as we always look both ways when crossing an intersection, even though the light has turned green. (Lanier, 2010)

31. control

Kill the controls!

For much of the twentieth century, it was essentially illegal even to experiment with the telephone system. It was a crime to attach a device to the telephone system that AT&T didn’t build or expressly authorize. (Lessig, 2001, p. 30)

32. copyright

Copyright means copy is not a right.

For example, Lindberg and Patterson’s book The Nature of Copyright reverses the polarity from the normal depiction, and portrays copyright as a law of users’ rights. The public domain is the figure and copyright the ground. The various privileges and defenses are not exceptions, they are at the heart of copyright, correctly understood. Copyright is, in fact, a system designed to feed the public domain providing temporary and narrowly limited rights, themselves subject to considerable restrictions even during their existence—all with the ultimate goal of promoting free access. (Boyle, …Enclosure…, p. 60)

59. fair use

That which is not permitted is forbidden. That which is not forbidden is permitted.

Thirty years ago, when you saw something you wanted to use or share, the default rule was that you were entitled to do so. (Litman, p. 15)

89. panopticon

An authority figure wearing mirror shades.

Once a new intellectual property right has been created over some informational good, the only way to ensure efficient allocation of that good is to give the rights holder still greater control over the user or consumer in the aftermarket so as to allow for price discrimination, since the only efficient monopoly is a monopoly with perfect price discrimination. Yet, to achieve perfect price discrimination with digital intellectual property goods, whose marginal cost is zero, the rights holders will argue that they need even more changes of the rules in their favor: relaxed privacy standards so they can know more about our price points; enforceable shrink-wrap or clickwrap contracts of adhesion so that we can be held to the terms of our particular license, no matter how restrictive; and changes in antitrust rules to allow for a variety of practices that are currently illegal, such as resale price maintenance and various forms of tying. Rights holders will also claim that they need technical changes with legal backing, such as the creation of personalized digital objects surrounded by state-backed digital fences, objects that are tied to particular users and particular computers, so that reading my e-book on your machine is either technically impossible, a crime, or a tort—or possibly all three. (Boyle, …Enclosure…, p. 50)

97. privacy

Privacy is a technological impossibility. Get over it.

We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do. (Hughes)

114. secrecy

Secrecy is to privacy as institution is to individual.

The political power, however, clearly belongs to the pharmaceutical industry, which actually tried to eliminate “notice and comment” requirements for exclusive drug licenses in 1999. Current law allows the public to obtain basic financial information about a drug's development and sale, such as royalty rates paid on licenses, subsequent development costs, sales figures, and so forth. The government must disclose such information and allow the public to object to the approval of a company's license. Fortunately, the industry's attempt to throw a veil of secrecy over the granting of exclusive drug licenses failed—a small victory against the modern enclosure movement. (Bollier)

1. abundance

Abundance is a prerequisite for dignity.

At the very least, there is some possibility, even hope, that we could have a world in which much more of intellectual and inventive production is free. “‘Free’ as in ‘free speech,’” Richard Stallman says, not “‘free’ as in ‘free beer.’” But we could hope that much of it would be both free of centralized control and low cost or no cost. When the marginal cost of production is zero, the marginal cost of transmission and storage approaches zero, the process of creation is additive, and much of the labor doesn’t charge—well, the world looks a little different. This is at least a possible future, or part of a possible future, and one that we should not foreclose without thinking twice. Yet that is what we are doing. (Boyle, …Enclosure…, p. 48)

6. amateur

The luxury of not being in it for the money.

The most powerful engine driving this information space turns out not to be money — at least if we’re focusing on generating and disseminating the content rather than constructing the hardware that it moves through. (Litman, p. 8)

18. broadcast

Shevek's broadcast of transilience theory in The Dispossessed, or John Galt's radio address in Atlas Shrugged.

Broadcast spectrum was originally so plentiful that the government granted radio licenses to anyone upon request. But by the 1920s, the proliferation of broadcasters was producing signal interference, which prompted a debate about how to allocate control of the electromagnetic spectrum. (Bollier)

23. code

Dog whistle. Also program code and genetic code.

The code of cyberspace—its architecture and the software and hardware that implement that architecture—regulates life in cyberspace generally. Its code is its law. Or, in the words of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) cofounder Mitch Kapor, “Architecture is politics.” (Lessig, 2001, p. 35)

24. collaboration

The privilege of collegiality.

The interesting questions are how far the power of the creator to publish their own work is going to go, how much those changes will be mirrored in group work, and how much better collaborative filters will become in locating freely offered material. (Shirky, 2003)

36. crowdsourcing

Collaboration minus privilege.

What we used to class as trivia (and therefore useless information) becomes a matchless resource when it is combined with other trivia in searchable form (Litman, p. 6)

40. cybernetics

The science of automata.

