Tag: web

A time to build barriers

September 22nd, 2012 — 12:29pm

Countries like Japan thrive on barriers to information flow. It is hard to overstate how deep and wide the rift caused by linguistic differences between Japanese and Indo-European languages is. The number of people who speak both very good English/German/French etc and very good Japanese is small and unlikely to grow dramatically. Yet there is a willingness from both sides to learn about the other side and push/pull information through that narrow channel.

One important consequence of this situation is that heterogeneity can develop and be preserved. Customs, the general way of thinking, the public sphere in Japan are different to their counterparts in the West. Among Western countries, these things are becoming increasingly homogenous thanks to ease of communication and the Internet. Not only will there be things on both sides of the divide that will never flow through the connecting conduit: the smaller partition, Japan in this case, can also act as a kind of catalyst and refinery for whatever comes in through the conduit, developing its own, highly refined versions of absorbed impressions. This is not possible if one has instant access to all information on the other side.

The Internet may yet turn out to be the greatest homogenising force mankind has ever known. For this reason, it is now an urgent task to erect new barriers on the internet and to restrict information flow. The wide open space must be partitioned into rooms with walls, doors and windows. The new barriers do not need to correspond to the old ones — it might even be preferable if they did not. Because the new barriers can be different from the old ones, the internet as a whole becomes a constructive step that we can endorse, and not something we are forced to react against. It is a stepping stone into a new world. Through restriction, we will be liberated.

An afterthought: barriers would be a negative addition that paradoxically has the potential to generate something new. But the negative aspect is certainly distasteful at first sight. If there is another way of achieving heterogeneity, which does not require barriers, then let’s hear it.

2 comments » | Philosophy

The cryptographic-spiritual realm

December 15th, 2010 — 9:19am

Internet services and systems such as Google and Amazon usually appear to us as a visual representation of a page, as if it were taken out of some kind of printed publication. For almost all of the users, these visual qualities are all that will ever be seen. They are always present and never present, because we cannot point to the place where they really reside.

But of course they reside somewhere. Cables and machines embody the apparition that users interact with, and these cables can be found and cut. The machines can be shut off. Traceroute tells me which path the data is taking. But the thread that binds the body to the spirit is thin, and the two evolve in a largely independent manner.

With cryptographic methods, such as the I2P network, it is possible to hide the exact location of a system, disperse it across the fabric so widely that it cannot be excised without destroying the fabric itself.

The effect is the same as if the system had no physical existence at all. It now exists in a kind of spiritual realm, where it can only be touched with great difficulty.

3 comments » | Computer science, Philosophy

Rasmus Fleischer’s postdigital manifesto

August 9th, 2010 — 4:30pm

In his highly timely and readable 2009 book “The Postdigital Manifesto”, Swedish writer and historian Rasmus Fleischer discusses the effects of the digital on our relation to music and sets out his vision for how we can make music listening more meaningful. Fleischer is a prolific blogger (almost exclusively in Swedish) at Copyriot, and is probably best known for co-founding the Swedish think tank Piratbyran. As a side project, I am currently in the process of translating this book into English. It will be released in some form when it is done. The original work was released without copyright, so it is quite likely that some kind of PDF will simply be made available for download.

One of the central ideas of the manifesto is that our relation to music is dependent on physical presence and responsibility. Physical presence as opposed to the illusion that distances and places are made irrelevant by the internet and digital communications. Responsibility as opposed to the idea of mindlessly shuffling through a very large or infinite archive of recorded music. One of the ways in which music conveys something is when I choose music to play to somebody else, and I take responsibility for the effects of the music on that person or on a group of people.

Fleischer constructs the idea of a “postdigital situation” and holds it up as a model for how music is to be valued, critiqued, understood, and, essentially, how it is to take place, or come to matter. The postdigital situation is constrained by a physical space where music is being performed and listened to, where responsibility relations exist and evolve, and where bodies are set in motion. The digital world, the internet without boundaries, can be a means of gathering people in such a space and informing it, but it does not replace it. The “postdigital” goes beyond the naive idea of the digital, which ignores places and crowds.

