Category Archives: culture

Gibson’s Critique

This op-ed, from novelist William Gibson, is perhaps the best, most succinct critique of Google I’ve ever seen:

Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn’t really suit an entity like Google. Bentham’s all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights.

Read the whole thing here. It’s a must-read.


Thanks, BP!

Thank you so much.



Steal This Comic


h/t to @Knownhuman

Definitely NOT Perfection

I was there. This NYT article is a complete work of fiction:

It is certainly hard to measure, achieve or proclaim perfection. Every person in the park — indeed, every person scattered around every corner of the five boroughs — probably has his or her own criteria for perfection, especially the New York City variety. Is it sitting on a stoop? Out on a third date? Being happily asleep?

Yet, if you were to invoke this highly subjective word to describe one evening in the middle of Manhattan island, in the middle of summer, in earshot of the expectant tunings of the instruments, you could do a lot worse than late Tuesday.

So … it was the perfect New York night.

Um, no.

It was so overcrowded. People were complete a-holes, stepping on top of everyone’s blankets, foods, and heads.

Fights broke out.

OK, not actual fisticuffs, but serious yelling matches.

Not perfection.



Wikipedia’s Tangled Web

Ars Technica has a write-up on a legal battle Wikipedia has decided to take on:

Two artists attempted to create a performance art piece by establishing a Wikipedia entry entitled “Wikipedia Art,” which could then be freely edited and “transformed” by anyone choosing to do so. The page lasted a mere 15 hours before being summarily deleted by Wikipedia editors and admins. Now, the pair’s archive and continuing discussion of the project is being threatened by the Wikimedia Foundation’s legal counsel, which has effectively threatened to pursue legal action against the artists for trademark infringement.

The case calls into question the ideology behind Wikipedia; that is, how ideas such as “neutral point of view” structure or even determine what ends up in Wikipedia’s page. The Wikipedia Art project aimed to get at exactly that — by calling into question the standards the wikipedians have created for their content, these critical artist have exposed Wikipedia’s reliance on things like the mainstream media to validate what and what should not be “knowledge.”

This, of course, is a terrible thing, in the sense that Wikipedia merely becomes an extension of a corporate-owned news media and other such “official” organizations, rather than an all-encompassing body of digital knowledge:

“Wikipedia Art is an art intervention which explicitly invites performative utterances in order to change the work itself,” reads the archive of the original Wikipedia post made by artists Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern. “The ongoing composition and performance of Wikipedia Art is intended to point to the “invisible authors and authorities” of Wikipedia, and by extension the Internet, as well as the site’s extant criticisms: bias, consensus over credentials, reliability and accuracy, vandalism, etc.”

The pair meant for the article to be a functional critique of Wikipedia as an information source, using Wikipedia as the “venue” and its users as participants in the “performance.”

And, of course, there’s a real irony here, called out by Ars Tech:

…a non-profit foundation’s online knowledge repository, which largely exists because of free speech and fair use, is threatening legal action that could stifle free speech and fair use. That irony, however, seems lost on the Wikimedia Foundation. Like previous legal action against Wikipedia itself, the threats seem to draw attention to the Wikipedia Art site and make Wikimedia Foundation look bad, playing right into Kildall and Stern’s project. Hopefully Wikimedia Foundation will see the folly in pursuing this action and, instead, focus on its core mission: to provide a free, online encyclopedia of “notable” human knowledge.

Definitely something to watch.

Using Social Software to Avoid Socially-Awkward Situations

Subtitle: I’m Just Not That Into You

Much has been written about the new types of social situations that arise when using social software. Breaking up over text-messaging, seeing ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends connecting with other people on Facebook, the “do I or do I not friend this person” question, the soon-to-be-finance seeing the wedding ring purchase ahead of time — these all happen because social software has reconfigured what the term “friend” means today, and because social software has turned upside-down our previous notions of public and private.

In our new age of Web2.0 connectedness, going online unavoidably means getting yourself into awkward social situations.

Yet, in the vast research* which I have conducted to date, I have not found anyone writing about the way social software helps us avoid these situations. (*Research question: Do I remember ever seeing this written about? Answer: No. Research, complete.)

What has been under-appreciated in all the hype about the net today is the power of the Ignore button, and its various various forms across websites: The Unsubscribe; The Block; The Remove. These all help us avoid the kinds of awkward social situations we face both on- and offline, by letting the other person know that we do not want to connect. That we don’t really care about what they are doing online, who their friends are, and what their status might be each day.

By hitting ignore, we tell the other person, “Hey, I’m just not that into you.”

And this is OK. Better than OK, because it gets us out of those sticky situations we get into when we have to deal with people that, truth be told, we really don’t like.

You know how it goes. Let’s say you go home, to visit the folks, and you make the mistake of heading out to your local mall. You see someone you knew from, say, high school. Oh noes!!! The conversation you have always has a voice-over running in your head simultaneously, and it usually goes like this:

Me (in head): omg omg please don’t look at me please don’t look at me

Dude: YO DUDE!!! SHIT! How are you? WTF you been up to man?