In March 2002, Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at Reading University, had his neuronal system directly linked to a computer network. He thus became the first human being to whom data could be fed directly, bypassing the five senses. (Žižek)

42. cyberspace

The domain of automata.

Cyberspace seems to be the consensual hallucination of too much complexity, too much articulation. It is the virtual reality of paranoia, a well-populated region in the last quarter of the Second Christian Millenium. (Haraway)

53. end-to-end principle (e2e)

What goes around comes around.

In the laboratory the behaviorist approach leads to “black box” engineering, in which one assumes that the organism is a “black box” whose contents are unknown. Producing equivalent behavior then counts as producing an equivalent system. (Hayles)

68. gift economy

An oxymoron.

These are communities of shared values in which participants freely contribute time, energy, or property and over time receive benefits from membership in the community. (Bollier)

69. information

Does not want to be free. Must be forcibly liberated.

Recall that Gregory Bateson defined information as a difference that makes a difference; if there is no difference, there is no information. Since entropy tends always to increase, it will eventually result in a universe where all distributions are in their most probable state and universal homogeneity prevails. Imagine Dr. Zhivago sitting at his desk in a cold, cold room, trying to telegraph a message to his beloved Laura, while in the background Laura’s theme plays and entropy keeps relentlessly increasing. Icicles hanging from his fingers and the telegraph key, he tries to tap out “I love you,” but he is having trouble. Not only is he freezing from heat death; he is also stymied by information death. No matter what he taps, the messages always come out the same: eeeeeee (or whatever letter is most common in the Russian alphabet). This whimsical scenario illustrates why Wiener associated entropy with oppression, rigidity, and death. (Hayles)

73. mapping

The art of figuring out what the hell is really going on.

A diffraction pattern does not map where differences appear, but rather maps where the effects of difference appear. (Haraway)

84. network

Friendship is sacred. Networking is profane.

If networking is widespread enough (into ubiquitous embedded systems), it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened. (Vinge)

85. node


Like Katie King’s objects called “poems,” sites of literary production where language also is an actor, bodies as objects of knowledge are materialsemiotic generative nodes. Their boundaries materialize in social interaction among humans and non-humans, including the machines and other instruments that mediate exchanges at crucial interfaces and that function as delegates for other actors’ functions and purposes. (Haraway)

87. open source

Self explanatory.

The General Public License (which prohibits the appropriation of software code), the related Open Source Initiative, and certain versions of the Creative Commons license fulfill this role. They enable the protection of common use-value and use viral characteristics to spread. GPL and related material can only be used in projects that in turn put their adapted source code in the public domain. (Bauwens)

88. participation

The privilege of inclusion in a group undertaking.

For many of us, the irony made it possible to participate—indeed, to participate as fully committed, if semiotically unruly, eco-feminists. (Haraway)

90. peer

A peer of the Realm, or a source of peer pressure.

[P2P processes] make use-value freely accessible on a universal basis, through new common property regimes. This is its distribution or ‘peer property mode’: a ‘third mode of ownership,’ different from private property or public (state) property. (Bauwens)

91. peer to peer (p2p)

The less hierarchical approach to networking.

The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. (Barlow)

102. prosumerism

Getting past the false dichotomy between capital goods and consumer goods.

The web (in particular the Writeable Web and the Web 2.0 that is in the process of being established) allows for the universal autonomous production, dissemination, and ‘consumption’ of written material while the associated podcasting and webcasting developments create an ‘alternative information and communication infrastructure’ for audio and audiovisual creation. (Bauwens)

103. public

All of us.

Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the “lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument—or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast? (Latour)

107. reductionism

The important practice of analyzing the subsystems in isolation.

Similarly, if the existence of a species is reduced to a matter of recoverable genetic information, we may be comforted about the loss of the ecosystem that it now inhabits. Still, the reader is right to think that something—perhaps the most important thing—is lost in this view. (Purdy)

108. relational

The privilege of analyzing the data points in aggregate and not only in isolation.

[Norbert Wiener] realized that one of the subtle implications of [the probabilistic] view is that messages are constituted, measured, and communicated not as things-in-themselves, but as relational differences between elements in a field. Communication is about relation, not essence. (Hayles)

116. sharing

The privilege of being able to let your guard down.

The internet’s hierarchical elements (such as the stacked IP protocols, the decentralized Domain Name System, etc…) do not deter participation. Viral communicators, or meshworks, are a logical extension of the internet. With this methodology, devices create their own networks through the use of excess capacity, bypassing the need for a pre-existing infrastructure. The ‘Community Wi-Fi’ movement, Open Spectrum advocacy, file-serving television, and alternative meshwork-based telecommunication infrastructures are exemplary of this trend. (Bauwens)

122. sousveillance

The art of seeing through mirror shades.

The flood of information has to go someplace. (Brin)

132. transparency

The neutralization of mirror shades.

The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. (Lewis)

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