Olle Olsson at SICS has also discussed this book in English. More to come!

3 comments » | Life, Philosophy


July 4th, 2010 — 12:24pm

A characteristic of a naive approach to the digital world is the tendency to record and store everything. JustBecauseWeCan. Every photo, every e-mail, every song, every web site ever visited, every acquaintance who ever added you as a friend on some social network, every message you ever received. Somebody, probably an author, termed this the “database complex”, I think. A projection of a certain greedy tendency to gather and collect things. This does have certain benefits when coupled with a good search function. Every now and then I find myself having to use some information that only exists in an e-mail that I received 6 months ago or so.

A more advanced approach is selective forgetfulness. Humans cannot go on with their lives if they do not forget memories and experiences that are irrelevant and useless. They become unable to set and act on new targets. I think that a slightly less naive digital life would contain a measure of deletion. Deletion of files, old e-mails that have probably become useless, “friends” on social networks who are mere acquaintances or even less, and so on. Taking away the old makes space for the new. It can be especially powerful to see the number of files in your home directory reduced from 50 to 5. A lot of confusion and ambivalence is immediately removed.

Part of taking the next step step deeper into the digital age should be deciding, each for themselves, what one’s personal thresholds and principles of deletion are. What should be deleted, when and why? In our brains it has been managed by evolution for us. Now we must manage it by ourselves.

1 comment » | Life, Uncategorized

The identity crisis of the internet

May 26th, 2010 — 8:05pm

The architecture of the Internet is fundamentally decentralized, a fact that continues to impress to this day. The breadth and depth of the sea of applications and uses we have made of it, and its resilience, impress perhaps all the more, because many of our experiences from everyday life tell us that some of the strongest things in society are singular and centralized — huge companies and governments, for instance. I’m actually not an expert on internet architecture, but my understanding is that the only thing that is fixed in it is the DNS system, which relies on some top level hardcoded IP addresses and coordination.

But even though the Internet is built on a decentralized architecture, it also supports applications/services that are highly centralized in their architecture and in their intended use. Google and Facebook are two very famous such applications. On the other extreme are applications that might be called P2P, including notorious file sharing systems such as Bittorrent, and also simple email (which was designed for decentralized use but is becoming heavily centralized with services like Gmail).

In recent days there’s been much discussion about Facebook’s role, particularly since it has been taking more and more liberties with the vast amounts of data about it users that it holds, scaling back the notions of privacy and integrity as they see fit. Many people are calling for decentralized alternatives to Facebook to rear their heads, and I suppose people have been calling for decentralized search engines as well for some time.

Much seems to be at stake here. What’s the future direction of the internet? A few giants holding all the data, monopolising certain functions, or a distributed network of peers, creating functionality together? The debate is ideologically charged and could be mapped into a big government/small government discussion, although I think it would be fruitless to do so. What is certain is that radically different applications can be created using the centralized/decentralized models and that it is rarely a case of merely “porting” an app from one architecture to another, the way you port an application from C to Java. On an abstract level, the two models could serve as substrates for the same functionalities (such as social network services), but the concrete implementations would have very different characteristics.

Do we create centralized applications because our legal systems, property rights systems, and so on, have not evolved at the same pace as our infrastructure, so that our tendencies, habits and ideals from a brick-and-mortar world are preserved in the world of fiber and switches, appearing ever more outdated?

In Sweden this debate has been especially pronounced recently with companies like Flattr being firmly on the side of decentralized models. Flattr is trying to be a universal donation system for content on the internet, and the vision behind it is a large number of decentralized creators of “content” (which are themselves consumers).

I’m not sure which model will win in the long run. I prefer to think that both models have a role to play and that they can coexist nicely. But lately it seems as if the centralized model has had a bit too much momentum. Let’s dig deeper into the decentralizing potential of the internet!

Comment » | Uncategorized

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