What you frame is what you get

I’m due to be on a panel at Supernova in five minutes. I won’t be there. If I were, I would say the following, and then some. Alas, no time. But, since the Net is essentially spaceless, here ya go:

  If you say the Net is a system of “pipes” and “lines” for “transporting” stuff called “content” that you “deliver” from “producers” to “consumers,” what are you saying the Net is? More importantly, how would you regulate it?

  Now, if you say the Net is a collection of “sites” that you “architect,” “design” and “build,” at “locations” with “addresses” and “domains,” across an “environment” or a “world” or a “space,” what are you saying the Net is and how would you regulate it?

  These are not academic distinctions. These are the very understandings, some of them very contradictory, on which we build businesses and make or apply laws that govern the way the Net is build and used — and who gets to do either.

  For a picture of where this can lead, let me direct you to the FCC Consumer Facts Page on “Obscene, Indecent, and Profane Broadcasts.” Especially this line:

  Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and cannot be broadcast at any time.

  The Supreme Court has upheld the law here.

  Look at the framing of obscenity law, and of the 1934 and 1996 communications acts. They are filled with the language of transport.

  Then think again about what the Net is.

18 comments

  1. Howard Greenstein’s avatar

    Thanks, Doc. Re-tweeted via the Supernova account. Get well soon! – Howardgr

  2. Alex Wiliams’s avatar

    First of all, hope all is well. We miss you here at Supernova. Second, in the past few years, content has continued to spread as a term to describe poems, essays, illustrations, music and the endless other forms of personal expression. What deserves protection so these forms of personal expression do not become illegal acts? Should the pipes and containers that hold digital media be protected? If we do not protect the transportation mechanisms then they will eventually be policed. And if they are policed, then what rights do we have?

  3. Crosbie Fitch’s avatar

    * Seek culture, but not at the expense of liberty
    * Seek liberty, but not at the expense of truth
    * Seek truth, but not at the expense of privacy
    * Seek privacy, but not at the expense of life
    * Seek life, and enjoy free culture.

  4. Paul Downey’s avatar

    Doc, you’re sadly missed here!

  5. Frank Paynter’s avatar

    Here’s hoping you put away the Lakoff for a few days and kick back watching “House” DVDs. Or “Grey’s Anatomy.” Get well soon, Doc!

  6. Joel’s avatar

    Doc,

    I’m breaking the mental recursion this post induced to say I’m glad that you’re blogging about “all of this” and that I hope you’re on the mend!

    Peace and love,
    joely

  7. Cousin Paul’s avatar

    Dave,

    take care, watch some daytime TV or something, read a trashy novel that has a large font and see you on Newberry again or somewhere further south– you know we are not far from earning us some of that Social Security cash

  8. Mike Warot’s avatar

    I think the idea that a net connection is equivalent to broadcasting needs to go first. Multicasting never really worked for the masses, though they tried hard. TCP/IP and UDP are both point to point protocols, so each connection is essentially a conversation between two end points. I think we can make the case on the merits that the internet is NOT broadcasting.

    I think it’s important to quash the broadcast analogy because it opens the door for censorship, and notions like “we must protect the endangered group of the day” by not allowing anything which might be harmful to them to be seen by anyone.

    It’s also important to fight against the idea of contraband, the idea that the mere existence of a specific file on a hard drive is enough to endanger someone, or society as a whole. It’s just bits sitting somewhere, and the danger is only in what people do with it after the fact. We need to fight this notion because it gets used to justify unreasonable searches of everyone, just “because we must protect the endangered group of the day“.

    If you want to pass laws about behavior, you have to follow locally acceptable norms, and keep pruning back old obsolete rules, in order to have any good chance at legitimacy. The current trend is rapid movement away from consent of the governed, which can only last for so long before people get fed up with it, and yank things back to an acceptable standard once again.

    I hope you get well soon, Doc.

    –Mike–

  9. Ehud’s avatar

    There are, of course, more ways of framing the Net, and it is hard at times to decide which is appropriate when. See some thoughts here: http://blog.jonudell.net/2007/05/21/trusting-but-verifying-your-teenagers-use-of-the-internet/#comment-20095

    Get well soon!

  10. Dave’s avatar

    I have the right not to be offended… This is what some people consider while moving around on this big ball of hot iron!

    Although, I do see more disclaimers while browsing around these days. We may have to place them everywhere in the future to keep the net and freedom together.

  11. Ross Mayfield's Weblog’s avatar

    Supernova: The Publius Project, The Internet’s Constitutional Moments…

    I’m at my favorite conference today, Supernova. At the first one we were inspired to found Socialtext. Instead of going to the VC or consumer web panels, I thought I’d learn a bit about a Berkman project. Here’s an impressionary…

  12. Don Marti’s avatar

    Doc, you’re right — reading some of the mainstream media it almost sounds like the sites are made in the data center and the value flows out to regular homes and offices.

    Maybe the framing to use is the watershed — the value of the net flows from springs of activity out on the edges, through tributary connections, into the data center.

  13. Yule Heibel’s avatar

    Not sure if I understand/ follow what you’re getting at, but it seems to me it has something to do fundamentally with how users/ consumers are defined, …and how one conceives of controlling the recipient of information, no?

    If the consumer is someone to whom content is delivered, s/he is defined and therefore controlled at some basic level. It’s like having an address.

    But if the content isn’t delivered (even though it’s distributed — in the sense of dispersed, perhaps), and if instead the “consumer” or “user” or “traveler” finds that content (vs having it piped to them), then that consumer/ user isn’t defined in the old way anymore.

    Both the product/ content and consumer/ user have to be completely re-imagined.

    Somehow this just made me think of Umair Haque’s Manifesto for the Next Industrial Revolution, re. “organizing the world’s ___ [fill in the blank]“…

    And Doc, what the others said: get well soon.

  14. Janet Hawtin’s avatar

    In the interests of alternate metaphor
    The internet is a basic nerve system for the planet.
    It is currently not directly linked to ecology or society very well
    the information is not oriented for best use of information fidelity in local contexts. It is currently functioning more like a beehive with pockets of value which are not yet functioning as a cultural and ecological system of nerves and responses.
    We could use our connectivity to better understand diverse habitats, species and interconnectivity of our habitat. We could better understand our custodianship through being connected to the information relevant to our local and extended footprint, choices and trends. We could understand each other as a diverse community with varying cadence and metaphor. We can support each other and our context digitally, economically, but also in tangible presence and practice. But we need to be able to listen for value and beauty in complexity and in the actual rather than having a preference for aggregation and abstract which serves other ends.

  15. Richard Bennett’s avatar

    Missed you, dude, get well quick.

  16. Bill Claxton’s avatar

    I see the Net as a medium. But I agree that what you frame is what you get.

    As Obama pointed out (in his ‘race’ speech), the framers of the US constitution faced a problem of existing racial bias and slavery, but wanted to begin with a premise that ‘all men are created equal’. So they took the pragmatic approach that the constitution must evolve towards a ‘more perfect union’.

    In Singapore we have a similar issue as we create a next-gen network – what to do about incumbent monopolies. The regulators here have imposed a separation between companies that operate the network infrastructure and those that provide services, roughly defined as ‘no more than 30% equity in common’. The bidders are actually the incumbent monopoly holding companies, reformed into consortia that meet the arms-length requirements. Same deal… evolving towards a ‘more perfect’ state of competition in services.

    My point is that the framing is never permanent. The rules must account for a moving frame.

  17. Eric’s avatar

    Doc, hope you get better soon. The Web misses your insights.

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