Me: Heeeeeeyyyyy…..great to see you! Not too much! Same old same old!

Me (in head): FUCK.

Dude: How long’s it been!?!?!? Since high school, no? Hey, you remember that time…

[…this goes on…]

Me (in head): please don’t ask for my phone number please don’t say we’ll get together when we both know we won’t

Dude: Hey, man — give me your number. We have GOT to get together and HANG!!!

Me: um….yeah….

You see the problem here? The social protocol in these situations is to pretend that we’ve reunited and bonded, that even though it’s been 20+ years, and we have completely different lives, there is still something that connects us.


Now, imagine this same situation, but played out on, say, Facebook:

You have a friend request.

Would you like to confirm [insert person you haven’t seen in years here] as your friend?

Confirm Ignore


See! So easy.

Now your former friend gets the idea — you are just not into him.

This, then, is the power of social media. It’s not to help connect us to others. It’s not developing a “social graph” upon which we can build a “network” of “relationships.” Those phrases might sell investors, and get the news media writing about your product. But it has nothing to do with what social software can do for us, really.

The power of social media is that we can ignore. That we can tell others we’re just not into them, without the messiness of actually telling someone we’re just not into them. We can be an a-hole, but we can be one silently; implicitly…

We can go about our day, secure in the knowledge that not-connecting with someone is only a click away.



NYT, without the slightest hint of irony here:

Doga combines massage and meditation with gentle stretching for dogs and their owners.

Silly me! How could I have not realized the therapeutic benefits of PUTTING A DOG ON YOUR STOMACH WHILE YOU STRETCH.

I fear for the very soul of this nation…

Social Home Buying?

Tough times call for inventive measures, and, with real estate markets so thin these days, sellers are looking for, well, something different:

That’s when the desperate owner decided to get creative. He opted to hold a raffle via his Web site at Tickets went on sale in October for 25 euros (about $33) apiece, and so far 2,000 of them have been sold. A drawing on May 1 will determine which lucky ticket holder wins the property. Crowsley hopes to sell enough tickets to clear about 1.2 million euros.

“Property raffles are without a doubt an exciting and different way to sell a property, especially if it has not sold using the conventional method,” Crowsley said. “I firmly believe that it will be the way to go in 2009 and beyond.”

Already, dozens of Web sites dedicated to property raffles have cropped up in several European countries.

Now, I may be completely off-base here, because, for the most part, this is straight up gambling. For 25 euros, you can win a house. But in light of many of the trends we so today, as our cyber-lives grow increasingly social, I often think our real lives have followed (see: 2008 Elections, Obama Campaign). Is it possible these property raffles are more than just a new and desperate way to sell a home? Could this be a sign that we are perhaps moving to a world that’s just a bit more community-minded? Less bowling alone, and more working together?

Again, most likely, this is gambling. But a couple things I’ve read make me wonder otherwise. First, almost a year ago, there was some speculation on a few blogs, triggered by a post from Jeff Jarvis, about “Insurance 2.0.” In particular, a comment in Jarvis’s blog struck me:

A few months ago I got a facebook message from a friend of a friend saying that the friend’s bicycle had been stolen, which was very bad news because it was the second time in a couple of months and hence wasn’t insured conventionally because the premium would have been too high.

It turned out that the friend of the friend had contacted all the friends’ friends. She’d asked us all to message back if we would be willing to put in £20 for a new bike which would then be presented as a surprise.

Sure enough, easily enough friends messaged back to buy a new bike, transferred the money, and the bike was bought. This all took less than a week – which is an awful lot shorter than a similar claim would take through an insurance company. Less paperwork too.

Now, obviously, there is a long way from that idea to Geico, but the idea is there, and it’s certainly worth considering.

That was then. Since, we’ve seen the collapse of the financial industry. Douglas Rushkoff has written about the “financial melt up,” as he has called it, how the speculative economy that’s created much wealth for relatively few people has run out of gas. His prescription?

All this means is that you can’t count on capitalism anymore. Your wealth is not how many paper assets you have. It’s not even how much land you have (or think you have). It’s what you can do. It’s your value to other people.

…The opportunity here, while the big boys are down, is to rebuild the genuine, local commercial infrastructure. To make shoes, clothes, food, education, healthcare and everything else we can in a bottom-up fashion. While speculators enjoy the economy of scale, we inhabit an ecology scaled to the human being that was lost in the corporatist equation.

The sooner you “drop out” of the speculative economy and its abstract concerns, the sooner you will be able to create and provide real value for the people all around you, and the better position you will be in to get what you need for yourself and your family.

Bottom-up. The idea behind “participatory culture.” And the same idea behind the “we all chip in and get our friend a new bike” insurance model, and, perhaps, a tangent to the property raffles that are happening in Europe.

Not sure, but it’s something to watch.

Silly Marxists…Google Is For Capitalists!

Note this exchange on Geert Lovink’s blog. If this is the state of marxist thinking today, well, I am pretty sure the chains are the least of the proletarians problems.